Wednesday, March 21, 2012

Savita's question

The other week I was reading this excellent blog post by Saivta Kahlan about drawing the line. I urge you to go and read it: a) because as I've mentioned before it's excellent b) I rattled off a quick witty response and c) was challenged to consider my response in more depth. If you go and read it you will see evidence of b, and c, and a, will get you thinking. Now, if you are extremely busy (and only if that is the case) Savita questioned whether there were some subjects that should be should be taboo in children's literature. 

The teacher as gatekeeper: 
A few months ago I took a couple of books home to read as the teacher felt they were not suitable for ten year olds. One of them I couldn't get into and haven't read, the other one I absolutely loved, but agreed to send on to the secondary school as there was a death at the beginning of the book, some criminals, criminal activity, rap stars and pedophiles. While I would be quite happy to let a ten year old read the book, given the complexity of the the story, the age of the characters and some of the issues in the book, I felt more kids would read it in the high school.

The parent as gatekeeper: 
One of our favourite books is: De la petite taupe qui voulait savoir qui lui avait fait sur la tête. You may know it as The Story of the Little Mole Who Knew It Was None of His Business. We find it hysterical, we love the onomatopoeias and boy did we use a lot of them when in the throes of potty training. We pulled the book out at a some family do a while ago and one of the aunties was well and truly not amused because it was a book all about poo. Another one of my personal favourite's is Babette Cole's: Mummy laid an egg, but at present it's still on the top shelf (ooh er missus) of our book shelf. It will come down one day when the Frog has finished with the kamasutra like pages. 

The writer as gatekeeper: 
So far the examples I have mentioned have all involved other people as gatekeepers, but should the writer be a gatekeeper. In my current WIP, I did everything to keep my antagonist alive. I knew he had to die, but I didn't want my protagonist to be the one to kill him, and until I worked out a way for that to happen, I kept him alive. In the end it wasn't killing a character off that bothered me*, it was the main character. She could not become a killer, she's not a killer. She's pretty special, but if push comes to shove, she can't and won't kill anyone.

So after much thought and consideration I am actually in complete agreement with Savita (but you'll have to go to her post and see what I'm agreeing with), and as I mentioned in my comment I only draw the line at swearing, because as I say to the kids: we all do it, but there's a time and place and so far it hasn't found it's place in my WIP. 

* I'd just like to make it clear that I do not condone murder, the death penalty or vigilantes, but boy does it make good stories. 


Savita Kalhan said...

Very interesting blog, Michele. I'm glad you liked my question about drawing the line. I think it's an important one when writing for kids.
As for your interesting sounding WIP, and I can't wait to hear more about it, the protganist doesn't have to be the killer, or kill intentionally. Accidents happen... I think you read my book The Long Weekend...

Michele Helene said...

Thanks Savita for the interesting question. It's something that has been in the back of my head, but I had not considered fully before. And I'm sorry, but I can't give away the end of my wip yet!

Savita Kalhan said...

No, you must never give away ANY ideas in a WIP. Always keep them close. Don't trust anyone! Do I sound paranoid? I hope not, but I have heard of ideas being stolen.
Also, no need to make your protagonist an active participant in a death unless you want to. Death can happen accidentally too...

Nicky Schmidt said...

Great post, Michele, and a brilliant follow on from Savita's post.
Because I'm in "go faster" mode today, I'm going to copy and paste what I said on Savita's post here. (Apologies!)

"I find I let my characters guide and drive me and because they're at the upper end of teen/YA (ie 18) there's little they feel they can't get away with. That said, I find I draw my own lines. I haven't done graphic scenes of either sex or violence, though my last ms dealt with both. I think, as you say, less is more, and much can be left to a reader's imagination and generally with far better effect."

Michele Helene said...

Hi Savita and Nicky,
I'm much better at keeping my ideas close. I've taken down loads of things from my ideas on the go page and may even take it down completely, or completely rework it. And Nicky, it's funny what you should say about graphic. A colleague went to see The Woman in Black this weekend and she had seen an earlier BBC adaptation which she said it was better for exactly the same reason: less is more. So I wonder if that is actually good writing or a constraint of writing for teens or children?

Nicky Schmidt said...

That's an interesting question, Michele. The less is more approach is inevitably a tough one to learn - I don't think many of us start off doing it naturally, in either writing or art or design. It's a learned thing, so, I think if one's getting it right, it is actually about good writing. I've seen writing that practices restraint on the graphic detail, but doesn't practice "less is more".


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