I just got a very nice review
posted out there in the blogosphere. Stephanie from "Someone's read it already"
has given me four out of five stars - ant it's a terrific review.
The star that got taken off? Well, here's what she says in the review:The writing style on the book was perhaps the only part I did not find excellent. Alexander has quite a turn for poetic language, but sometimes her paragraph-long sentences did not quite match the intended audience for the book. These sentences are not in the dialogue, which was fine; they were in the narration. Again, individual parts of these sentences were lovely, and they were all grammatically correct, but the length was sometimes oppressive. I can’t imagine that fourteen-year-olds would find these more appealing than I do. For example:
Grimoires were temperamental books, sometimes with a life of their own, unpredictable and often dangerous; they were usually kept well apart from the main part of any library, but even so accidents happened every so often and the consequences could be dire.
Again, the story was lovely, and a nice introduction to Thea’s world. I’m very interested to read the next book in the trilogy (which I have on a shelf, quite nearby), and I’m sure I won’t be able to wait for book 3. This book comes recommended to readers who like interesting settings and vibrant characters, but who wouldn’t mind waiting a few months for book 3, and for whom short, choppy sentences aren’t a necessity.
To which my response is, well, yes, but it isn't a bug, it's a *feature*.
Perhaps I am underestimating my readership, at that. Perhaps there are folks out there for whom short and choppy sentences ARE a necessity. But that's just the thing - I've never been able to write them. Short choppy sentences exercise no fascination for me - I get no charge from creating them and therefore I cannot see any reader getting a charge out of reading them, and if I TRIED to write like that I would come off sounding like the very worst of what I've always tried to avoid both reading and writing - someone who is *writing down to her readership*.
When my first ever solo effort got published, a slim little volume of three Oscar Wilde-like fairy tales called "The Dolphin's Daughter and other stories" (you could try AmazonUK
, or occasionally you get lucky at Amazon US
, but at any rate you can see the cover art if you scroll down to the bottom of this page
) what they did was put together these three stories that I had written *for an adult readership*, written in as lush and complex and uncompromising a manner as I knew how, and they had put them together in this little book which was aimed at a 15-year-old demographic. When the proofs of that book came to me to check, I remember holding them out to my father in a hand that literally shook, and saying "You look, I daren't, they must have eviscerated the language." Because I figured they had to have done, in order to make it palatable to a young readership.
You know what? They hadn't. Those proofs remain one of the most lightly edited sets of proofs I've ever seen. Longman trusted the audience; that the trust wasn't entirely misplaced is that - although it currently seems to be on the outs with both Amazons - the book, published in 1995, STILL brings me a trickle of royalties every so often. Still being read. No, it wasn't Potterological, it didn't sell ten million copies, but it sold a respectable number of copies for a thin little book that was never published commercially but only under the auspices of a strictly defined reading project by an educational publisher.
So I throw it out to you. What do you think? Should children's books in general, YA books in particular, be written in short choppy sentences - or is it all right to be lush and complex? sartorias
... others who are involved with/write/write ABOUT/review YA... what do you think about this issue? How important is language? Should we be making readers stretch beyond what they thought might be the limits of their linguistic capabilities, or should we be writing to the LOWEST common denominator and using language that will make a work of fiction accessible to the less well linguistically endowed? Is it the level of language used or the themes within a story that differentiate a children's book from a YA book?
I was very aware of my audience, of the changed demographic at which the Worldweavers books were aimed, when I wrote these books. And yet... I was writing them for the reader who was once myself, a reader who always wanted more, bigger, brighter, wider, mroe complex, more dramatic. In my own family I was always treated as though I had a mind of my own, and the rule was that if I picked up a book that was in my house and I could understand it and it interested me there were no borders or bans enforced on what my reading material "should" have been. In point of fact I pretty much skipped the whole YA demographic altoghether - which isn't REALLY unexpected, seeing as how recent a marketing bracket that particular genre actually is - and I simply read what were considered to be adult books by the time I was in my early teens. The classics - Austen, Bronte, Stendhal, Hugo - as well as the more "modern" oeuvre which encompassed several Nobel prize winners (Henryk Sienkiewicz, Ivo Andric, Pearl Buck, Sigrid Undsett, John Galsworthy). I thought lush and complex was the way language was SUPPOSED to be.
So. Am I - are writers like me - asking too much of our young readership...? Or can we be said to be nursing these fragile hopes that some day those readers... will grow up as blindly, powerlessly, hopelessly tenderly in love with the lushness of language and word, and believe in it with the same kind of deep and all-encompassing faith...?