I had the pleasure of attending the Talking Writing event at the NSW Writers’ Centre last night, where Kate Forsyth, Nyssa Harkness and Matt Finch discussed monsters and villains in kid’s and YA fiction.
One of the most interesting parts of the discussion, for me anyway, was what makes monsters and villains suitable for children’s literature. Kate having written many a children’s story with villains in, suggested that a well written monster or villain in a children’s book sends a delicious shiver of fear through the child, whilst allowing them to still feel safe in their reading space. A child should be almost giggling with fear, not sweating with terror. And the difference between a child’s monster and an adults monster is defined by the depth of depravity. Get it wrong and that will be the last book you sell to that family, no parent wants to be woken in the night by a terrified child! True!
Another very interesting point was made around the level of sympathy you can manipulate readers to feel for the villains in stories. Kate talked about two types of villains, static villains, who remain bad all the way through the story, and villains that learn a lesson and change through the story. Readers can be encouraged to find understanding and even empathy for the latter, but will rarely have any sympathy for the former. Children have a strong inbuilt sense of justice, and like to see the bad guy punished and the good guy triumph. The story that stands the test of time is the story with a strong sense of justice and where true love triumphs.
There were many more interesting points made and all three presenters provided a fantastic insight into their area of expertise. Whilst I don’t write fantasy or dystopian fiction I came away from the evening feeling like I have learnt things I can incorporate into my writing.
A big thank you to Matt, Kate and Nyssa, and of course the NSW Writers’ Centre for hosting the evening.