Reflections In Hindsight

Grace in the Rearview Mirror…it's closer than it appears

  • Ephesians 4:29

    Do not let any unwholesome talk come out of your mouths, but only what is helpful for building others up according to their needs, that it may benefit those who listen. (NIV)

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Balancing My Tone as an Author

Posted by Luther D. Powell on March 14, 2012

R.L. Stine’s Goosebumps books were the first chapter books I read and collected as a child. My parents being protective of my underdeveloped mental and emotional state, it took a few years of pouting and ‘but Moooom’-ing to convince them to let me read them.

Much like this ^

Though the Goosebumps books are considered children’s horror fiction, I could read one of them now and love it like I used to. The books were scary, but in a fun way. They grossed me out, made my skin crawl and made it hard to sleep at night, but they didn’t make me fear the reality of the world around me, if that makes sense. I was only afraid of the creepy-crawlies and monsters in the books, which were usually magical, supernatural, or of some science-experiment-gone-horribly-wrong kind of origin.

When I was younger, I wanted to write like R. L. Stine.

My most recent struggle as a writer is the realization that this story I’ve been writing for so long was started when I was something less than a young adult. Because of that, the majority of what’s written is lacking a certain ‘adult’ tone that I would like the story to have. The beef of my story was written five years ago and since then, I’ve been adding and changing things at a rather sluggish pace. My issue is figuring out how to write about young adult characters in a way that adults would enjoy reading, to write about unbelievable monsters in a way that’s believable, and to write about adult fears in a way that young adult readers would understand.
I was eleven when I first invented my main protagonists, and though they’ve undergone some intense surgeries, they’re still my protagonists. Most of them are the age I was when I began writing the story, which seems natural, right? We write about what we know about, and what we enjoy reading most usually involves characters we can relate to. The Goosebumps books were never about adults, not about husbands or wives or mothers or fathers or people working in office cubicles or whatever (that’s a hefty generalization, I know, but I also know a lot of adults who work in office cubicles). R. L. Stine’s books were about kids like my kid-self, doing stuff kids did, only adding haunted houses and green slime. They didn’t need the assistance of graphic sex and violence to feel real to children, and they stirred fears of the unknown more than those of reality. For the record, I also feel that they’re ‘safe’ books for Christian kids who want a good scare, as they don’t involve anything Satanic, demonic or otherwise anti-Jesus. Clean language too!
Were I to leave my story untouched as of now, it would probably be read as young adult fiction. I have nothing against young adult fiction, but I want a broader audience than that.
If I could pick a book which has influenced my writing more heavily than anything else in the past few years, it’s Let the Right One In, by Swedish author John Ajvide Lindqvist (also known as Let Me In). This book is a serious work of horror, very much not intended for children, and features a variety of adult themes. It plays on both fears of worldly and otherwordly things in an extremely graphic fashion. However, the main protagonists are children (well, sort of *wink wink*), and the author does a great job of portraying the characters in a way that is reminiscent of my childhood. It feels nostalgic, as opposed to writing the story to please the age group which best relates to the characters.
I consider myself an adult now, with adult problems and adult fears and adult responsibilities. As a writer, I want to sound like an adult, like I’ve had experiences like those of the characters. What separates young adult from adult fiction, anyway? Graphic content? Length? Age-range of characters?
Goosebumps books aren’t young adult books, but as children’s horror, they could be compared to and contrasted with Let the Right One In. As an adult-fiction-horror writer, I’d like a mix of worldly and otherworldly scares in my stories; both the campy-fun quality of Goosebumps scary and the gut-wrenchingly-dark quality of LTROI scary. I want to write about high school students, but still appeal to adult readers. As a Christian author, I want to leave out bad language and sexual content that most ‘adult’ books might be filled with, but still write as realistically as possible. I need to balance my tone.
That’s the interesting thing about The Bible (preachy tangent alert!): there is no Young Adult Bible. A Precious Moments toddler Bible maybe, but nothing blatantly dumbed down or edited for other age groups. There is only The Bible; God’s Word. He wrote it and man put it on paper. The Book is raw, gritty, in-your-face and beautiful. There was no worrying about tone when the words were translated; it was translated to say what it says. Interpretations may vary inevitably, but there’s no escaping its message, no matter how old you are. Just a thought. Until next Thursday, God bless!
In Christ,
Luther D. Powell

5 Responses to “Balancing My Tone as an Author”

  1. Luther, the dilemma we all face: How much is too much and how much is not enough? As Christian writers it is a challenge, but not insurmountable. As a Christian Romance writer, I weave a fine line between being acceptable to Christians, but romantic enough without being explicit. Talk about a dance! The key I have found is PRAY before I write, that GOd will direct my “pen” and then run it by other Christians to get their view. Is is too much? Not enough? I want to know. But my first audience is the Lord and I want to please him while entertaining my reader. I’ll pray for you and ask for your prayers for me as well. Blessings!

    • Libby said

      As a Christian romance reader and a wanna-be author, I commend you for being sensitive about too much and not enough. I have not read your stories (yet), but my beef with many Christian books is the sappy sweet characters that are so unreal they cannot possibly be of this earth. As far as romance goes, to me romance does not equal sex, it’s getting to know the person, the things that draw the couple together on a daily basis, the crises they encounter and survive together. It’s the look across the room, the laughter of a shared private joke. I despise secular reads that rely on explicit scenes and bad words. That’s not writing, that’s a sorry excuse for a writer who doesn’t know how to dialogue without bad language and how to keep the reader’s interest without explicit scenes. Nothing turns me off like that and many, many times I put the book down at that point. So kudos to authors who have to rely on their creativity and ability to write dialogue! Maybe some day I’ll be on this site as a writer!

      (Luther’s mom)

      • Thank you, Libby! My characters are anything but sappy. They are very real, who confront life’s difficulties with courage and faith—and lots of romance. I agree with you—sappy is not realistic and I don’t have time for that either. If you want to try my latest release, it won the Los Angeles Book Festival award for Best Romance last month. It is called, “The Promise of Deer Run.” Blessings and nice to meet Luther’s mom!

  2. Being scared, afraid, delighting in a good, clean scare can really be fun. I love Alien, Aliens, because I know it’s not real. But things that are real, are evil make me more than frightened. That’s my line I can’t cross.

    • I’m kinda with you there, Lisa. My “line” is being pushed by judging the paranormal genre on the Grace Awards this year. Gulp. Best not read them at night…

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