August 2nd, 2007

Problems with manuscripts for kids – who am I?

Sometimes I see unpublished manuscripts for kids, either those written by friends, or if I’m teaching a class. One big problem I often see is that it’s not clear who the POV character is. Kids need one POV character they can relate to and root for. From the start, it should be clear whose story is being told. Even with twins, you need to pick one. You need to see through one person’s eyes and think one person’s thoughts. Often I see head-hopping. Head-hopping happens when the writer tells the reader what more than one character is thinking in a single scene. Usually it’s because the writer wants the reader to know something that can’t be told from just one viewpoint.

But you don’t need to tell your reader everything. Your main character, just like us, can figure out what others around us are thinking by what they say, their body language, or the faces they make.

I’ve seen manuscripts with three or four points of view – sometimes in the same chapter. I’ve seen POV from an animal: “They ran toward the elephants who were so happy to cool one another with spraying water that they only grinned to see the two little human creatures running nearby.”

Your children’s book needs to be in first person or limited third. Once you pick your main POV character, stick with him or her. If your main character doesn’t know it or see it, then he or she wouldn’t talk about it either.

With older kids, you can perhaps have more than one narrative voice, but it’s a risk. Each voice must be there because it serves a unique purpose.

If you do use more than one point of view, whether in a book for kids or adults, it also needs to be clear exactly which character’s head you are in. Head-hopping in the middle of a chapter is especially confusing. The reader never gets to settle down if first they are the baby, and then the younger brother, and then the older sister, and finally the mother. If you switch POVs, give us at least a page break or ideally a chapter.

(Full disclosure: these are just my opinions. Your mileage may vary.)



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Who was worse? Frey or Oprah?

Who was worse, Frey for lying in A Million Little Pieces, or Oprah for picking on him and his editor, Nan Talese?

I have to say my money's on Frey. Read more here.

What's funny is that Talese defends Frey by saying, "When someone starts out and says, 'I have been an alcoholic. I have lied, I have cheated' ... you do not think this is going to be the New Testament." Then later in the article, she says that "And at the end of it she [Oprah] pulled James aside and said, 'I know it was rough, but it's just business.'" And then she clarified that this was something Frey told her Oprah said, in fact that he says he was told something like this several times. So now she believes him? I don't know that I would. And I do think that while memoir might be shaded (of course it is, to tell a coherent story you have to leave things out or collapse them), Frey crossed the line and just made a lot of stuff up.

Enough about me. What do you think?



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