Inspired by Broadway personality Seth Rudetsky‘s extraordinary “Seth Rudetsky Reveals the 5 WORST Audition Mistakes,” I humbly offer my own List of Dreaded Errors you should try to avoid in your children’s or YA manuscript.
#1 NOTHING AT STAKE FOR THE READER This is a BIGGIE, because readers, and maybe even your editor, will forgive a multitude of sins if you’ve got this one working. Is there something in your story we’re rooting for? A character we care about whose situation we can relate to? Don’t give us a kid who has a lot of things to say about his life, his parents, his school, his crush, but doesn’t have any problem that pulls us through your book.
#2. THE VOICE IS TOO YOUNG, OR TOO OLD, FOR THE AGE OF KID YOU ARE WRITING ABOUT. Think carefully about what your character would notice at his or her age. And please don’t try to sound cute. Deliberately misspelling something to appear childlike, or having your character say, for example, pasgetti instead of spaghetti, may cause an editor to turn off his computer and start rummaging for an Advil.
#3. TRYING TO SOUND HIP, STREET OR ETHNIC IF THAT’S JUST NOT YOUR THANG. We editors implore you to cut this one out! I’ve seen Italian mothers come out with sentences that are practically “Mama mia, that’s a spicy meatball” or an Asian kid in a lunchroom say “my grandfather says, reading enriches a man, conversation makes a man shrewd.” Really? A kid in the school cafeteria would say that?
Today this mistake turns up most often when writers try to write in what I’ll call Black or Latino street lingo. We need diverse books, absolutely. We all agree on that. But you don’t have to try to right every wrong in your own novel. If you can’t comfortably and naturally write in a particular dialect, don’t do it.