Sci-Fi & Scary is honored to present this piece from Margaret Dilloway as part of the YA Debut Author Bash for 2016. It was sheer happenstance that I’d recently reviewed Momotaro: Xander and the Lost Island of Monsters (See that review here.) Given that I already thought positively of her work, having a chance to work with her through YA Reads was awesome. So, of course I asked for a Guest Post! I love seeing inside people’s heads, and I’m sure you do too! The topic she chose is: Writing Fantasy for Kids. So, read on, leave a comment, and enter the giveaway at the bottom!
Writing Fantasy for Kids
by Margaret Dilloway
More than one person has expressed amazement that I, an award-winning women’s fiction author, got it in my head to write a kids’ fantasy story. In which the protagonist is a funny 12-year-old boy.
I say all of us have a 12-year-old who loves mystical creatures and magic still lurking within us. (The boy part came about because my son was a 12-year-old boy at the time of writing, plus my husband is still basically a 12-year-old boy at heart).
Actually, when I was growing up, I loved fantasy as well as realistic fiction. You’d find me in the land of Prydain one day with Lloyd Alexander, or navigating the orange groves of California the next with Beverly Cleary.
Not that writing a book like this came 100% easy right off the bat. It took quite a bit of trial and error before I figured out what I was doing. I’ve thought about what I learned and compiled some of the essential ingredients here.
Kids love them some humor. So do I. Who doesn’t? Humor makes the medicine go down easy. So even if you’re writing a book with heavy themes, a humorous aside here and there makes it enjoyable to read.
Fast Moving Plot
Most kid readers are not interested in your 19th century-style meanderings about someone buying a head of lettuce that goes on for 20 pages. If kids wanted to read Moby Dick, they’d go check out Moby Dick.
Instead, make your plot go-go-go. Every scene should have a reason for being in there, for getting the character to the next step . At least, it should develop your character in some significant way that also moves the plot forward. Otherwise, cut it out or fix it. Be so merciless that you have to go have lunch with your writer friends and cry (never tell this to any non-writer friends, because they may actually just get up and walk out).
One of my favorite writers when I was a kid was Madeleine L’Engle. Though A Wrinkle in Time was fantastical, what made it relatable was the strong family relationship of the Murry family. I wanted to eat Mrs. Murry’s Bunsen-burner stew. And so did Calvin—the genius misfit who helped their quest and gave Meg a foil besides Charles Wallace.
Even L’Engle’s realistic family series, The Austins, had a tinge of the supernatural, and even crossed over with her other series.
To me fantasy serves as a powerful allegory for kids, reminding them they can confront evil and overcome it. (That’s why I’ve never understood why certain groups scorn magic in books like Harry Potter as devil-worshipping—I think fighting for good over evil means quite the opposite).
Suddenly erupting powers are analogies for the suddenly erupting, scary adult powers of adolescence. How will the protagonist handle these overwhelming new abilities? Will they abuse these new powers, or use them wisely and well?
Of course when you’re reading a book, you’re not supposed to see any of these analogies too clearly. In fact, I don’t sit down and map out exactly what symbol means what. But it does help to have this thought when thinking about theme.
So that’s my recipe for writing kids’ fantasy. Mix it all up, let it simmer for as many drafts as it takes, and enjoy! Warning: results may vary. What worked for me may not work for you. That’s the joy and pain of writing.