“And above all, watch with glittering eyes the whole world around you because the greatest secrets are always hidden in the most unlikely places. Those who don’t believe in magic will never find it.”
Today is Roald Dahl Day! If you are wondering “Who is Roald Dahl?” I can help. Think: Willy Wonka, Charlie Bucket, Matilda, the BFG, The Enormous Crocodile, The Fantastic Mr. Fox, Oompa Loompas, James and the Giant Peach… Do any of these ring a bell? If you haven’t read any of these stories yet, you’ll be happy to know, you are never too old to enjoy Roald Dahl’s magical genius. Better yet, if you have a child or a grandchild, read a Dahl book aloud to them. I promise, neither of you will be disappointed.
Before you head to the bookstore or library, I’d like to share with you Roald Dahl’s brilliant advice to children’s writers, excerpted from a letter Dahl wrote to “The Writer” magazine in October, 1975: “A Note on Writing Books for Children”:
What makes a good children’s writer? The writer must have a genuine and powerful wish not only to entertain children, but to teach them the habit of reading…[He or she] must be a jokey sort of fellow…[and] must like simple tricks and jokes and riddles and other childish things. He must be unconventional and inventive. He must have a really first-class plot. He must know what enthralls children and what bores them. They love being spooked. They love ghosts. They love the finding of treasure. The love chocolates and toys and money. They love magic. They love being made to giggle. They love seeing the villain meet a grisly death. They love a hero and they love the hero to be a winner. But they hate descriptive passages and flowery prose. They hate long descriptions of any sort. Many of them are sensitive to good writing and can spot a clumsy sentence. They like stories that contain a threat. “D’you know what I feel like?” said the big crocodile to the smaller one. “I feel like having a nice plump juicy child for my lunch.” They love that sort of thing. What else do they love? New inventions. Unorthodox methods. Eccentricity. Secret information. The list is long. But above all, when you write a story for them, bear in mind that they do not possess the same power of concentration as an adult, and they become very easily bored or diverted. Your story, therefore, must tantalize and titillate them on every page and all the time that you are writing you must be saying to yourself, “Is this too slow? Is it too dull? Will they stop reading?” To those questions, you must answer yes more often than you answer no. [If not] you must cross it out and start again.
To learn more about this iconic children’s author, read his fascinating biography, Storyteller: The Authorized Biography of Roald Dahl by Donald Sturrock.