1. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    Scary Stories for Children

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by Steerpike, Aug 12, 2013.

    When I was a kid, I loved scary stories. From around 8 to 10, particularly, I loved a good ghost story. My grandmother would tell them, and then I'd go lay in bed and think about the stories. I sought out ghost story books, or monster books, or anything else in that genre that was written for my age group, and I was often disappointed that the "scary" stories for kids just weren't scary. I've heard the same things from children now that I'm an adult. They frown at "cheesy" stories that are supposed to be scary but are not.

    I'm been outlining some stories for a compilation of scary stories for kids that I want to write, and I am planning to make them truly scary. Nothing with overt violence or gore or that sort of thing, as I don't think that's appropriate for a kid's story, but something that will really give the reader some chills when they're reading it. So far, the main characters in the stories I have outlined do not survive the stories.

    When I was a kid, I think I would have been quite pleased with these stories. Given the lack of them, two questions come to mind:

    1. Will a children's book publisher buy those kinds of stories; and
    2. Will parents buy them.

    My question doesn't go to the quality of the stories. I think I can write them at a level a publisher will accept. The question is whether the mere fact that they're actually scary, and that the MCs don't live, will prevent acceptance. The target age group is around 8 - 10, since that is the age where I would have been most happy to come across a book like this.

    Thoughts?
     
  2. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I think you can write as scary as you want, let the reader age sort itself out.

    It may be that the reason you felt stuff got corny was you just got older than the stuff you were reading.
     
  3. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Wasn't just about every fairy tale, nursery rhyme and Walt Disney movie about something sinister?

    Kids love being scared and I'd imagine publishers hear the ker-ching!
     
  4. Thomas Kitchen
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    Thomas Kitchen Proofreader in the Making Contributor

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    Even though the Goosebumps series wasn't at all scary, it still shows that both publishers and children wanted scary books. So I say go for it! :)
     
  5. chicagoliz
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    chicagoliz Contributing Member Contributor

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    It's hard to say -- I think this is one of those things where you just have to write it and see if you can sell it. I have a 9 year old who is very sensitive to that sort of thing, so I probably would not buy it for him, unless he knew specifically that it was very scary and still wanted it. However, my almost 4 year old is completely different, and I could see him wanting this sort of thing in a few years. So, for me, it's really kid-specific, not parent-specific.

    Anecdotally, for whatever it's worth, a few months back I read a book called The Age of Miracles. It's about life on earth in a time where the days and nights are both getting longer because the earth's rotation slows. It has a YA protagonist, but it was not classified as a YA book. I didn't understand why, because it read very much as YA and it had the appropriate age MC. I read that the publisher thought that the subject matter was too heavy/scary for YA, so they marketed it as adult. This doesn't make much sense to me because it really was not scary, and The Hunger Games was much more disturbing and heavier than Miracles, yet the former was categorized YA. You're asking about MG, where this issue would presumably be even more acute, so I would say there is a definite possibility that you could run into a problem. But, you never know -- different publishers seem to have different standards, and I would think that there would be a market for well-written, genuinely scary MG.
     
  6. mammamaia
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    mammamaia nit-picker-in-chief Contributor

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    if i'm reading what you wrote right, you're killing off the main characters...

    i'm pretty sure that alone would keep the stories from being acceptable to both publishers and parents, for such young readers... why do you need to have killing and death in your stories?... can't you come up with scary plots without killing your characters?
     
  7. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    I can, however what I usually do is start with a pretty vague idea, and either start writing or start an "outlining" process, as I've done here. Even my outlines look more like cursory writings, where I'll put together some ideas for scenes and maybe even write a few sentences, and so on. I kind of let the story go where it wants. I could certainly change the endings to something else, but in this case for the first three the MC died at the end, and then that turned into an idea about how I could tie an over-arching thread to all of the stories if the main characters died in every one. I like the idea that it turned into , I'm not just sure if publishers would go for it.
    @GingerCoffee if my main characters are 10 years old or so, my understanding of the children's market is that I can expect kids that age or younger to read it, but won't have many kids who are older than that reading about younger protagonists. I think any editor or publisher would have to feel the stories were appropriate for 8-10 year old generally. As I said, the stories aren't filled with violence or anything like that. Just some scary images, a scary story line, and the fact that the MC dies at end.
    @chicagoliz I read YA as well, and as best I can tell, anything goes in YA/Teen these days. Sex, violence, drugs, suicide, abuse, and so on. I've seen all of these covered in YA/Teen stories, and sometimes in explicit detail. It's all out there and it is up to the parents or the individual teen to decide what is appropriate or desirable for them. I don't know to what extent children's publishers would take that approach, or to what extent they'd say 'no way.'

    Thanks @erebh and @Thomas Kitchen for the supporting words. One story I want to include in this compilation is one I write a few years ago (in which the MC also died; maybe I need therapy). I actually read that one to a nine-year old, who really enjoyed the story and also apparently called his mom into his room that night at bedtime because he started thinking of the story when he went to sleep (the MC in my story actually dies at bed time, adding horror to an already unpleasant time of night for kids!).

    I don't know if that's good or bad. On the one hand, the kid liked the story and found it creepy. Mission accomplished. On the other hand, if parents write reviews saying "my child had to sleep with me after reading this" it could hurt sales :p
     
  8. erebh
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    erebh Contributing Member Contributor

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    Not sure you really wanna scare the crap out of kids at bedtime - most Disney might start off crap with dying parents etc but they end a little bit happy. I certainly don't want my kids having to sleep with me every night because they're afraid to sleep in their own bed.
     
  9. Steerpike
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    Steerpike Felis amatus Supporter Contributor

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    But it's a cool story :)

    See, if I had read that as a kid, I would have been quite happy to read a story that tried to scare me and didn't treat me like a little kid. And I wouldn't have asked to sleep with my parents. I guess it will vary from kid to kid. But if a publisher won't go for it, then none of the rest will matter unless I decide to self-publish it.

    I should note that I write plenty of happy stories with pleasant endings as well. It's just not the goal for this project.
     
  10. ManOrAstroMan
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    ManOrAstroMan Magical Space Detective Contributor

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    I loved scary stuff as a kid--ghost stories, black-and-white horror flicks, and the Ghost Busters cartoon show were my favorites. But looking back, there is a fairly standard formula discernible in all those, even those made-for-grown-ups horror movies. Bad things happen, but the main heroes almost always win. (definitely always in the kids' stuff)
    Even though kids like to get scared, there's comfort in knowing the good guys win and that everything's okay in the end. It's something kids--and adults, now that I think of it--need, especially before bedtime. Personally, I think killing off your characters--especially your heroes/heroines--might be too much for a kiddo to handle. Now, an ambiguous ending is a little different. If you leave the story open-ended, the kid can decide for him/herself the character's fate, while still being spooky.
    And even if you get the thumbs up from some kids, there are going to be plenty of others who would only be willing to go as scary as a Goosebumps book. Unfortunately, publishers--especially those marketing towards kids--are going to aim for the widest possible audience, and if the book is too scary, they might think it'll limit the readership.
     
  11. Kita
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    Kita Senior Member

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    I used to be a fan of the Goosebumps and Ghosts of Fear Street when I was a kid and some of the stories in those books ended with the MC dying. Especially the choose your destiny books. They had multiple paths that led to death.
     

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