Friday, August 9, 2019

Mem Fox: Finding the Right Word

A most awesome tete a tete between Lin and Mem before the talk. 

Mem Fox really needs no introduction. She is a bestselling author of picture books. She has written over 40 books for children. Her book POSSUM MAGIC is still in print after 36 years.

The last thing we need to think about when we sit down to write is whether or not the book will sale, or make money, or bring fame. The focus must be on the child.

This intense focus on the child means we can't write a book to please ourselves. We have to write a book for other people, and those people are children, not grown ups. The last thing we want to do is write a book that brings a grown-up to tears but has no impact on a child.

"Every book I write has to pass through an imaginary child's head and heart."

Friends, I wish you could be here with me now as Mem reads WHERE IS THE GREEN SHEEP?

What delights young children? It's the rhythm. "It's always the rhythm."

It can take Mem an hour to decide between "under" and "beneath." Under is two slow beats and beneath has two fast beats. "So there's a mountain of difference between the two words."

"If there's no trouble a child can relate to, there's no story."

Character, trouble and word choice go hand in hand. "Having just the right word in just the right place brings children back and back and back to a book."

Brevity is Mem's goal. The word count on the computer is still her favorite tool. She'll write 500 words and try and get it down to 350 and so on. The shortness makes the writing look easy. "Writing short text is burdensome."

When writing, Mem focuses on rhythm, brevity, and emotional impact on a child. But all of it is elusive, and it's all achieved by one things: rhythmic word choice.

Mem believes rhythm can't be taught but it can be caught. It has to be heard and processed by the brain. It has to be in the marrow of our bones, inside us.

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