Monday, November 7, 2011

Meloy on Writing for Children and Adults

In the October 29-30, 2011, edition of The Wall Street Journal, Maile Meloy (The Apothecary) talks about the lessons she learned when writing for young readers rather than adults. Excerpt:
Sometimes you find yourself part of a trend accidentally: Some old, beloved jacket in your closet becomes fashionable, or your private, favorite novel is discovered by the world. Having written four books of fiction for adults, I wrote a novel for kids, and looked up from the first draft to find that other writers were doing the same thing -- and adults were reading the books.

My plunge into the world of children's publishing surprised my friends as much as it surprised me. One asked, "How did you make the change? Did you have some kind of magical elixir?" I did, if you consider that magical elixirs are slow and difficult and sometimes frustrating to make, and involve wrong turns and unexpected discoveries. But here's the basic recipe ...
Read the whole thing (and if the Journal's Web site wants you to subscribe, remember that Google is your friend). Some of Meloy's observations will seem old hat to longtime readers of YA fiction. For example, most everyone knows that authors ought not to write down to children and teens, and writers shouldn't obsess over their targeted subgenre before they even begin the book. But Meloy's emphasis on the importance of plot really struck me. After recounting to a chum that "that I had stopped reading three much-admired novels in a row because I was on page 60 in each and nothing had happened," she expresses consternation when the friend replies, "That's why I don't read books!" Meloy argues that authors can't afford stylistic self-indulgence when writing for children or adults. "There are too many forms of entertainment to compete with. ... [Y]oung readers are exquisitely demanding of narrative drive, and I'm with them. I think that's why writing for kids felt like coming home, and also why so many adults have started reading books written for kids. That's where the plots are." That's where we should be, too.

(Picture: CC 2009 by Jer Kunz)


pattinase (abbott) said...

I liked her first book of stories a lot. Half in Love.

Chestertonian Rambler said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Chestertonian Rambler said...

Enjoyed the article.

Though I'm disturbed by her cavalier ability to imply that kid's lit = fantasy.

"When you've been writing fiction for adults, thinking about the real, hard facts of the world, it's spectacularly freeing to get your characters in a scrape and say, "Well, they can fly.""

Yeah, but somehow it seems unjust to say that stories like Mieville's Iron Council (where people can ride on creations of magic) or Martin's Song of Ice and Fire (where a protag is literally raising dragons and most likely *will* fly) ignore the "real, hard facts of the world." Is McKinley's brutal depiction of the emotional results of rape (in Deerskin) escapist merely because the victim gets to rest in a house in the woods after the event? Would it be more "gritty" if she were to hide in the home of a kindly professor of Women's Studies?

I'm nitpicking, I know. And certainly bestselling fantasy authors profit from the association between fantasy and escapism, creating worlds that are intentionally focused away from social critique. But it does indicate how widely spread is the ignorance of the emotional power and diverse uses of modern fantasy--even among those who should know better.

Crazy Eddie said...

Thanks for the quote and the links. I've been toying with the idea of writing for young adults and this has given me much to think about. Thanks again.

Resources For Writers

Loren Eaton said...


I was impressed by her interview. I might check the collection out.

Loren Eaton said...


No, that's a pretty fair nitpick. I'd missed that line when I read the piece, but it's definitely there. I'm guessing that Meloy's simply reacting to the current state of YA and children's lit where much of the output functions that way. Not that it necessarily has to ...

Loren Eaton said...


Thanks for stopping by! I hope to see you again.