An idea pieces itself together and rises as a skeleton from the swamp of creation, and it then becomes the author's job to give it muscles to make it powerful, nerves to make the reader feel, a brain to move the plot along, and so on.
When it comes to crafting stories for children and teens there is a common stumbling block. I've seen it look something like:
"Is this too dark?"
"Nope. Too heavy."
"I don't think this is appropriate for that age group."
"Don't you think that's a little complicated for ____ year olds?"
It's an easy mistake to make. Authors have to think about "will this book sell?", "will this book get me an agent?", "does this fall in line with my established brand?", and that critical mindset bleeds over into the art. They end up saying to themselves, and to others: "You can't do that."
Pause for a moment and reflect on the books of your childhood.
- The boy whose dog was viciously mangled by a wild hog, and had to be stitched up without the aid of a veterinarian or anesthetic. The dog lived through the incident, but contracted a terrible disease and the boy had to shoot his furry best friend. (Old Yeller)
- The series where children involved in a covert war were forced to deal with intense paranoia, PTSD, and graphic violence on an almost daily basis. (Animorphs)
- The one where a child of extraordinary intelligence kidnapped and extorted a stranger so he could plunder the wealth of an entire culture. (Artemis Fowl)
- The story of the girl who discovered that her favorite toy was a communication tool for ghosts who were the victims of a grisly crime. (The Dollhouse Murders)
There are multitudes of these examples, but it all comes down to this - nothing is off limits. The trick is crafting your words in such a way as to not permanently traumatize yet still permanently influence the reader. That is where your artistry, your savvy critique partners, and beta readers all come in to play.
Never be afraid to write the story in your heart. Never be afraid of a scene, a character, or an ending. Embrace those raw, emotional, sometimes frightening or dangerous things. If you're having powerful feelings then it's likely your reader will, too.
It is my personal opinion that people who curl their lip at a story that is "too dark" or "too mature" for a certain audience have forgotten the endless curiosity, tenacity, and intellectual bravery of young readers. I think they have lost touch with who they were long ago and far away, and impose their very adult eyes on stories that are not crafted for them.
I could say more, but I'll quote the one who said it best (and she didn't need a whole blog post to say it):
"You have to write the book that wants to be written. If the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then write it for children." - Madeleine L'Engle
In the end, it's the book that challenge us that change us.
- Colten Hibbs