The 6th annual Whistler Readers and Writers Festival, produced by the Vicious Circle, is Whistler's premier literary celebration and a key fixture in the resort's growing cultural calendar, taking place Sept. 14th through 16th. The festival has something for everyone, including opportunities for good discussion, chances to meet some of Canada's brightest literary talents and hear them read and perform their work, and if you're a writer or a prospective writer, this is the place to kick start or re-ignite your efforts.
This week our third writer, Sara Leach, with help from Paulette Bourgeois, weighs in on writing for children. Sara is working on her third manuscript for middle-grade readers. She gains inspiration from her children, her students, and the local environment. Her work has been published in several Canadian publications including Pique Newsmagazine and the Whistler Question. Paulette Bourgeois will be offering a workshop on writing for young adults on Saturday, Sept. 16th at Millennium Place. To register, contact Stella Harvey at 604-932-4518 or Stella25@telus.net .
The festival is brought to you by the letter W, the number 15, and the funding support of the Resort Municipality of Whistler, the Community Foundation of Whistler and the B.C. Arts Council.
Writing for imagination
By Sara Leach
Imagine creating a new world. Imagine immersing yourself to the point you don’t realize where you’ve been for the last hour. Imagine the satisfaction of taking something mediocre and working with it, tweaking it, massaging it until it becomes something good.
Those are the joys of writing for me.
Now imagine writing a story that impacts a child — a story that changes the way she sees the world.
“Writing for children is enormously gratifying,” says author Paulette Bourgeois, “because the author has the potential to create a lifelong love of reading in a child.”
Do you have a children’s story inside you, waiting to be told? Or a story you’ve been telling your kids that you think would make a good book? Or, like me, a pile of manuscripts that need improving? (I’ve written 14 drafts of my first book for young readers, and I’m still working on it.)
Bourgeois, famous for the Franklin the Turtle picture books, is now writing young adult fiction. On Sept. 15, as part of the Whistler Readers and Writers Festival she will offer a two-hour workshop on writing for young adults.
The workshop is suitable for anyone with an interest in writing for the 9-16-year old age group, whether you are a beginner with a story percolating inside, an experienced writer with a manuscript you think could be better, or someone who really loves to read young adult fiction and wants to hear about some good titles.
Bourgeois had been writing for 25 years, when she started her Master of Fine Arts in writing. “At any stage of a writing career there is something to learn,” she says.
She’ll start the workshop by looking at good literature within the genre. “We’ll discuss titles that are wonderful to read, what is being read now, what has longevity and where the market may be going.”
She’ll also talk about the basics of good writing. “If you tell a story, and tell it well, the audience will find itself.”
According to Bourgeois, one of the biggest challenges in writing for children is not to be too didactic. As adults we often want our stories to teach children the best way to live. “Instead we need to show them how the world is and let them find their place in it.”
Kids can smell a lesson in a story from a mile away. Like any reader, they want a compelling story. One they’ll want to pick up again and again. A good book for children is “one they want to hear again. One that comes alive, that kids remember,” Bourgeois says.
As in any good book, a book for children needs to have emotional resonance — something to which we can all relate. Take Where the Wild Things Are by Maurice Sendak. What child hasn’t wished they could escape to another place where they are in charge?
Or look at Bourgeois’s Franklin in the Dark . Franklin is scared to sleep in his dark shell. He talks to a lion who is scared of loud noises, a bird who is scared of heights, and a duck who is scared of the water. Children everywhere can relate to that fear.
One of my pet peeves as a writer for children is when people assume that it must be easier than writing for adults. As Bourgeois says, you can’t compare writing a 32-page picture book to a 780-page epic novel. However, whatever the length, a story needs to be compelling. She likens writing for children to writing poetry. “You need to be very precise with your words.”
The genre comes with certain restrictions, too. Take word choice, for example. If you’re writing a story for young readers, the words need to be ones that a Grade 2 student can read alone. You may have come up with a perfect description for a place or an action, but if it uses highfalutin language you’ll need to try again. At the same time you need to write a story that will grip a child, as well as the parents, grandparents and librarians who will be purchasing it.
It’s a good thing that I believe in lifelong learning. There’s still so much room for improvement. All this writing about writing has me itching to get back to draft 15. I’ll see you at the workshop. I’ll be the one in front asking all the questions.
The Whistler Readers and Writers Festival is Sept. 14th through 16th. For a complete listing and description of the seminars and readings available, visit www.theviciouscircle.ca . To register contact Stella Harvey at Stella25@telus.net.