Those who write books usually write with a specific age group in mind. Oh sure, we can say, “This is for anyone who loves a good story,” but when the protagonist is 12, there’s a natural inclination in the plot, setting, and conflict to please the prepubescent crowd. Diana Wynne Jones wrote children’s stories for a good twenty years before writing A Sudden Wild Magic, her first adult story for the fantasy genre. It was this experience that also led her to discuss the absurd differences in writing for old vs. young in the article “Two Kinds of Writing?” Though I would love to simply reprint the piece here and let Jones speak for herself, I will confine myself to sharing a few highlights.
For one thing, adults are considered to be far more simple-minded than children. Everything about how the world works and what it looks like must be explained in inane detail. Because children are at the stage when their brains are constantly tested in school and gaming and the like, complex stories mean nothing to them. (She also makes a wry poke at adults: if they can follow a Doctor Who storyline, they can follow ANYTHING.) A Sudden Wild Magic has two major settings and several plotlines that follow groups of characters, characters on their own, characters regrouped—seriously, I lost count. Yet did I get confused about who’s this centaur or why Zillah’s on Leathe? Nope. Because I’m in the story. Jones has always been a master of balancing detail, dialogue, and wit-full exposition. When she puts down one plot thread to pick up another, I know it’s for a reason and am never disappointed. (And I’m not even a Doctor Who fan.)
Speaking of characters, adults are evidently too simple-minded to keep characters straight. Jones noticed that many grown-ups writing for grown-ups would repeat key traits when referencing to a character. How many times does a reader have to be reminded the dude’s got green eyes or came from Ohio? Yet this happens all the time. Jones barely does this in A Sudden Wild Magic; when she does, it is from a character’s point of view, and it is because this character doesn’t know the other’s name. That way, the tactic isn’t so much a reader’s reminder as it is one person using a singular feature (for example, “the woman in boots”) to point someone out in a crowd.
Sex would be the most notable difference in writing for adults, but Jones explains that many kids’ books deal with sex—not always explicitly, but it’s there. Jones alludes to sex a number of times in A Sudden Wild Magic: the book jacket even refers to an attack team of women using “kamikaze sex” to destroy another world’s magical hold on Earth. But while these allusions abound, Jones never goes into graphic detail…and according to her editor, this meant the sex element was all too “nice” and not “tragic,” which is what adult readers of fantasy expect.
I admit, I held off on reading Jones’ adult-geared books because I feared there would be some sort of alteration in her humor and/or style to make them, well, “literary.” But no. All the snort-inducing quips, complicated plot twists, and ever-unique worlds are there. Jones may have felt the assumptions of adult writing to be “claustrophobic,” but she didn’t let that hinder the creation of yet another incredibly fun story. In her own closing words: “For, when all is said and done, it is telling a good story, and telling it well, that is the point of both kinds of writing.”