Masterclass Monday: Madeleine L’Engle Reminds Us To “Disturb The Universe”

MLE

“The stories I cared about, the stories I read and reread, were usually stories which dared to disturb the universe, which asked questions rather than gave answers.”

I love this quote. And Madeleine L’Engle was the very first YA author that I ever read. A Wrinkle In Time has got to be one of my all-time favorite books, combining wild science fiction with amazing adventure, and then that wonderful gut-punch at the end when Meg decides to just love Charles Wallace. (Spoiler, I know, but not really if you don’t know the book. Oh, and if you don’t know the book. Read it.)

Madeleine has some great tips for writers, several of which I pulled from this in-depth interview with Scholastic. Here are some of my favorites:

  1. “You have to write the book that wants to be written. And if the book will be too difficult for grown-ups, then you write it for children.” In other words, never, never talk down to your audience. Never.
  2. “A self is not something static, tied up in a pretty parcel and handed to the child, finished and complete. A self is always becoming.” Let your characters stumble and fall to learn and grow. Writing a perfect, complete person is inviting your readers to a tour of boredom.
  3. “I don’t think my books tell a lesson, but they do tell a story. We do live in a world where there is darkness and light, and the sooner kids know that, the better. They need to know that we have a choice, and we do have the option to choose good.” Write a good story, and the moral will find itself.
  4. “I try to listen to the characters. They tell me everything I need to know, but I must listen. Listen to the story, write, and not worry about grammar and perfection at first. That comes later.” Listen to where your characters want to take the story. Keep them authentic, and keep the progressions natural and true to them.
  5. “Some people think that writing for children is easier, but it isn’t. In some ways it’s harder – children are very complex. And you have to be absolutely faithful to them – you can’t cheat.” This goes back to my first point. Kids are smart and tuned into your characters, feeling ownership of their feelings and their life path. Change it up or ignore what you’ve built to go off on a tangent, and they’ll pick it up in a heartbeat.

Madeleine L’Engle was a fabulous talent who knew how to keep her characters grounded in fantastical circumstances. She left a legacy of amazing works and I can only hope that one day, I’ll do the same.

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