So, in a span of more than a year, I’ve written speculative fiction, paranormal romance, crime, fantasy, and romance. When the opportunity to write a story for children arose, I grabbed it. I joined the #BayongngKuting workshop which challenged us to write a story for children based on the same universe that Bayong ng Kuting by Mae Astrid Tobias was written in. Target word count should not exceed 1,500 words. Simple enough, right?
I learned the hard way that children’s stories are not that easy to write. It may be easy for me to tell them to my own kids (aged 8 and 4), but writing one was actually quite difficult. I didn’t have the luxury of using different voices, or of using my facial expression, of play acting and doing silly movements. I also didn’t have the luxury of improvisation, meaning changing the story’s direction depending on the reception of my audience. Writing a children’s story meant having to put all of those things into written form, for a child to read and appreciate on his/her own. Yes, there may be illustrations, but the story itself had to carry its own weight.
My number one issue, I think, is I tend to err on the dark side. Most of my stories deal with difficult topics and I thrive on the challenge of writing them. But for kids, the story should not be difficult. It should be light, it should have a happy ending, it should be simple, and there should be, at its core, a story that a child would love and want to see through to its fruition.
I couldn’t assume that the kids will understand what I wrote. I had to make sure I wrote very simply and very descriptively, so there would be no misinterpretation from their side.
My next issue is word count. I also err on the side of saying a lot to relate a story than being succinct.
Another issue for me is assuming my kids would be the perfect beta readers. Well . . . they weren’t. My 4 year old was too young to read a 1,500-word manuscript and when I read it to him, I ended up doing the voices, the actions and the improvisation all over again. My 8-year old just got my manuscript and came back to me the next day with very short comments and some questions. Much as I wanted to cajole them to give me more feedback and to help me out, I couldn’t. I got scared that other kids would just react to my story that way.
It didn’t help that I chose to write about a story that, although it wasn’t dark, lay on the line between light and dark—from a kid’s perspective. It was about bullying, and when it was okay or not okay to tell on the bully. I have a child almost the same age as my main character, who was called Junjun Big Head by his tormentors, and I guess I was projecting my own fears about my son’s future in the big school and I was hoping by writing the story I am able to protect him from the taunts of the other kids who would surely pick on him because of his size and circumstance—he also has a head that seems bigger than his small frame.
I was very thankful for my niece who lived in the US, who gave the story to her 5-year old daughter. They both had a lot of comments that helped me come up with the final manuscript. My niece did say that her daughter asked her about the “sensitive” topic, and they had an open discussion. My niece said, if reading the book would lead to that honest discussion between parent and child, then the story has done its part in teaching both parent and kid a lesson. I appreciated that comment—but I still revised the wording and the situation in the story to make it less “complicated” and make it easier for parents to have to explain to their kids.
I am also thankful for my grown-up beta readers for their comments. Most of them are co-authors who also wrote their own Kuting stories. It was fun going through this journey together. We all attended the first face-to-face in UP and I was able to reminisce my college days. I was not able to attend the last face to face session as I was out of town. But I am thankful that I joined this workshop. I learned a lot. Whether or not, my MS gets picked for publication, it would be okay. I know that I have it in me to write children’s stories, albeit not the light and always happy ones, and I hope to compile the stories I tell my kids into a book someday.