One Writer’s Journey

July 24, 2017

Don’t Dumb It Down

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:48 am
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Do NOT dumb it down.

I spent a lot of time pool side this weekend and ended up talking to fellow swim team parents that I don’t see very often. I compared work stories with one of the dads who asked what I had been writing.  He nodded sagely as I explained the Dakota Access Pipeline book and the media literacy book.  Then I mentioned the Electoral College.

He said, “That must have been really hard to dumb down.”

“No.” Inhale four, exhale six.  Stall for time. Frame your response.  “That’s what you do if you want the editor to bounce it back.  You just have to figure out how to explain it so that the reader can relate.  And you have to do it without blowing your reading level.”

If you writing for children, please, please, please do not dumb things down.  Do. Not.

Kids are smart.  They are set on “maximum learning.”  If you write children’s nonfiction, it is your job to give it to your reader in managable bites.

Dumb it down and you make it clear that you don’t respect them.  You aren’t sure they can handle it.  Bad.  Just bad.  Don’t do that.

Does this mean that you can write about absolutely anything for young readers.  No.  Just . . . no.

Some things aren’t age appropriate.  Other things just won’t interest them.

Astronomy for a preschooler?  Day and night.  The earth moving around the sun.

Astronomy for an early grade schooler?  Planets and moons. The different characteristiccs of different planets.

By the time you get to high schoolers you can write about the chemistry involved.  Physics, biology and systems all play a part.

Come up with a topic that matches your readers interests and age level and you won’t have to dumb down a thing. In fact you might find yourself hurrying to catch up.

–SueBE

 

February 18, 2015

Conflict: Age matters

Filed under: Uncategorized — suebe @ 1:24 am
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age appropriate conflictI recently read a post by agent Scott Eagan on the differences between Conflict and Complications.  The problem is that many of the manuscripts Eagan recieves are full of complications for the characters but not true conflict.  Yes, hitting traffic or having to change clothes before you leave the house can be a hastle but they are complications.  Your character can get around these things fairly easily.  You reader isn’t on the edge of her seat wondering “Is this it?

This got me to thinking.  Things don’t work quite like this in children’s books.  Complications vs true conflict depend completely on the age of the reader and, thus, the character.

What do I mean?  Having your main character take a wrong turn on the way home from school is no big whoop-de-doo for a highschooler.  All the reader’s going to think is “get your head together and turn around, dumby.”

But if your character and reader are picture book aged, its a completely different situation.  In Kevin Henkes picture book Sheila Rae, The Brave, Sheila Rae gets lost.  Her little sister comes to her rescue and the two become closer for it.  That wouldn’t work if your character was a typical high schooler, but it works quite well for a preschooler who has never walked home alone.

In children’s books, your conflict has to be age appropriate.  Make it to old for the character and reader and you  may find your five year-old character trying to save the world from an evil wizard who is killing those who won’t join his cause (hello, Harry Potter).

Whoa! That’s way too much for this audience.  But a highschooler who is overwhelmed by her new backpack, purse or boots is going to make a pretty boring story even if Kevin Henkes made this also fly in picture book form.

Conflict vs. Complication.  To make it work, you have to make it age appropriate.

–SueBE

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