R L Stine was a writer that I read a lot when I was growing up. The Goosebumps books, and then later Fear Street series. They were staples of my childhood reading before I moved on to the more adult authors.
The impact of the Goosebumps books stayed with me, and while I will not say they have been of any direct influence on my writing – I am sure there is some, but nothing I would be so bold as to claim – they have recently re-entered my life again and have set the cogs of my mind in motion.
I have been reading the Goosebumps books to my kids recently, and it got me thinking about horror and the younger audience. Juvenile fiction is a tough one to write. Horror is a tough subject to broach with younger audiences, because how much is too much. You need to make it scary, but not traumatic.
Horror scares the readers, it chills them, but it also instils in them the knowledge that they will triumph. Finishing the book, or setting it to one side allows them to conquer their fear in multiple smaller steps. For a juvenile audience this is an even tougher part of the craft to master. R L Stine did it perfectly. His books did not play down the horror. They simplified it, but they there still, for the most part, adult themes. Well handled, and well adapted to suit the younger audience.
One thing I have noticed, not just in books, but in all things child targets, the theme seems to be more geared towards patronizing than entertaining. If I ever go ahead with the ideas I have for some juvenile horror stories, I want to make sure that I stay away from patronizing the readers. You should never insult a child’s intelligence. Just because they are too young to articulate or truly understand some aspects of life, it does not mean they are oblivious to its presence.
I have a great idea for several juvenile stories, which actually cover several age ranges, from early readers to the 12 year and up bracket.
I hate the idea of brackets, of shoehorning children into books based on their age, but you get the idea of what I am talking about.
Youngsters are an interesting audience to write for, and I can see both the reward and the challenge of doing it.
Kids have fears, more so than adults, and playing on those fears requires a tact and a skill which, in many ways, exceeds that used for adults. As we age, many fears are left behind, but do we ever truly grow out of them? All of them?
Phobias and universal, fear is universal, which give a grounding commonality that can be used when writing horror. The trick is to understand the way children interpret the horror, rather than necessarily dumb down the fear. Hit them with everything you have got, but do so in a way they can understand and process.