5 Year Writing Project, March update

At first I was dismayed. I had not set out to write a children’s book. But then I thought about it some more and I decided this was a possible way forward, and one that allowed me to keep true to my original vision and concept of the novel.

Five Year Writing Goal

do you have goalsI’m taking part in Misha and Beth’s Five Year Project and my five-year goal is to write a novel and get it published.

In this monthly recap I will outline how I’m struggling with point of view and with tone. And then I will tell you of my plan for a way forward.

Tone of voice in The Reluctant Scribe

When I set out writing my novel, I tried to immerse myself in the world of a the Tang Dynasty and to see, hear and feel the story through the eyes of my 12-year-old protagonist. Perhaps I was too successful? The language and tone seemed too childish. Should I rewrite the whole thing from a different POV? Or, can I stick with the first person POV but choose a more reflective tone and thus make the language more ‘adult’?

Chinese boy, The Reluctant Scribe

Restrictive 1st person point of view

I chose the first person POV carefully and for a number of reasons.

  • Firstly, for maximum immersion into the alien world of 7th Century China.
  • Secondly, to prevent my annoyingly intrusive author-voice from getting in the way.
  • Thirdly, to force myself to limit exposition and, therefore, to focus on showing, rather than telling.

So, after careful consideration of the pros and cons, I decided not to change the point of view.

Childlike tone

I guess one of the downsides of writing through the eyes of a 12-year-old, is the restricted language that a child uses. My tutor suggested that I could solve this by put some distance between the first person narrator and the action. In other words, make it clear the story is being told by an older person looking back.

This sounded promising, and I set about redrafting my first few chapters using a more mature perspective.

Thinking kid, The Reluctant ScribeInterestingly, when I work-shopped this new edition, my fellow readers/writers did not like the more mature words and phrases.

But he wouldn’t use that word,” they said.

It seems that I could not get myself, nor my readers, out of the head of my 12-year-old boy.


A new genre for The Reluctant Scribe

But then my tutor said something interesting. He suggested I reconsider my readership. And he suggested my opening chapters had the tone and language of a children’s book.

At first I was dismayed. I had not set out to write a children’s book. But then I thought about it some more and I decided this was a possible way forward, and one that allowed me to keep true to my original vision and concept of the novel.

But was the subject matter too dark? Were the events that happen later in the book too adult in nature? I went away and read several historical children’s books. They had scenes of gruesome murders, forced marriage, rape and watching your mother being burnt alive at the stake.

My story seems tame in comparison!

boy reading a novel, The Reluctant ScribeAnd here are three good reasons why I should pitch The Reluctant Scribe as a children’s book.

1. Children are discerning readers.
2. Children’s books sell.
3. 55% of the readership of ‘children’s fiction’ are adults.

So, problem solved. I am writing a children’s book. Now all I have to do is work my way through to the end of my third edit.


Thank you to Alko for the cartoon of the reading boy.

Author: Ruth Livingstone

Walker, writer, photographer, blogger, Doctor, woman, etc.

11 thoughts on “5 Year Writing Project, March update”

  1. Very interesting.
    Writing to the age group probably would be a younger language.

    The other side of the coin is that not all 12 year old children sound the same. I was 13 when I was being told that the dialog of my same-age main character was “too old” for him. My own normal vocabulary was beyond what I could use. I changed his words to how I spoke at age 8. It was more acceptable, but I no longer liked the character. He was no longer someone I wanted to know. I tossed the story out the window.

    I hope the 12 year old children that told you that your character wouldn’t use certain words were children similar to the character. Then again, 12 was nearly or actually an adult in the 7th century, wasn’t it? “Old enough to bleed, old enough to breed,” back then, right? Plus, there was no literature considered just for children, as far as I’ve researched. So, if he could read (also might be rare), he would have read on the same level as an adult, wouldn’t he?

    I’m not an expert at any of this. I’m just thinking aloud here.
    Probably best for sales to not consider any of this. Far bigger audience.

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      1. Hahaha it’s amazing when a big problem has a simple solution. I really think you’re bang on the money like this.

        BTW, as someone who’s learned mandarin, I can safely say that Tang Chinese would be so different from English that there’s no way to say how a child would say something. For one thing, the language will have concepts that can’t be translated easily. 🙂

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        1. How fantastic to have learnt Mandarin! And, yes, one of the problems I struggled with was trying to express concepts that have no English translation, “filial piety”, for example, is a completely inadequate translation of the Confucion notion of family commitment.

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  2. I could be remembering wrong, because it’s been 34 years since I read it, but I think the narrator of Twain’s Huckleberry Finn is a 12 year old boy. Is it a children’s book? (Err . . .) Would children understand it? (Not really.) Perhaps the spoken dialect register was a way to convey sophisticated ideas while giving the impression of a child speaking. Still, the book had nothing but criticism when it was first published (!)

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    1. Hi Jonathan. It is a long time since I read Huckleberry Finn. I think I was early teens at the time. I do remember someone slowly dying of dehydration and starvation in a cave, near the end. I also remember I much preferred Huck to Tom Sawyer. He was an exciting character. Must read it again.

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  3. Glad to hear you’re more focussed and confident with your story’s narrator and direction in general. Sometimes, it really does take an outside eye to crack the nut!

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