It’s time for another group posting of the Insecure Writer’s Support Group! Time to release our fears to the world or offer encouragement to those who are feeling neurotic. If you’d like to join us, click on the tab above and sign up. We post on the first Wednesday of every month. Every month, the organizers announce a question that members can answer in their IWSG Day post. Remember, the question is optional!!! Let’s rock the neurotic writing world! Our Twitter handle is @TheIWSG, and the hashtag is #IWSG.

October 6 question – In your writing, where do you draw the line, with either topics or language?
LOL! I draw the line in so many places there is hardly anything left on the table! One of the keys to writing for children is figuring out how to look at the world from a child’s point of view. When I started, that was one thing my critique partners would always say. ‘This sounds like an adult thinking/talking.’ ‘Your child protagonist seems to be an adult.’ I have worked on it for years to figure out the child-friendly view. One of the things Beverly Cleary attributed her success to was that she ‘had never grown up.’ Cleary maintained a powerful connection to the child view and what they’re interested in that made her able to connect with a vast audience of appreciative readers.
Along with writing at the this age level for a children’s author comes the responsibility to keep the language clean and the topics suitable.

In the first draft of my debut novel, The Or’in of Tane, I had written a romance between the characters of Henny and Dr. Milo Mahiora. My friend and then editor, Maria Cisneros-Toth, pulled me up on the romance and kissing scene. She said, “No, no, no. Not in middle-grade fiction.” I cut the scene out, removing the whole romance. To my surprise, I discovered the story was the better for it and I understood Maria was right. I have not crossed that line since.

In the last few years, I have read the occasional middle-grade novel that has included romance, and it has struck me afresh why Maria told me no. The effect is a shock. It’s not appropriate for kids whose lives still involve bouncy balls, bikes, and games of Go Fish. Yes, okay, kids are exposed to all kinds of things via social media these days. But that doesn’t give license to authors to introduce elements to 8-12-year-old readers that we would be uncomfortable with our children reading. That gave me a gauge for the level of what should be off-limits. What would I want my children of similar age reading? Age-appropriate fiction.

I draw the line at romance in my genre, either reading it or writing it.

As for topics, there are so many contentious subjects these days. The list is endless. Writers fear they might say one wrong thing and attract a backlash. There is a strong sense of staying within the confines of what is deemed politically correct. I have a friend who writes urban romantic fantasy. She included one of the mythical gods from religion in her book and received death threats. This sort of thing naturally scares authors.

At the same time as wanting to stick within the limits, I also feel strongly that the ultimate choice about topics and language should remain in the hands of the individual. In my opinion, the worst thing that could happen to our society would be for the artists to lose their freedom of expression or creative license. I’m mindful of that sublime quote by Jane Yolen, ‘Good stories are dangerous. Dangerous, anarchic, seductive. They change you, often forever…they challenge our vocabularies and our history. Sometimes they challenge our comfortable morality. And sometimes…they challenge our most basic assumptions.’
What about you. What sort of language or topics are off-limits in fiction?

Keep Writing!
Yvette Carol
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“No one is born a writer. You must become a writer. You never cease becoming, because you never stop learning how to write. Even now, I am becoming a writer. And so are you.” —Joe Bunting


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Comments
  1. Kessie says:

    This is a really good observation, about romance in MG. I read a book one time that was ostensibly YA, but it read like MG. At one point, the hero finds the girl he likes getting it on with his best friend. The scene repulsed and shocked me. The characters could have been caught kissing for the same effect. Why did it have to be full-on sex? It made me realize that there are some lines that shouldn’t be crossed.

    I have my personal comfort zones and things I won’t write. For instance, kids being tortured/hurt. Ender’s Game taught me alllllllll about how I dislike kids murdering each other. Kids being hurt in adventures is different, say in Harry Potter, how he winds up in the hospital at the end of each book because of being a big dumb hero. 😀 ND Wilson’s books push the line for me, because they’re really brutally violent in strange ways (like the one where the kid dies over and over in multiple timelines trying to stop a time-traveling villain). The older I get, the bigger wimp I am, I guess. As a kid, I didn’t have any problems with violence. I grew up reading wolf books and assumed that ripping out the jugular was the accepted method of killing an enemy. 😀

    Liked by 1 person

    • yvettecarol says:

      Wow, really fascinating feedback, thanks Kessie. I know exactly what you mean. I read one book by a supposedly middle-grade author who included a heavy petting scene. It was completely gratuitous, not adding anything to the storyline apart from inducing a reaction in me of horror. There are lines, people!
      And speaking of kids getting hurt, my boys and I very much enjoyed the Predator Cities quartet by Philip Reeve. But I was truly put off by the torture scene where one of the boys is strung up and left to hang, partly strangling for days. It was like, I think this is is the wrong book! Mistakes like that can make you avoid certain authors forever afterwards.

      Liked by 1 person

      • Kessie says:

        Yeah, I see a lot of blather about “Gatekeepers” and how we need them, or don’t need them. But doggone, at least the gatekeepers used to enforce genre constraints. Nowadays, tradpub acquires and publishes books without vetting them. And indie is basically the wild west where anything goes because people just want to make a buck and don’t care about actual readers. It’s reallllly hard to find good books, let alone new books I would read to my kids. :-p

        Liked by 1 person

      • yvettecarol says:

        “Indie is basically the wild west.” That is gold! Thanks, Kessie. And I agree, the genre constraints are there for a reason. I’m constantly seeking good books for my boys and I.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. LOL. I love Queen Elizabeth. I think your point is well made. I draw a lot of lines too. We are human, it’s hard not to. Especially as mothers.

    Liked by 1 person

  3. emaginette says:

    I agree with the queen. It’s been tough since 2019. hehehe

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Olga Godim says:

    I think writing for children is very hard. I could never do it. So I bow to the writers who can.

    Liked by 1 person

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