Writing for children quiets the voices in your head

by Roscoe Stoneman, author of best-selling children’s literature such as Everyone Has Nipples and Snap! Goes the Femur!

Writing children’s literature is hard. You have to know your audience, and your audience is young and naive, and won’t appreciate a lot of your best jokes about Jews. On top of that, it’s difficult to really say what you want to say in language that kids will understand and that parents won’t give you crap for using. So you end up writing things like:

“The Prince saw the beautiful maiden, and his heart was filled with love!”

when what you really want to say is:

“The Prince wanted to plow her like a farmer with a brand new John Deere”

Under no circumstances can you mention the Prince’s boner.

Rhyming is tricky, too. When you’re writing for older kids, you can be more verbose and even use more grown-up words (though you usually can’t use “fuck”), but for younger kids they expect things to rhyme. Luckily, I learned how to rhyme in the army, where we used to march and chant things like:

I don’t know but I’ve been told
Nipples get hard when they’re cold

But not every story involves nipples, so you have to get creative with rhyming. I find it helps to pick character names and plot devices that lend themselves to easy rhyming. If you call your prince “Jack”, then there are lots of good rhymes, like “black” and “sack” and probably a few more. I made the mistake once of having a character called Enis the Pet Rock, which was really hard because “rock” doesn’t really rhyme with anything.

Smaller kids like animal characters. I don’t know why. But animals are usually easier to draw, which is good when you illustrate your own stories, like I do. That’s another thing I learned in the army, by the way. During my second tour of duty in Vietnam, I ended up with a bad poontang infection and spent a lot of time in sickbay, so I took up drawing to pass the time between morphine shots. One of my cartoons even became kind of famous and lots of copies circulated among the grunts. In it, a doctor tells a soldier that he has crabs, and the soldier replies, “I’m allergic to shellfish?!” I was even able to reuse that one for my book Winkie’s Magic Waterbed, though I had to change the soldier into a bunny rabbit.

When you combine good rhymes with animal characters, it’s hard to go wrong. Unless your story is about a duck, which I stay away from because the best possible rhyme is the one word you should never use.

Girls love horses and princes. I don’t know why. But one of my best sellers was Arvalon the Horse Prince, which is a clever social commentary about miscegenation disguised as story about a royal horse who wants to plow a beautiful maiden.

Boys love monsters. I don’t know why. But you have to make them kind of goofy looking monsters, because parents won’t buy merchandise of characters that make their kids shit their pants in terror. The guy who wrote Where the Wild Things Are knew this, which is why he dialed way back on the tentacles. I learned that the hard way when my book Orville Meets the Ovipositor sold poorly. There were some great rhymes in that one, too, as you can imagine.

But like everything else in life, writing for kids is mostly trial and error. For every success I’ve had, like Superwallaby and Stinky Blinky Likes A Drinky, there are disappointments like Poop Adventures and Charlie The Chimp Chases Chinamen. I’ll have some thoughts on how to give snappy titles to your books next time.


7 Responses to “Writing for children quiets the voices in your head”

  1. Ignatius Pig Says:

    That was hilarious! And deeply disturbing, too. You sick bastard.

  2. sporkless Says:

    I think I read “Charlie The Chimp Chases Chinamen” when I was a kid. Of course, back in those days, you didn’t have to be all politically correct about the uncomfortable relationships between grown men and the lesser primates. (Man In The Yellow Hat, I’m looking at you, pal.)

  3. Krankor Says:

    Charlie was an irrepressible scamp, but he really had a problem with Asians.

  4. Ignatius Pig Says:

    I was even able to reuse that one for my book Winkie’s Magic Waterbed, though I had to change the soldier into a bunny rabbit.

    Days later, this line still has me laughing myself to tears.

  5. Ignatius Pig Says:

    Is it possible to order Snap! Goes the Femur! online or via mail? Because I think it would be a great story for the kids.

  6. Krankor Says:

    It’s been out of print for a few years, Iggy, but I seem to recall a made-for-TV movie version of it featuring Muppets.

  7. Ignatius Pig, Esq. Says:

    Hey Roscoe: Faceplants in the Street, a clever book about bicycle safety or somesuch, just hit the shelves in our town. Is it your creation? The author’s name is listed as “Hoss Rockman”, which I thought might be a pseudonym.