Can you write what you want, or must you write based on what you think others want? Let’s say you’re a middle grade author, and you have a book idea that may not be 100% appropriate for middle grade readers, but you’re excited about it – should you go ahead and write it? Or should you craft a story and characters based on what you think 9 – 12-year-old kids are going to be most interested in (and publishers are going to go for), even if it means curbing your own creativity?
Obviously, I have this dilemma. It’s the classic conflict between trying to be popular and being yourself. There are certain elements of the most popular stories of all time. A boy from a humble background, usually an orphan or someone who is suffering in his current state, is called by some old mentor/wizard to enter a new world and/or embark upon a swashbuckling adventure and save the world. This boy discovers along the way that he has a power that helps him achieve his quest. It turns out that he is “the one” who can save the world. Along the way, he meets a feisty, spirited girl, and probably has goofy or otherwise humorous companion. The bad guy is very bad, he has henchmen, and there is lots of action and fighting along the way, until everything reaches a spine-tingling climax and the hero wins the day. The background changes, the names change, but this is the general formula.
There are also some ground rules for middle grade. Nothing too violent (no kids getting killed), nothing too romantic, keep it kid-friendly. I of all people should be OK and even support those rules.
But what if my story idea greatly diverges from the formula? What if the story is too wacky? What if the main character talks too much or does things that are too strange? What if I don’t have enough action? What if I have too many thoughts? Should I not write what’s in my head and heart?
So here’s my answer. I’m going to go out on a limb and write what’s bursting out of me. I need to be true to myself. You know what? Maybe the best thing is to go for something more standard for the first couple books, get out there, establish an audience, show yourself a little bit, but then really reveal your true self in the third.
I have a feeling that there’s got to be a balance somewhere, and I am still searching for it. But I think that the very best things that are going to come out of you, your best voice, is when you’re not putting anything on, and there are no filters or shackles.
Write on, baby.