Right OnToday's Tune:
One of my favorite breakout sessions from that conference was M.T. Anderson's workshop on experimentation in children's literature. First, M.T. Anderson is a brilliant and hilarious man, and second, so many of his points have stuck with me.
As adults, we've fallen into set patterns. We believe the world works a certain way, we've cemented most of our ideological views, and we know what we like. We know what literature is "supposed" to look like, either because we've studied it in school for a very long time, or because we've read enough to believe we know how words are supposed to form a story.
Literature for children and teens is a whole different playing field. Young people are still relatively new to the world. They haven't had certain lessons hammered into them over and over quite yet, and they haven't become set. They're still learning, still malleable. This is where experimentation comes in. All of those weird writing quirks that adults scoff at as pretentious or weird are fuel for young minds. They don't have to read a story linearly. They don't balk at the author speaking to them directly. They're okay with a story told in alternating text and images. Strange words, whimsy, playing with font and text decoration, lyrical style, verse, rich metaphor... all of these things are fair game.
I mean, think about this for a second. The blank page of a kidlit or YA book is a canvas that you can paint any way you want, and that's okay! You can go nuts and experiment with all those wacky ideas living inside your brain. Naturally not everything that comes out is going to be good, but that's part of the fun. It's worth the misfires to land on that golden experiment that takes your writing to a new level.
Note that when I say "weird writing quirks," I don't mean slapping whatever down on the page and calling it good. I'm talking about taking risks and thinking outside the box. "Experimental" literature is not like those "experimental" films you see that are just shots of someone humping a dead bear in a Captain Kirk mask. The goal isn't to throw something together and call it art. The goal is to skillfully and intentionally try new things to convey your story in an interesting way. The goal is to play. That's one of the joys of creating literature for young people... it allows us the freedom to play.
So let your imagination go. Think of all the different ways you can convey emotion, imagery, and dialogue. Browse Tumblr for a while. Tumblr's a great place to see the way people incorporate various media into comprehensive stories. Images, video, sound, text. With the rise of ebooks, these elements may even find a place in professional storytelling.
This is the perfect place to start letting your readers know that their entertainment doesn't have to fit in a neat little box.