The "I'm writing like a kid" Excuse

| Friday, August 26, 2011
Today's Tune: Rebellion (Lies)

"I'm writing 'incorrectly' because this is how a teenager or child would actually write."


Oh my glob, you guys. Not going to lie: every time I hear this come out of someone's mouth after criticism regarding grammar mistakes/misused words/poor sentence structure/whatever, I kind of want to squirt them with the discipline bottle I use on my cats.

NO. BAD CHILDREN'S WRITER. BAD. YOU STOP IT RIGHT NOW.



Yes, I have actually heard people make this excuse for problematic writing before. And no, I have never believed them for a single second. When I hear this, in my head I'm basically hearing, "I'm too lazy to fix it and I'm using the fact that I'm writing for young people as an excuse." Nice try.

Saying something like this seriously makes you sound like a condescending jerkwad. Oh, I see, you think children and teens are too stupid/uneducated/poorly read/whatever to realize when your writing is sub-par. You're also saying that they can't write for beans. That's nice.

I'd just like to clarify here that I'm not talking about deliberate voice construction, like in MT Anderson's Feed, where the teenage characters write/speak in casual slang. The intentional voice choices Anderson made in that novel clearly convey his intent: illustrating a dystopian society of people who are so jacked up on advertisement and immediacy that their method of communication has devolved and become vapid. Also, the prose itself is very well done.

What I'm talking about here is sloppy, unedited writing. Just because there are children and teenagers out there who write poorly doesn't mean YOU get to write poorly. That's like saying, "I'm writing a story about some random guy and I'm not going to correct my grammar mistakes because the average Joe probably wouldn't, either." No. Sorry. Play again.

For an illustration of intentional voice, I give you this example from the opening page of Feed:

"We went to the moon to have fun, but the moon turned out to completely suck.

We went on a Friday, because there was shit-all to do at home. It was the beginning of spring break. Everything at home was boring. Link Arwaker was like, 'I'm so null,' and Marty was all, 'I'm null too, unit,' but I mean we were all pretty null, because for the last like hour we'd been playing with three uninsulated wires that were coming out of the wall. We were trying to ride shocks off them. So Marty told us that there was this fun place for lo-grav on the moon. Lo-grav can be kind of stupid, but this was supposed to be good. It was called the Ricochet Lounge. We thought we'd go for a few days with some of the girls and stay at a hotel there and go dancing."

So. From that excerpt, you can see that there's a strong element of voice to this narrator, and that voice is casual and slang-y and sort of ditzy. There's a run-on sentence and some weird structure going on here, but it works. It works because you can tell Anderson is the master of his words and his style. His character sounds believably teenaged and he's breaking a few writing "rules," but it's clear he did so intentionally and with a goal in mind.

Now compare to this (completely made up) example:

"Josie is like completely, freaking lately. She dont have any idea how hard it is being a ghost like me. We were totally best friends until last year when I died and now its like she is this selfish bitch who doesn't want to help me at all anymore and she totally stole my boyfriend too. I hate watching them kissing it makes me so mad. If I could make my fist solid I would totally punch them both in their dumb faces but I can't so I don't. But I can sure as heck make sure her shower stays cold, mwa ha ha."

This is an extremely (intentionally) bad example, but the idea's there. I'm sure you could find someone out there somewhere who really does talk/write like this, but that doesn't make it pleasant to read. There's no purpose behind the authorial choices I made here. My narrator is a teenaged ghost, but none of this relates directly to that or adds to the situation in any way. It's just unedited and sloppy.

So. Don't refuse to edit or strengthen your work and then use the excuse that you're writing "like a kid." It's insulting. If you display mastery over your writing and use it to add to the voice/situation, THEN you can claim you're intentionally writing "like a kid." Respect the intelligence of your audience.

Can you all think of any other examples of novels where the narrator has a very childlike or teenaged voice without it detracting from the writing itself?

11 comments:

{ Margo Lerwill } at: August 26, 2011 at 8:59 AM said...

Ewwww, yeah. That one is right up there with (to paraphrase) "Readers are too dumb to notice my grammar mistakes anyway."

There is a fine line between character voice and not knowing WTH you're doing as a writer. [/rant]

{ Melanie Stanford } at: August 26, 2011 at 9:02 AM said...

I can't believe people actually use that excuse! Terrible.

{ Lynette Benton } at: August 26, 2011 at 9:17 AM said...

It's been decades since I read Catcher in the Rye, but I believe the narrator, Holden Caufield, was a teenager, with a distinct teen boy's voice. But the grammar is perfect!

BTW: The excerpt from "Feed" is beautifully written.
#writecampaign

{ Ruth Josse } at: August 28, 2011 at 12:31 AM said...

Uh, most of the kids and teens I know are considerably smarter than I. So yes, this excuse will never fly!

{ Ciara } at: August 29, 2011 at 4:26 AM said...

The day of the ignorant teen is gone. Most of the 12-16 crowd is too smart for this and would be insulted. Great post!

{ lindy } at: August 29, 2011 at 7:32 PM said...

I agree, narrative should fit seamlessly within the context of the book, the last thing we want is for it to draw attention to itself.

Anonymous at: November 16, 2011 at 6:03 PM said...

In "feed" the narrator is a Teenager. He is writing how he believes the character that he made up would write like, he is not writing lie this because he is writing for teens, but because that's how his character would write like. Please think before you write.

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