Smarts versus Strength

The average kid is not a bodybuilder. They generally are not that tall yet, nor do they have the same strength of an adult. If they get into trouble with some kind of being that’s stronger than them, they cannot solve the problem through brawn. They have to use their brains instead. In my children’s stories, that is exactly what happens.
When I was younger, I was a pretty scrawny kid. I could not even turn a key in its lock (although, in all honesty, I still may fail at times). During that period, I really did not enjoy reading about people in my fantasy books who just managed to fight themselves past every obstacle. I wanted to be able to identify with the main character, which I could not in cases like these. Instead, I preferred the main characters to be clever and witty. They could be tiny, they could be weak, but they could not be dumb. I wanted them to be me, yet I wanted to admire them at the same time. How I admired those with smarts…
I still do, though. In my opinion, fight scenes are not all that interesting. Sure, they are great ways to create tension, but I cannot read them over and over again. People punch, people kick, people bite. I’ve never been interested in violence like that, especially since I couldn’t believe it. Nobody is going to convince me that the average eight-year-old can kick a powerful warlock’s ass with sheer strength. No thanks. I can imagine that there are more kids like me out there, and they are the ones I like to write for. Horror is my preferred genre, and I know that the evil doesn’t necessarily needs to be punched in order to be overcome. In fact, that sounds like a terrible idea. The supernatural cannot be hit – it should be outsmarted instead.
Horror is just as broad of a genre as all others. I like smart kids, so they will be in there. Still, though, I should be able to figure out a way to make them witty and smart and not want to murder them at the same time because I grossly overdo it. Smarts are fun in children’s fiction.

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The Flawed Main Character

Every main character needs to be flawed, at least to an extent. Actually, every character needs to be flawed. No one is perfect, everyone has their own strange quirks and shortcomings. However, what are we as writers supposed to do when our own characters are driving us mad?
My series’ actual main character, a ten-year-old boy, is a total brat. He is bossy, arrogant and lazy, he’s a scaredy cat and he is driven by wanting to be perceived as ‘masculine’, although he really doesn’t have a clue as to what actual manliness entails. One hint, main character: it’s not about being a jerk to everyone around you. If it isn’t clear by now, I really cannot stand the kid. Why I ever picked him to be the lead of my series is a mystery to me. I actually had to quit the third book in the series for a while because I really did not want to have to get into his head again.
On the other hand, I liked the main character’s older sister much better. She’s eleven years old and aspires to become a witch. Although she is totally nuts in the main character’s eyes, she is so much more likeable to me than he is. She isn’t driven by some weird ideal – all she wants is to have fun and to explore the boundaries of the world. It may have been a horrible choice, but she is the reason why I decided to skip straight to the fifth book in the series, where she is the main character. A bad idea, huh? I’m guessing that most boys don’t enjoy reading about girls, especially not about young witches. With regards to my intended audience, it is not the greatest idea. However, as soon as I started writing about her, I immediately found my drive to write back. It may not just have been her, though. Another reason may have been that this is an actual ghost story with a likeable main character, instead of a story about a bratty boy who turns into a mouse.
I am not sure what to do now. I’m definitely going to continue the series. Possibly there will be another book about the girl. That is not the core of the problem, though. The real question is why the original main character turned into such a horrible brat that I couldn’t even stand to write about. I will have to fix that. He will get better over time, that’s for sure. That’s called character development. Until then, I will have to deal with him – and try to iron out his slightly-too-flawed personality. Thankfully, he is just a character in my head. He can change… Reality is, he has already come to life, so it’s going to be hard.
Has anyone else ever had that problem? Some main characters just decide to live their lives on their own… and it feels like there is nothing we can do to stop it. That may be the power of the writer’s mind, but it’s also a curse.

A.G.R. Rosewood – The Face Stealer

For my 50st blog, I decided I’d do something special. Here is the first chapter of the first book in my children’s series, called The Face Stealer. I hope you’ll enjoy it.

Chapter 1: A Halloween Dream

“Can you see anything yet?” I asked my little brother Levi.
“No. Jamie, I don’t even know what I’m looking for! This is so boring.”
“I thought you wanted to see a real-live Halloween monster?”
To me, Halloween was the most special day of the year. After all, it was the day people would turn into monsters… And monsters would turn into people. I had been waiting all year for it. Me and my family had moved to this town called Borington – well, maybe that was not its real name – exactly eleven months ago, a month after the infamous Halloween night. The other kids at school loved to talk about it, but I hadn’t been there to see it. This year would be different. This year, I lived right next to the Poachers’ Forest, where everyone said all the fun always happened. If something sinister was going to appear, I would know it. However, since staring out of the window for hours was really boring, I had put Levi on the look-out. In the meantime, I slaughtered some virtual monsters on my computer.
Levi yawned loudly. I grumbled. Not yet… I thought to myself. Couldn’t he even stay awake for one night only?
“Jamie, I’m tired. This isn’t fun at all,” Levi complained.
I glanced at the alarm clock. 11:58pm, the red glowing numbers showed. Almost time. Almost midnight. Almost Halloween.
I put my controller aside and rapidly climbed on top of our bunk bed. Jamie was sitting crouched near the skylight. His breath had left marks on the glass, as a draught came through the window.
“Move it,” I commanded, pushing Levi aside. “I want to watch.”
Levi gave me a sluggish look. He nudged the sleep out of his eyes. I suspected he hadn’t been awake all evening, even though I had told him to do so. What if the monster had passed by while Levi had been drowsing of?
“So… Does that mean something is going to happen?” Levi asked me.
I nodded. “And I am the one with the first-rate seats.”
I could feel my heart throbbing as I looked at the alarm clock. 12 o’clock. Were the stories true or were my classmates just messing with me? I had to know.
Levi whacked me aside with his elbow. “This is my bed. I deserve the first-rate seat.”
We both pressed our noses up against the window, side by side. I could still feel the spot where Levi had hit me. He was surprisingly strong for a six-year old and angering him definitely wasn’t fun. I wanted to take revenge, but I knew that if he started yelling, mum and dad would be here in a second. Then the fun would be over forever…
BOOM!
A deafening bang echoed through the Poachers” Forest. Was it the sound of thunder or was it something less ordinary? I could think of a million things it could have been, but it was for sure that it was real. Levi had covered his ears with his hands to protect them from the noise. A group of winged creatures glided past, lit by nothing but the moon.
“Are those bats?” Levi asked.
I chuckled, even though my blood had run cold. “No, you moron, they were just birds. But something must have scared them…”
Levi frowned. “Are you deaf? They were freaked out because of that explosion!”
“Or because of something else…” I mumbled. “Look over there.”
A hunched figure was standing in the shade near the end of the street, close to the edge of the forest. His back was turned to us, but I could tell something was off. He was very tall and thin, with snow-white skin and a head as round as a bowling ball. A black mantle adorned his pointy shoulders and covered arms that almost reached his feet.
When the person turned around, I was sure about it: that creature was not human! He did not have eyes or ears. He lacked a nose and a mouth. His face was perfectly smooth, as if it was an egg instead of a head.
As soon as I realised what I saw, I crawled back and dragged Levi along. You shouldn’t let it see you, the little voice in the back of my head told me.
“What are you doing?” Levi asked, clearly annoyed.
“We have to hide,” I whispered.
“Why? It’s just a person in a costume…”
No matter what Levi thought it was, I was sure something was not right. I pressed his head down, into the mattress.
“Jamie!” he squeaked.
“Stay down!” I murmured, as I pressed my back against the wall.
Levi laughed quietly. “Do you really think it’s real? It doesn’t even have eyes. It’s not like it can see us.”
“Then be quiet!” I hissed.
Levi raised his head and made a face as if he thought I was stupid. “Does it have ears?”
“No, it doesn’t…” I sighed.
“Then stop freaking out. You’re not a bird, are you?”
I glanced through the window again, watching the figure walk slowly across the street. His head was tilted slightly, as if he were looking for something – if he could see anything at all.
Levi wrestled me until I loosened my grip on the back of his head. Immediately, he whizzed down the ladder. I quickly shut the curtains and followed him. There were two important questions left for me. Firstly, where was my moronic brother going? Secondly, what could a creature without face possibly be looking for?
Quietly, Levi opened the door to our bedroom and sneaked outside. He tiptoed across the hallway.
“Where are you going?” I asked softly. “Mum and dad cannot know we are still awake!”
Levi pointed at the stairs. “Downstairs,” he answered. “I want to see it.”
“It could just be someone who’s trying to scare us…” I said with trembling voice.
Levi did not listen. He crept down the stairs without thinking. I had to go after him. Sometimes, Levi was not just a moron. At those times, he was just an idiot. Like now. As I liked to think, Levi was the brave one when it came to the two of us. I was the one with the brains.
Downstairs, Levi opened all curtains and lit all lamps in the room. The situation was even worse than I thought… The faceless monster was standing in our own front yard! It was so close it could smash the windows with ease, especially with those monstrous arms.
I held my breath. Levi was standing face to face with something that came directly from my nightmares.
This had been my idea. Why had I been so stupid? Borington, no way. This was Creepsville.
“Stay away from that window,” I whispered. “We don’t know if this is a prank. What if it is dangerous?”
Levi shrugged and turned towards me. “Isn’t that part of the fun of monster hunting?”
The creature disappeared. Just now, it had been standing right in front of us. In the one second Levi turned around, it was gone. Where could it be hiding?
I ran across the room, looking out of every single window. Gone. It was gone. My stomach turned in my belly. Something bad was about to happen. This was not possible. No prankster was this good…
I heard footsteps coming down the stairs. Levi and I both leapt in the air out of fright. This was worse than the monster…

Picture-perfect; Pictures in (Children’s) Literature

For the youngest children and the early readers, there is an abundance of picture books – the kind of book where pictures take up entire pages. They love them, as the images help them to create a picture of the scene in their own mind. However, as these children grow older, the pictures in their stories disappear, mainly because they want to feel “grown up” and not go back to the “childish” style of actual picture books. When I was a child, I thought this was a shame. I actually loved the pictures in my books, no matter what they looked like (black-and-white or coloured). Sadly, those books weren’t ever available, at least not for my age range. Sure, I loved reading and I would generally be content with the plain old written novel, but something often was lacking. I wanted to know what the characters looked like. I wanted to know where they were. Children’s books never went into detail, although that detail was exactly what I wanted, and still want nowadays. I believe that novels should start containing some pictures again, if only for the small group of people like me.

To be honest, I do not like comics. I also do not enjoy graphic novels. For my literature courses, I’ve had to read Art Spiegelman’s Maus, which I thought was the most horrible thing I’d ever seen. Not because the story was bad – it was a welcome change in the depiction of war novels – but because I absolutely hated the (sometimes gruesome) art. Some books do not need pictures – not if they involve torture, murder or piles of burning mice. The same goes for comic books; to me, they are too picture-heavy and often too over-the-top. I do want to read an actual book, not a comic. I just wish that book would sometimes contain a simple pictures.

Maybe it is just me, but I actually do not enjoy having to think up a character’s looks by myself. To me, whatever I think of is not right. It is not what the author had in mind when they wrote it. It may sound pretentious, but I like the idea of actually looking into the author’s mind. Of course, this does not really work this way, as the author most likely is not the person to provide the pictures. Still, as far as I know they typically have at least some say in what the product is going to look like in the end. If the author agrees, I will agree that it is right.

Now, I have a question. Would anyone else like some visuals in their literature?

Children’s Books That Should Not Be Written

Children's Books That Should Not Be Written

Of course the list of children’s books’ titles I just posted is merely a joke of which I do not know the original source – it is all over the Internet, so it was impossible to trace back its origins. However, there still is a point to this list. Some children’s books should not be written; period. Although the limits may be vague, I believe standards should be set.

Firstly, no children’s book should actually encourage children to act inappropriately. By that, I mean acting in ways that is harmful or dangerous, either for the child themselves or for the others around them. This is not to say that nothing can happen. Children’s books should be filled with fun, adventure and danger – why would any child otherwise want to read them? Reading is about knowing about the unknown, which is why it is such a good passtime. Stealing candy from a candy factory is a great example of something that could definitely happen in children’s fiction. It is adventurous, but it is also dangerous and illegal. Does that mean that it should not happen at all? No, that is not what I am trying to say. Still, the characters should not just get away with their crime – which is what this is. Breaking in in factories is illegal. The main characters should be caught, one way or the other. They might be seen, or they might feel remorse. They should not run home laughing without trouble and then eat candy for the rest of the week without anyone ever finding out. The example may not be all that realistic, as there are not that much fun factories around, but the point still stands.

Secondly, children’s books should not be about actively making the reader feel bad about – about themselves or in general. “Your parents just don’t love you” may happen in the real world, and it sometimes does happen in books, but I am not sure if I agree with this. Should children really be reading those depressing close-to-home stories? While they might be comforting, they could also be a powerful trigger, whether the reader actually experienced this or not. Another example about making children feel bad is the title “The Monsters in your Closet are Real”. This is great for older children who don’t believe in monsters anymore – not for the little kids for whom this title seems to be intended, although it is just a joke.

Lastly, children’s books should not be age inappropriate, no matter how straight to the point this advice may seem. If it doesn’t come up in children’s minds yet, it probably isn’t a good idea to write a story about it. Chances are the readers won’t enjoy it or otherwise get ideas that may be harmful. Romance does not occur often in children’s fiction for the reason that most children do not care about it. They may have crushes on each other, but they do not go around groping each other – or at least, they should not be. Middle Grade fiction may include a kiss, but that’s it. The same goes for topics such as abuse. The level of it should be age appropriate. The higher the intended audience, the more severe it can be, but it still should not cross those lines.

Even jokes can hold an important message: some children’s books just should not be written.

What do you think of that?

Writing for Children – The Fun of Grade Calculating Devices

The stories are write are meant for children of the ages between eight and ten years old. However, while I can say that they are meant for this group, this does not mean that they would be actually appropriate. Figuring out the right style has always been difficult for me. Back when I used to write for teenagers, my language always turned out to be too difficult and prententious. No kid would want to read it, I am sure of that. That is why I am not going to try that ever again. Still, now that I am writing for younger children, I keep running into the same problem. What style is age appropriate? Am I really just dumbing it down, which is the most horrible mistake to make, or am I so afraid of doing so that my texts are too boring or difficult for the average eight-year-old?

I know that there are a few tools out there that could be helpful in this case. I tried the Flesch-Kincaid Grade Level technique, and according to that, my stories should be appropriate for children in the third grade. However, at the same time, either the Gunning-Fog Score or the Coleman-Liau Index (I cannot remember which) indicated that my writing would be more appropriate for sixth-grade readers. Apparently the words I use are too long of difficult. Now I am left wondering if I should take those out or try to ignore these scores. Do they really mean as much as they appear to? The problem is that I do not enjoy writing for older audiences. Even a story for actual sixth-graders demands more depth and more emotional problems… and while I love creating backstories, deep, emotional problems are not something I want to deal with. My stories should be short, fun and a little scary, in my eyes.

I’ve come to the conclusion that writing for children is hard; much harder, in fact, than writing for teenagers – but only when it comes down to style. I am not saying I am going to give up. That would be a shame. I am just going to keep writing, try to ignore the problem and finish my job. It will be hard, as I will be moving out in a couple of days, but the holidays are near and I will have a lot of spare time. I will also be joining Camp NaNo, so let the writing commence. I will not let those horrible grade calculators stop me!

The Tale of Coven’s End – A Short Explanation of my Series’ Story

This is not really a blog post in the sense of what I normally write. It is a short introduction to my series, complete with its own fairy tale.

I am always afraid to be regarded as already being published. Posting an excerpt of my first chapter seems a little dangerous to me, so I decided to write a short fairy tale about the origin of my series’ little village called Coven’s End. It probably won’t ever appear in the story, as the level is already too high for my audience. This is not how I normally write, in all honesty. Just to be clear, my series concerns a cursed village, where portals to other worlds keep popping up. The main characters have to deal with all of these strange occurrences, until they figure out what causes all of them.

“Once upon a time, wise men and women ruled over these lands. They knew about the power of nature and spirits. They used that knowledge to create a better world. However, their own people started mistrusting them. They did not understand the magic, so it frightened them. Eventually, they were so scared that they drove off the wise ones. Angered, the wise people decided to flee and come together where no one could find them, so that they could use their powers in secret. They called these groups ‘covens’. Still, no matter how hard they tried, they were found every time. They had no place to go. Their last gathering was here, in these woods, where they decided that the people of this country did not deserve them. After all, they were called ‘witches’ now. When their attackers approached them during their last ceremony, the witches cursed them, their families and this entire village. Right after, they disappeared. That was the end of the coven of Coven’s End – and the reason for every single bad thing happening in this village. The power of the witches is still all around us.”

Now, I have a question: is it really that dangerous to post a small excerpt from an actual chapter?

The Publishers’ Nightmare

I am the publishers’ nightmare. As a shy non-native speaker of the English language who lives overseas, I probably couldn’t be a worse candidate for the English publishing houses. However, that does not mean I would forsake my dream without a fight.

Firstly, yes, I may be shy, but that is not everything I am. It does not shape me as a person, especially because I am shy when it comes down to talking about the weather and other seemingly unimportant subjects. As long as I am not interested, I am shy. Still, once I actively get involved with anything that lies close to my heart, I basically cannot stop talking about it. That’s still a quite annoying quality, but a lot easier than not knowing what to say. To the publishing house that claimed on its site that it refused to accept work from socially awkward writers: too bad, but I am not going to show you my work. I have enough self-esteem not to give it up for your socially inacceptable standards. Do not put guidelines like that up on your site.

Secondly, yes, I may be a non-native speaker of the English language, but that does not mean I am not allowed to try. To me, writing English children’s books is much more interesting than doing so in Dutch. The former is much more lively, in contrary to the stiff Dutch vocabulary. Besides, I am officially a student of the English language. I should be able to master it at a near-native level of speech and writing, and writing is not a problem for me. I consistently get great grades on my essays, so I doubt that would be a problem. However, mastering the literary language is a self-contained skill. I may have to practice some – or a lot – more, but in the end, I will reach my goals.

Thirdly, yes, I live overseas, which may be a huge problem for English publishing houses. Most of them prefer manuscripts from actual British writers, which I am not. However, the British Islands are not that far away from where I live. Nothing but a canal – and a sea, but that would make it sound like a bigger problem – divides Great Britain and the Netherlands. I know it is a presumptious idea to ever have to cross that sea, but I can still dream, right? Plane tickets are not that expensive. I could make it.

All in all, while I may be a true nightmare for British publishers, at least I would like to disprove the reasons why I could never reach my goal. It may still be far off, but publishers, beware. I will cross that ocean, one way or the other.

The Science of Translation

My upcoming exam will be on translation sciences, as translations make up a great part of today’s literary world. Don’t get me wrong, but when I chose a course called Translation Sciences, I was under the impression that we would be taught how to translate. Sadly, that’s apparently not the way universitary courses work. Instead, they are all theory and no practice.

Ever since I was able to read English, I have dreamt of becoming a translator. More precisely, my dream was to translate my own manuscripts into English, hoping that they would be able to spread out over the world that way. That is probably idle hope, though. If I wanted to become a translator, I should have attended a school of applied sciences instead of a regular university.

Personally, I’ve given up on the idea of translating my Dutch manuscripts into English. To me, it is absolutely impossible. The Dutch and English grammar look alike at first sight, but there are so many differences between them that even looking at Dutch texts confuses me. In English, the Dutch “ik woon hier al mijn hele leven” is translated as “I’ve been living here my entire life” (“woon”, in this case, is “have been living”). It is terribly confusing when two languages use different grammar, yet I have to use both at the same time. That is why I have to do without. It may not be a bad thing, though; not being able to really translate has forced me into writing my stories in English. Writing definitely can happen much more quickly when you do not have to use interim measures. I will become a translator someday, but not from Dutch into English. For now, I’ll just be a student, a writer and a wage slave.

The Masters of Literary Theory

No, I am not a master in anything, nor do I think I am. However, after today, I am supposed to at least be adept in the various theories of literary analysis. To be honest, I do not believe most of them – but the test was not bad.

For example, I could try to analyse my own finished manuscript. I’m most likely prejudiced about it, but here we go!

From a feminist point of view, The Face Stealer is probably deemed slightly sexist or otherwise repressed, since the main cast consists of male characters – the two brothers – and they often get into fights with the girls because they are rude and sometimes just mean.

From a postcolonial point of view, I am going to guess that The Face Stealer is viewed as a racist story. Not because it is meant to be racist, but because of the mainly white cast – honestly, what do they expect from a small English town? My main characters are redheads. To the postcolonial criticists, I am sorry that my English boys are Caucasian. Even worse, the monster they have to fight is snow-white! Maybe my professors went a bit too far, but these strange ideas apparently are everywhere.

From a Freudian/psychoanalytic point of view… Well, if you know Freud, you’ll get the point. Of course it’s not an innocent children’s story, there must be some perverse thoughts hidden in there!

To be honest, I really enjoyed this course. It was interesting to find out about all these possible interpretations of stories, although I’ve got to admit that I think most of them are a load of nonsense. I don’t think I am sexist or racist or perverted. Perhaps these theories should not be applied to children’s stories. That would make the world a much better place.