As I am taking a self-imposed leave of absence from Victorian England and the supernatural encounters of a certain man named Jason Dark, I have been working no some material to branch out. No, I am not tired of writing Jason Dark mysteries — far from it — but I felt that I needed to add a little diversity to the books I am publishing. The idea is that I want to reach readers that I simply cannot entice to read horror mysteries — such as children.
Yes, you read correctly. I have written a book for children. A middle-grade adventure, to be exact. It is one of those things that happen to you when you’re a parent, I suppose. You start taking an interest in the material your own children are reading and you begin to detect that some of this is actually quite interesting or intriguing. In my case, it sparked an interest to write some stories for children myself.
Easy as pie, you might say, but don’t be fooled. Writing a book for children is a lot harder than writing a book for adults. The reason is quickly becoming obvious when you consider that you are trying to tell a story to someone who has only a fraction of the vocabulary of an adult. Word choice is one of the most critical elements — and one of the biggest challenges — when you write for children.
When we write a novel, it is easy for us to create diversity by spicing up our writing with words of different meaning, sometimes relying on very subtle nuances of these words to create atmosphere, mood or action. This is a lot hard to do when all you have is one or two words for a meaning.
Let’s say, for example, in your children’s book you want to write about a dark and foreboding room. For adults we could draw from a wide variety of words to create the right mood for this. The room could be gloomy, dark, depressing, spooky, ominous, foreboding, shadowy, malignant, pitched in darkness or even tenebrific.
When you write for middle-graders, out of that entire list only two or three words could be really be applied safely. Maybe a few more, depending on the exact age range you are writing for, but the general point I am trying to make is that your vocabulary is severely restricted. In order to be able to still paint vivid images with your words, you end up doing a lot of wordsmithing. I spent a lot of time revising my book over and over again. Not so much for content itself, like it is often the case with my stories for grown-ups, but instead to create sentences that flow easily, that have a solid rhythm. I will check sentences to make sure they are word appropriate, I will double-check sentences to make sure they do not run too long, and I will remove most of my sentence modifiers, rephrasing paragraphs to make the clear and to the point. All of this is essential for young readers to be able to follow your writing.
Much of this is actually good practice when writing for adults, also, but naturally there is a lot more leeway. Starting with the word choices, adults have a much wider knowledge base, usually, a vocabulary upon which we can draw as writers to create more colorful prose.
Naturally, in books for adults, we also want to make sure our sentence structure is not always minimalistic and overly simplistic. While it is never a good idea to get lost in your own convoluted sentences, I do believe that insertions and modifiers can vastly define the style and voice of a writer.
For me, it was an experiment really, to see how well I would do within such limitations. Since English is not my native language I am always very conscious about potential weaknesses in my writing, and creating this book was an exercise for me to really get down to the fundamentals of it all.
Some time soon, I’ll tell you more about this exciting new book. It is completed and I am only waiting for interior illustrations and the cover to be finished.