The Rules

I belong to an online critique group called “The Yellow Brick Road.”  One of my talented colleagues wrote an interesting post the other day stating that, after learning and focusing on the “rules” of writing for children, he was surprised and heartened to find a picture book (The Doorman by Edward Grimm) that broke most of the rules and was still a successful PB.

I found this interesting because, for some time now, I’ve thought that the rules are sort of a crock.  Many, if not most, of the children’s classics – which are still loved by children everywhere – would never be published today.  Why?  They don’t follow the rules.  My best personal example was when I read C.S. Lewis’ The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe to my daughter last year.  While it does follow the main rules, it breaks nearly every editor’s instruction I’ve heard.  Author intrusion!  Difficult language!  Adverbs everywhere…  you get the picture.  Meanwhile, my 7-year-old DD (darling daughter) loved it.  So much that we’re reading the first book in the series!

Oh, you want to know the rules?  Main ones are:

1)  Protagonist should be a child or child-like character.

2) Protagonist should have a problem; make several attempts to resolve problem but fail the first couple or few attempts; the final attempt should succeed wholly or as much as possible without adult intervention.

3) Protagonist should change or learn something by the end.

I’ve also heard:

4) Narrator should not be omniscient.

5) Never, ever, ever intrude (author intrusion, i.e. pointing out something that the narrator can’t possible know).

6) Limit the use of adjectives and adverbs, if any.

7) Keep the vocabulary age-appropriate, i.e., simple.

Seriously, though, good writing is good writing in any era.  And I firmly believe that you gotta know the rules to break ’em successfully!

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One thought on “The Rules

  1. Please break rule #7! Children learn new vocabulary through interacting (reading!) with new text sprinkled with words they are unfamilar with. This is still true for my almost 11 year old very-fluent reader who is currently enchanted with the Mysterious Benedict Society series by Trenton Lee Stewart.

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