Children don’t read ‘genres’; they read stories. Below a certain age, they don’t distinguish between ‘true’ and ‘not true,’ because they see no reason that a white rabbit shouldn’t possess a pocket watch, that whales shouldn’t talk, or that sentient beings shouldn’t live on other planets and travel in spaceships. Science-fiction tropes aren’t read as ‘science fiction’; they’re read as fiction. And fiction is read as reality. And sometimes reality lives under the bed and has very large teeth, and it’s no use pretending otherwise.
I sometimes suggest to inexperienced writers that they try to summarize their novels in progress in a sentence or two. It’s a useful though limited way of finding out whether a book has a coherent theme, a theme that’s likely to attract readers.
Stories are how we think. They are how we make meaning of life. Call them schemas, scripts, cognitive maps, mental models, metaphors, or narratives. Stories are how we explain how things work, how we make decisions, how we justify our decisions, how we persuade others, how we understand our place in the world, create our identities, and define and teach social values.
“There are no longer simple tales with quests and beasts and happy endings. The quests lack clarity of goal or path. The beasts take different forms and are difficulty to recognize for what they are. And there are never really endings, happy or otherwise. Things keep overlapping and blur, your story is part of your sister’s story is part of many other stories, and there in no telling where any of them may lead. Good and evil are a great deal more complex than a princess and a dragon, or a wolf and a scarlet-clad little girl. And is not the dragon the hero of his own story? Is not the wolf simply acting as a wolf should act? Though perhaps it is a singular wolf who goes to such lengths as to dress as a grandmother to toy with its prey.”
-The Night Circus (Erin Morgenstern)
A children’s story that can only be enjoyed by children is not a good children’s story in the slightest.
You do not conceive a novel as easily as you conceive a child, nor even half as easily as you create nonfiction work. A journalist amasses facts, anecdotes and interviews with top brass. Enough of these add up to a book. A novelist demands quite different things. He has to find himself in his materials, to know for sure how he would feel and act and the events he writes about. In addition, he requires a catalyst — a person, idea, or emotion which coalesces his ingredients and makes them jell into a solid purpose.
Good children’s literature appeals not only to the child in the adult, but to the adult in the child.
You should write because you love the shape of stories and sentences and the creation of different words on a page. Writing comes from reading, and reading is the finest teacher of how to write.
A blog I did for the Guardian about the upcoming tweetathon.
The stories people tell have a way of taking care of them. If the stories come to you, care for them. And learn to give them away where they are needed. Sometimes a person needs a story more than food to stay alive. That is why we put these stories in each other’s memory.
That fiction has power to alter reality is, at least in one sense, literally true. Fiction is a product of language, and human beings live largely in a social and linguistic world — above all, a world of narrative. It is through narrative that we understand ourselves and our own history and project our hopes and anxieties into the future. Persuasive and powerful users of language have power to shape these narratives and thus to shape the reality of their listeners and readers.
To write is to carve a new path through the terrain of the imagination, or to point out new features on a familiar route. To read is to travel through that terrain with the author as a guide— a guide one might not always agree with or trust, but who can at least be counted on to take one somewhere.
Rebecca Solnit (Wanderlust: A History of Walking)
The first sentence of every novel should be: Trust me, this will take time but there is order here, very faint, very human. Meander if you want to get to town.