A meditation on whether it´s truly easier to write children´s books.
|Sooner or later, if it hasn´t happened already, some literary snob is going to tell you that writing for children is easy.
Sooner or later, if it hasn´t happened already, some politically correct person is going to tell you that writing for children is actually much more difficult than writing for adults.
Sooner or later someone like Isaac Asimov is going to tell you that writing for children is the same as writing for adults.
So who´s right?
It´s not an easy question partly because its multifaceted, partly because it depends on the writer, and also because it depends whether you´re talking about literary ideals or the realities of the publishing world.
Many years ago, Asimov wrote an excellent essay in which he suggested several differences between writing for children and writing for adults, but then proceeded to dispense with each of them. In this essay, we´ll use that as a guide and add my own two cents.
Adults books are filled with sex and violence while children´s literature is all about joy and goodness.
Um. . .okay. Do we really need to waste time answering this one? Asimov laughed at it and so will just about everyone in the children´s literature industry, I imagine.
All right, seriously, a book which has too much violence or sex might be considered inappropriate for children and might even get thrown on the fire by some school librarian whereas that probably won´t be a problem for adult books. It´s an example of the difference between literary ideals and publishing realities.
Anyway, I don´t know that this makes writing for children easier or harder. I suppose it might be a problem if writing about sex or violence is what an author does best, but aside from that. . .not much.
Children´s books must be easy to read using basic vocabulary words and simply constructed sentences. Adult books can have ¨ten-dollar words¨ and long sentences.
This may be where people get the idea that writing for children is easier than writing for adults. (Ironically, it may also be where people get the idea that writing for children is more difficult.) Asimov admitted that most children don´t enjoy reading books with language that´s difficult, but he then went on to point out something else. Namely, that most adults don´t really enjoy reading books with headache-inducing prose. The difference is that an adult book with headache-inducing prose might be praised by critics and maybe even win some kind of book award. Then adults will buy it because they think it´s important to read literary fiction, and, at best, they´ll suffer through reading it. At worst, they won´t read it at all. They´ll just keep it lying visibly around the house, so the neighbors can think they´re well-read people. But that won´t bother the publisher or the author who get paid whether people who buy the book read it or not. A children´s book with headache-inducing prose will probably just bore children and it won´t make money.
As for whether this makes writing for children easier or more difficult, that´s a little tricky. Some people probably assume that writing simple prose without too many difficult words is easy. Maybe. But writing that way too much can be boring. Moreover, it can make the reader assume one of two things:
1) That the author is not very intelligent.
2) That the author thinks the reader is not very intelligent. Young people might be inclined to think this one.
To avoid these assumptions a good author needs to balance simple writing with complex writing. This can be extremely difficult and it may be why some people think writing for children is more difficult then writing for adults. Still, if you believe that a great adult author should also do this, the argument falls apart.
About here is where Asimov jumped to the conclusion that there is no difference between writing for adults and writing for young people, but as I thought about the issue, I realized that there was another difference not mentioned in Asimov´s essay.
Authors of books for young people are motivated by a love of young people´s fiction while authors of adult books. . . well. . .
I´m not surprised Asimov missed this one. While he was certainly not stupid, he could be a little bit naïve, especially when writing about literature rather then science. And I´m sure that he loved writing for adults every bit as much as writing for young people. What he didn´t realize was that a great deal of adult fiction is written not out of love, but out of some kind of self-imposed holy mission on the author.
By contrast, I have never met an author of children´s books who did not absolutely love children´s fiction. On some level, I think this must make writing children´s books easier for such authors.
Of course, there are writers of adult fiction, including me, who love writing adult fiction, so that brings us back to there being no differences.
There you go.