Wednesday, July 10, 2013

She's Crafty: Jeopardizing Children in Middle Grade Novels---HUGE No-no

At the Big Sur in the Rockies Workshop, I was in a critique group with Andrea Brown from Andrea Brown Literary Agency. (Amazing.) When I finished reading my first chapter of my contemporary adventure, Andrea said, "Love it but you can't do it."

Say what? My chapter ends with two of my characters on the roof of the elementary school. Fun, exciting, who doesn't want to be on a roof? I do. I did it all the time as a child. The roof is a magical place. 

This is what Andrea explained: You can't jeopardize children in a story because if a child reads your story, climbs onto a roof and has an accident, parents will sue. And no publisher will want the liability. So your story will be rejected, no question. 

I completely understand the logic but for some reason this was an eye-opener for me. It is the reality in which we live and a bit of a downer, but I get it. Andrea and my group then helped me brainstorm where the children could go that wouldn't risk child safety. Now my kids sneak into the school through a storm cellar---exciting but also safe. 

So as a general rule when writing for middle grade, ask yourself: Could a child do this now and get hurt? If the answer is yes, revise. 

After I told my husband I needed to rework this, we had a sad chuckle about all the classic books that wouldn't be published in today's market if it met this criteria. So long Huck Finn. 

Have you ever had this problem in your own writing? Have you ever walked head first into a platform wall or hid in a wardrobe?


  1. But...the risk is the fun of it. I wonder when protecting our children becomes overprotection. Last night I watched my 7 year old grandson play baseball; he was the pitcher. His mom confided, "I never get scared when he's in the outfield or when he's batting, but it scares me when he pitches." She still lets him pitch. Do publishers have too much control, Brooke?

    1. John, I couldn't agree more! I think as a whole we overprotect our children...and I have 5. I don't think it is the publishers controlling our creative power, it is the lawyers. If people would be accountable for their own children and actions instead of looking to place blame and collect large sums of money, I think my characters could stay on the roof. All the same, as a writer, I would hate to hear if a child fell off a roof because they read my story and wanted to do the same---kind of like the movie Inception. (Which is not the best example, I just love the movie.)