Seeing the world through the eyes of the chapter book reader: are you brave enough to recapture your inner child?
I am a big fan of the first person. I love books that speak to me directly. Characters that let me climb inside their head and share their innermost thoughts. Protagonists I may not always like, but who I understand. Stories I can access without intrusion.
Perhaps because of this, the first person is my default writing position. I’ve tried other points of view, but my writing becomes forced, stifled even; so back I go. But writing in the first person, does have its limitations. The most pertinent being, that language and syntax must be synonymous with the point of view character.
That last sentence jarred now didn’t it? So, you get it: if you write in the first person, and you write for young readers, there’s no room for this sort of fancy-pants language. Your readers want to hear something of themselves in your writing. They are not interested in the remote academic who lives at the bottom of the street with thirty-seven cats.
But whilst a voice the reader can identify with may grab their attention, if you are going to keep it, you need to do more. You can’t just give them words, you have to provide them with an experience. Now, I don’t have the stomach for going down that whole show versus tell road today, what I’m concerned with is authenticity. Ensuring that the experiences we describe ring true. That the world we portray is the same world that is experienced by the child-reader.
Observation can take us part way there: it can help a lot with understanding what drives young people and how they feel about things. But if you really want to capture your reader’s world, you first need to taste it. To take time out to remind yourself what it means to be a child.
Easier said than done? Well, because it’s Friday and the sun is shining, I’m going to help you out. Work your way through the list below over the weekend and by Monday you’ll have regressed so far you’ll be crying for your dummy:
- Build a den out of duvets and a clotheshorse. Sleep in it until you run out of clean clothes and you can’t put the washing off any longer. Ensure that the den is guarded by your favourite stuffed toys and that you keep a torch under your pillow: you may have to go in search of a midnight feast.
- Do something random. Why not break-up that boring journey to the shops, by stopping on a grassy verge and practising one arm press-ups? Or try out a 360 degree pirouette outside of Sainbury’s. You’ll feel better for it.
- When no one is looking drop a sweet into your breakfast cereal. Eat your breakfast with extreme care, rearranging the cereal after each mouthful so that other adults don’t notice the sweet. If you spoon the sweet up and put it in your mouth by accident, place your hand next to your face and spit it back into the bowl discreetly.
- Lose any inhabitations you may have about the toilet. Number twos should be a communal activity. Take a friend to the toilet with you and chat about football. Your friend may wish to put their goal-keeping gloves on before they join you in the bathroom. (This last comment may seem weird but it is based on observation.)
- Wear your underwear over your trousers and tie a towel around your neck for a cape. Do this whether you are writing for young children or not. I promise, you won’t regret it.
Disclaimer: with the exception of the underpants over trousers trick do not under any circumstances perform these acts if you are writing for young adults. That would just make you look like a total loser, man.