Last week a writer friend sent me a present: Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock (Simon & Schuster). It landed on our porch with a loud ker-thunk because, I'm not kidding, it's as hefty as a door-stop.
Roald Dahl of course is famous for Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and for being outrageously quirky. On page 547 of his bio, he explains what makes a good children's writer. I love how he puts it and shall end this post with his words:
[The writer] must be a jokey sort of fellow ... unconventional and inventive ... He must know what enthral[l]s children and what bores them. They love being spooked. They love suspense. They love action. They love ghosts. They love the finding of treasure. They love chocolates and toys and money. They love magic. They love being made to giggle. They love seeing the villain meet a grisly death. They love a hero and they love the hero to be a winner. But they hate descriptive passages and flowery prose. They hate long descriptions of any sort. Many of them are sensitive to good writing and can spot a clumsy sentence. They like stories that contain a threat. "D'you know what I feel like?" said the big crocodile to the smaller one. "I feel like having myself a nice plump juicy child for my lunch." They love that sort of thing. What else do they love? New inventions. Unorthodox methods. Eccentricity. Secret information. The list is long. But above all, when you write a story for them, bear in mind that they do not possess the same power of concentration as an adult, and they become very easily bored or diverted. Your story, therefore, must tantalize and titillate them on every page and all the time that you are writing you must be saying to yourself, "Is this too slow? Is it too dull? Will they stop reading?" To those questions, you must answer yes more often than you answer no. [If not] you must cross it out and start again.