Can a multi-million bestseller be a bad book?
I’ve finally made my first foray into longer-form fiction books, with a 20,000 word story in a diary format. This choice has almost certainly been influenced by Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid series. My kids both love it and I have read all the books to my son, many of them several times.
I can confidently say that these books are brilliant. My wife has cried laughing several times and I never get bored of reading them. However, that’s not to say all of Jeff Kinney’s output is flawless. Two of his recent books have made me think about the challenge of emulating kid’s voices.
Awesome Friendly Adventures and Awesome Friendly Spooky Stories are not diaries like the other books in the series. Instead, they are stories written by one of the characters, Rowley Jefferson. For me, these are nowhere near as funny nor as entertaining as the other books. Of course, everyone is entitled to produce a dud now and again, especially when you’ve sold tens of millions of copies of wildly funny stories. But the question that came to my mind was, why? It may be the author accidentally ran over his own head with a lawnmower and damaged the area of his prefrontal cortex responsible for humour, but I think the fault lies with a subtle change in the format.
Both the diaries and the stories are text written by an adult, pretending to be text written by a kid. However, in the case of the diaries, an adult is carefully crafting situations and then seeing how their character would react to them. We then get the kid’s-eye view of the ensuing carnage.
With the stories, however, the kid is the world-builder, the character-creator and the one who decides how the characters will react. As a result, every aspect has to be in the style of a child. And this is where the problem lies for me. You will never create a world or characters more imaginative, crazy or hilarious as those created by a child. Trying to emulate this feels artificial, like a knock-off pair of trainers. Yes, they do the job and look the same, but they’re not quite authentic.
Also, I can’t escape the feeling that a great author should give me something better than a childlike story; I can get one of those from my children, and I’d like it more because it would be an authentic story from my children.
There are enough challenges in emulating a child’s voice in the diary form (I’m certainly experiencing them); emulating a complete child’s storytelling might just be a step too far.
I should probably mention that my views aren’t represented in the ratings or sales of these books, which are still stupendously popular, so it is of course possible that Jeff knows something I don’t about what makes a bestseller. But then again, he’s not writing this blog so he doesn’t get a say 😊.
Have you ever tried to write a story in the style of a child, and what challenges have you encountered trying to emulate a child’s voice? Let me know in the comments..