Author's Responsibilities With Respect to Children's Literature

Comments: 7

There's an interesting topic being bantied about at another writer's forum regarding what are our responsibilities as writers, especially if we write for children and young adults. I thought maybe we could explore that issue here as well.

First, let me say that for children and young adults, I think authors bear more responsibility to be moral in our writing than writers of adult stuff. Now, that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t write about edgy issues where moral decisions have to be made by the characters, or where kids get into trouble through immoral sex (sex out of wedlock), drugs, etc.

I think kids are struggling to find purpose and values in their lives. They want and need good role models. Adult readers don't usually care as much.

That said, I find it interesting that there seems to be a lot more immoral behavior being displayed in YA novels than there is in adult novels. At least that’s my observation.

I am of the belief that good fiction "mimics" reality. It does not have to display reality. I do not believe we necessarily need to describe everything in graphic detail to give a sense of reality.

I know Ellen will disagree with me somewhat on this issue, and I do not mean this as an indictment of her novels (which I think are great by the way – though not what I would write) but I'm of the belief that vulgarity and graphic sex are never necessary. These things can be eluded to, or "mimicked" without actually describing them in detail.

I believe we have a responsibility to our youth to be the examples for them to look up to. We should be examples of a better way, so to speak, and examples of morality. We are, after all, the adults here. I don't think we need to stoop to the level of vulgar kids who speak using fowl language and do immoral deeds. I think if we do display these things in our writing, kids get the sense that it must be okay. So-and-so (writer) talked that way.

I think we can allude to those things without describing them. Like I said, fiction only mimics reality.

I used to love Judy Blum's writing. She wrote some wonderful middle grade books that my kids loved, and I thought were cute. They told great stories and taught great morals. So, when she came out with a young adult novel, I can't recall the title of it, I was excited to read it – until I got about a quarter of the way through it. She began describing the sex act in vivid detail, making immoral (out of wedlock) sex sound wonderful. She made it appear as though sex for the main character was not only okay, but the best thing she could do with her life at that point. I didn't finish the book, it was too horrid, so the final outcome could be different that what I have described. I don't know. I didn't care to read any further. I almost complained to the library that it was borderline pornography, if not pornographic outright.

That, to me, is not what I could consider writing responsibly for children. I think we, as adults, have the responsibility to be the examples, not stoop to the level of those who would tear them down.
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About Paul West

Paul West is a freelance writer and novelist. Born and raised in the San Francisco Bay Area, Paul claims to be a "Prune Picker," though he now makes his home in Taylorsville, Utah.

You can follower him on Twitter: @PaulWWest

Published: Thursday, November 01, 2007

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  1. Morality takes a distant back seat to profit, these days. Titillating literature, movies, music engage more and more people. Keeping kids interested in adventure, excitement, thrills, science becomes harder and harder to do, and to tell you the truth, they're harder to write than base descriptions of sex. So maybe writers who need to fill a quota, need to make a successful novel, just get lazy. They know that sex and violence sells, and in a time when so many parents don't make the time to be more involved with their children, it's easy to slip in the sex.

    I found that happening to the science fiction I used to like to read in the 60s. By the end of the decade, nearly every novel had some kind of promiscuous sex in it. I looked for it. Made me a liberal for most of the 70s and 80s.

    Right mind came back, and I'm looking for good stories to read to my son. He's five and reading at a second-grade level already. So I gotta hurry.

  2. Thanks Bob. As always, you have a wonderful way of saying things.

    Writing is temporary, for this life only. My family, my standing with God, my eternal life, are forever. I won't compromise my standards to please the world (temporary). I want to write works that are uplifting, moral, clean, to be an example to the world of a better way to live.

    I've gotten several comments to my message that I posted on other writers forums that were full of vitriol. The main general comment is that kids won't buy it if it doesn't "sound" real. I figure if I have to write trash to be read, then I won't write at all. It's not worth it to me, nor to my readers.

    At the same time, I don't want to write for the Christian, or LDS market either. Only a select few people ever read those kinds of books. The readers of those book don't need to be shown moral values. They already have them for the most part, or they wouldn't buy and read them. So, my goal is to write moral books that appeal to those who need it.

    Thanks again, Bob. Your comments are well-taken.


  3. I like this part especially:

    "good fiction "mimics" reality. It does not have to display reality. I do not believe we necessarily need to describe everything in graphic detail to give a sense of reality."

    I think that there needs to be good, moral books out there for young adults to read. But not everything can be 100% moral. Kids get in trouble, they have doubts, confusion. They do things that they shouldn't. Which is why I like those words.

    I really don't mind a book where characters have flaws and make mistakes. But like you said elsewhere - if your character swears, you alude to it, you don't just put the words on the pages.

    I also prefer books that have the "wedding night" that describes very little. We know what happens, we don't need details.

  4. Thank you Sis. Riley. I appreciate your support and comments. I'm in a bit of an argument with other writers who think we need to display all the ugliness in the world in order for kids to take us seriously. I vehemently disagree.

    Thanks again,

    p.s. I love your blog site.

  5. I agree with most of this, except where you say, "I don't want to write for the Christian, or LDS market either. Only a select few people ever read those kinds of books. The readers of those book don't need to be shown moral values."

    If we're talking about YA here, then I think it never does any harm to reinforce moral values--presuming "moral" includes far more than immorality.

    I'm hoping my new book of short stories will get read in Family Home Evenings and discussed often, so that moral values are soaked up while kids are entertained, laughing and crying at character dilemmas.

    Non-preachy stories are great for teaching vicariously, where the youth doesn't feel he or she is being got at personally, yet still internalizes something.

  6. I like Ms. Bradshaw's remark about not wanting to write for the Christian or LDS market. I agree with her that that market needs good literature to read and excite, yet isn't trashy or preachy. Especially the YA market needs that.

    I think it's less of a task of writing "for" that market, as of writing "in" the market. You as part of the market will tend to write something that you like, something that will enthrall you without telling you what you already know, so to speak.

    It's a losing game to try to tell someone something they don't want to know. The best thing to do is to tell your stories the best you can and in that way get the "fringe" to take a look and maybe start thinking.

    Not that that is any easier.

  7. I appreciate the comments by Sis. Bradshaw and my good friend Bob.

    I've had this discussion many times with other LDS writers, in particular the best-selling LDS author, David Wooley.

    It's not that I don't want to write good books that LDS kids will read, I just don't want to target them specifically by labeling them as LDS kids or anything like that. This way I think I can reach more than just LDS kids. Face it, the LDS market, and the Christian market too for that matter, are small markets. Why limit my exposure if I can appeal to a national audience?

    If I can write good books, filled with strong moral values that will appeal to kids at large, I think I will end up reaching more kids that way.

    Certainly LDS kids, and other Christian kids as well, can, and hopefully will, read my books. Just not ONLY those kids.

    My first novel, "Sweet Revenge," is about normal teens, living in normal 1960s times. The protagonist is angry at God. He blames God for the loss of his family. He vows revenge against the person who killed them, and in the end almost makes the biggest mistake of his life. There is plenty of violence, there is also romance, and an occasional bout of poignancy. There are good kids and bad kids (assuming there really is a difference), all patterned after kids I grew up with.

    In reality, all these kids would use vulgarity, but since what I'm trying to do is mimic reality, not display it, the vulgarity is not shown, just eluded to.

    A lot of writers I'm aware of, best-selling author Ellen Hopkins being among them, think I'm not being true to my audience if I don't use the occasional "F" word. I adamantly disagree. If that's what it takes to sell books, then I'd rather not ever sell anything than go against my moral convictions.