Let’s say you love salty food. When given the choices of food, you always go for the salty ones. Like dumplings with soy sauce. When you sit down for a meal, do you usually only want salty foods on your plate? Or do you like a little variety in your sides and dessert?
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The Chinese have a theory that there are five different elements of flavors— sweet, spicy, bitter, salty, sour. And that if you have each of these five elements in a meal, it will leave you much more satisfied than when ones are missing. Certainly more satisfied than if you have just one element.
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Books are the same way. A kid might like mystery, for example, but that doesn’t mean he/she wants mystery as the only element in the book. A book will be more satisfying when it has the five elements that kids crave. Your book will likely have one of these five that's more prevalent. But just like everything else— if you get too much of anything, it becomes monotonous. Your book needs a break from the main genre that it is to slip in another element when it’s appropriate to make it more fulfilling.
I'll talk about each of the five--- one each Monday. Today it's...... HUMOR!!
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(Is this dog impressive, or what? He cracks me up every time!)
Scientists say that the fact that we laugh and that we want to laugh does two things: It helps us to bond with people, and to lessen tension and anxiety. Two things that are VERY important in MG fiction. We want our readers to bond with characters (which will in turn help the reader bond with you as the author). And at key points, like right after an intense scene or even during a stressful scene, we want to lessen tension and anxiety.
So let's talk about the kinds of humor kids like. They like:
(misusing words ridiculously, especially by the confusion of words that are similar in sound).
- “He had to use a fire distinguisher.”
- “Dad says the monster is just a pigment of my imagination.”
- “He's a wolf in cheap clothing.”
- “Don't is a contraption”
(a statement containing an illogical conclusion).
- “Sleeping in a tinfoil suit keeps me warmer and helps prepare me for my voyage to the moon. Would you care for some licorice?” -- Jarod Kintz
The rule of three works particularly well with kids this age.
(Especially when you do it with things that are out of place)
- Paper, pencils, and a penguin
(Which is one of the reasons that books like Captain Underpants are so popular.)
Words with the K or the G sound.
So if you are making up words or names and want to add humor, try to use those sounds in the word, and it will make it inherently more funny.
MG kids don’t usually get written sarcasm.
Some kids, if they don’t grow up with moms like me, might not get it at all. I try to make sure my kids are growing up well-versed in sarcasm, but even kids this age who do grow up with those kinds of advantages ;) don’t usually get written sarcasm.
People like characters with a good sense of humor. So if you want a reader to dislike a certain character, then get rid of their sense of humor. You can take humor away from your bad guy, but that’s not really what I’m saying. For example, Dr. Doofenshmirtz on Phineas and Ferb: he brings a LOT of humor. But we aren’t meant to dislike him. Take humor away from any character that your MC doesn’t like, and that you want the reader to dislike as well. Like the mean kid in school. Or an awful teacher. If you give them a sense of humor, your reader won’t be totally on your MC’s side when they dislike that character.
A book will always be more satisfying when it has some of each of the five elements that kids crave, and next up, we'll cover BEING SCARED! :)