Monday, September 30, 2013

Guest Post: Writing for Children: A Challenging Reward

 Please give a warm welcome to author James L. Butler. After a recent interaction with James in regards to his latest children's book, The Cow-Pie Chronicles, I invited him over to share a guest post related to writing. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did. So, with out further ado, please welcome author James L. Butler . . .

Writing for Children: A Challenging Reward

The Cow-Pie Chronicles
The Cow-Pie Chronicles
by James Butler
By James Butler - Most of my fiction writing over the past thirty years has been in the sci-fi genre. That was what I enjoyed reading and I have always had a deep interest in the progress of science in all fields. Sci-fi is not the easiest genre to write in as it has some pretty strict rules that the fan base expects an author to follow or they will reject it outright. But writing in sci-fi is almost free-form compared to writing for children.
 When my son turned nine, I decided I wanted to write something with him that he would enjoy to get him more interested in writing. That effort ended with my first middle-grade book, Raptor Ravine. But the journey was long and tenuous at times. I started by reading a few articles by successful authors of middle-grade stories and books. It was immediately apparent I had a lot to learn. There are not set plot and structure rules like there are in sci-fi writing. Instead, there are about a hundred things a writer has to be aware of and cautious about and all of them are a little ambiguous. On the grand scale, there is the basic challenge of working from a child’s viewpoint of the world he is in, using language that is authentic, with emotions that are genuine. For me, that meant one thing; going back to the old writing adage write what you know. I grew up in rural America so that would need to be my setting.
 The specific challenges were not so easily overcome. The writer has to be intimately aware of level of language, complexity of sentences, use of appropriate subject matter, etc. etc. etc.! With so many technical issues, it would be easy to lose sight of the main objective, to be entertaining. One evening I was watching an interview with the director of “BIG” about Tom Hanks’ role playing a thirteen year old boy. He said the reason Tom excelled at the role was because he never gave a clue in his performance he knew he was an adult playing a thirteen year old boy. And his co-actor, who was a thirteen year old boy, said they would pal around as thirteen year old playmates so often between scenes, he would forget Tom was an adult. In short, the key is always staying in character. In order to write for children, I needed to become a child when writing and make sure the readers never saw a hint I knew I was a character created by an adult. Sounds simple, huh? Yeah, right!

 The biggest single challenge in this transition was the dialog. It is not as simple as using small words and short sentences. That approach can make it look like the writer is ‘talking down’ to the readers. And that never works. I had a unique opportunity to learn how kids talk. I did many things with my nine year old son and his friends. I coached them in soccer, officiated at swim meets, helped with their birthday parties and sat and listened to them all day during long, away swim meets. There are some basics about kid’s dialog that appeared consistently in all of the conversations. Kids speak in short, emotional bursts. They respond quickly when other kids speak to them. They are quick to make their point. They use as few words as possible to make a point. They are often simplistic and brutally honest in their opinions of people and situations. They have many conversations with each other they would never share with their parents or any adult. (I spent so much time around them I became invisible to them as long as I was quiet.) And each group has their set of code words which have secret meanings only their group understands.

 Knowing these things and implementing them in my writing was two different things. But I had a secret tool there as well, my son. I would write a chapter of the story, and then ask him to read it. He would tell me things like “My friends would never say that.” Or “That’s not what that word means to us.” Or “That’s how my friends would react if she did that.” Once he was satisfied the chapter was written in his language, we went one step further. We role played the entire chapter. (I could never get him to do any of the girl parts though.)   It took a long time to get through 70,000 words of story, but it was worth it.
 The time my son and I spent together working on the story was enough reward for me. We learned things about each other we never would have learned doing anything else. Having the story published, read and enjoyed by other kids was a big bonus. And the highlight was visiting a small rural school that had read my book. When adults like an author, they may admire him. When kids like an author’s story, they worship him. The best part of that is it gives a person a chance to make a positive influence on a child’s life. My current children’s book, The Cow-Pie Chronicles is bringing a different equally satisfying set of awards. Since it is based on a real child-hood life, I hear from many adult readers about similar, happy times in their young lives. It appears to be the kind of story a parent buys for a child so the parent can read it first! As for the children, it is rewarding to see them enjoy being introduced to a world few of them have experienced and enjoying it. I am looking forward to entering a few classrooms to share some of the real stories the book is based on and answering questions about growing up on a farm.

Meet the Author

  Jim Butler spent his first eleven years on a family dairy farm. Those years were filled with hard work, adventure, and sometimes suffering. He then moved to a town far away from country life where he became an excellent student and a track star setting two school records. All the running he did on the farm really paid off!  Writing always fascinated him, even in grade school. In 1963, in sixth grade he attempted to write a book about traveling to the moon for an English assignment. He got a “C” because the assignment was late and unfinished.
Connect With James L. Butler
To request a review copy or to host author James L. Butler on your blog with a guest post or interview, please leave a comment below with a link to your blog and an email address where he can contact you. You can also find the free Teacher's Guide for The Cow-Pie Chronicles on the publishers site at Publishing Syndicate.

If you would like your post deleted afterwards (due to the email address listed) please notate to 'delete after information is received'. I will copy the info and forward it to him so that your info is not available.

1 comment:

  1. Thanks, Stephanie, for this guest post. I read and enjoyed "The Cow Pie Chronicles" because I, too, lived on a farm when I was a child. Reading the book, I could almost smell the cow pies, and of course I pictured "my barn" and "my cows." It was fun to read this post and to learn a little more about author James Butler. Thanks! Pat Nelson, co-creator of "Not Your Mother's Book . . . On Being a Parent."!