Writing Stories That Are Popular With Both Children and Adults

Albion 77 Over LondonI have had the pleasure and privilege to write a series of humorous stories that have found wide popularity with both children and adults. I am asked regularly how one writes books that appeal to young and old alike and that is a good question. You might guess that I think of a childlike story and then write with grownups in mind. Or you might guess that I write an adult story and then frame it in a manner that children will like. Those are both good guesses. Wrong, but good none-the-less.

In fact, for me, writing in a style that has cross-generational appeal does not involve writing with a specific age target in mind. It is more a matter of painting clear pictures of situations or events that I hope will have universal appeal. Truth be told, it may be easier to write stories with multi-generational appeal in the specific genre I write in, that being humorous Victorian family steampunk fantasy science fiction. In other words, stories of a family from another time that combine a little science with a lot of adventure and absurdity. Humor, for the most part, is non age-specific. Okay, fart jokes clearly go over better with children, and political humor targets adults, but core humor, the type that spotlights the ironies, indignities, and pure craziness of life, that type of humor appeals to all ages. Write in a manner that makes everyone laugh out loud while becoming engaged in the greater story arc, and your story will have universal appeal.

For authors with protagonists that are dealing with age and gender specific issues in coming of age books, I think the challenge of universal appeal is more daunting. Focus too much on specific age-related situations and you risk losing readers outside of that age group unless you have a very compelling larger story to overlay on the sub-stories. The Harry Potter series is a good example of a larger story arc filled with several coming-of-age sub-plots that created a literature juggernaut with strong cross-generational appeal.

If I make any concessions to a specific audience in my books; it is to readers with short attention spans. Growing up, I loved reading but was intimidated by large books. I simply wanted to get through one good story and on to the next. As a result, I would speed read larger books and would only slow down and actually enjoy the wordplay of shorter books. As a result, my favorite stories tended to be from smaller books.

We live in a time of short attention spans, wide-spread youth with reading disorders, and limited pockets of time to relax and read. Books that can be consumed in small bites, almost like a collection of short stories, but come together into a compelling larger story that appeals to all ages will have a better chance of appealing to the broadest range of readers.

So, how do I write stories that appeal to all ages? I like to say the world is absolutely brilliant. Difficult sometimes. Confusing often. But humorous almost always. When you capture all of that in a good story, you will most assuredly appeal to both the young and the young at heart.

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Final Thoughts on Labeling

14UncleNickOkay, this is my last bit on the subject of labeling people and defining what is normal. The point is, variety is good. Wherever you, me, and anyone else is on whatever spectrum you want to define, we all add an important piece to the puzzle of life.

The following list is possibly already known to you but I would suggest that you remember the examples below and if you know of anyone, including yourself, that fits the current labels for personality types or learning disabilities, be reminded that many of the greatest minds and contributors to the world would probably fit these same labels were they alive today.

Nikola Tesla – Genius and inventor in the field of electricity. Tesla was noted, not only for his attention to detail and intuitive method of invention, but also for his struggle with social skills and odd habits. It is quite likely he would be diagnosed with OCD and or Aspergers were he alive today.

Alexander Graham Bell – The inventor of the telephone had difficulty in school and some believe he probably had dyslexia.

Winston Churchill – The Prime Minister of the United Kingdom saw his people through what was probably their most challenging time as a nation. He is known as a great orator whose speeches raised moral during the darkest hours of World War Two. As a youth, he hated school and had struggled with a stuttering problem.

Walt Disney – The famous animator and film producer was a slow learner as a child and possibly suffered from dyslexia.

Thomas Edison – This inventor, known for his many great innovations that include the light bulb, struggled with words as a child and stopped attending public school at a young age due to his difficulties. It is possible he would now be diagnosed with dyslexia and ADHD.

Albert Einstein – The genius, recognized for his theories in physics, struggled in school and exhibited non-typical behavior. It is possible that he would now be diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome.

Jules Verne – The author of such great works as Twenty Thousand Leagues Under the Sea performed poorly in school and complained of inability to focus. Today he would likely be diagnosed with ADD or ADHD.

Leonardo da Vinci – His inordinate focus on detail and genius talent in art and science to the exclusion of other fields suggests that he may have had Aspergers.

So there you go. The story behind The Journals of Thaddeaus Shockpocket is that the world is a brilliant place to live, love, laugh and explore and one key to experiencing all of that is to open our eyes and hearts to see and embrace the variety of characters that are presented to us every day. Absent minded geniuses, bookworms, dreamers, eccentrics, overly emotionals, attention deficits. We all contribute in our own way and we all challenge the definition of normalcy. Isn’t that absolutely brilliant?

Shockpocket’s Message – Interview of Henry Walton

Albion77-smIt is human nature to label people by personality type, learning abilities, social skills, and so on and then segregate those into groups in order to make broad assumptions about those that are tagged with various labels.

Some labels can be quite complementary: You are so creative. You are a genius. You are highly energetic.

Others are not so much. You are not realistic. You are out of touch. You are unfocused.

Two sides of the same coin. Unfortunately, the tendency to focus on the negative tends to blind us to the absolute brilliance that those we label as ‘different’ bring to the world. In the Shockpockets’ time and society, the family struggles to achieve recognition as legitimate scientists. They are repeatedly labeled as eccentric and an embarrassment to the conventional scientific establishment.

In a recent book review of The Journals of Thaddeaus Shockpocket – Victoria, by Leslie Orton of The Aether Chronicle, Leslie mentioned that this is a family that refuses to be defined by others rules and uses its unique talents to persevere and grow as a family. We followed that review up with an interview to talk a bit more about labels and personalities and the back message in the Shockpocket series. Here is the interview from  Aether Chronicle editor Leslie Orton

June 2015

In my recent review of The Journals of Thaddeaus Shockpocket – Victoria, I noted the family members are unique role models who refuse to be defined by anyone else’s rules. Shortly after publishing the review, Shockpocket author, Henry Walton, contacted me to say that he was thrilled that I had picked up on the personal idiosyncrasies of the Shockpockets and wondered if other readers understood the back stories and messages in the journals. We agreed to do an interview so that Henry could expand on the story behind the story.

LESLIE: When you contacted me, you seemed mildly surprised that I commented on the Shockpocket family member’s unique personalities and their perseverance in spite of those. Why did that surprise you?

HENRY: Well, first and foremost, I write the Journals of Thaddeaus Shockpocket to be a fun read and make people laugh out loud. When I started the series I did not set out to create a family of characters that exhibit what today would be labeled as a collection of learning disabilities or any number of other current diagnoses such as ADD, ADHD, Autism Spectrum, and so on. But, as the stories evolved, the individual characters became more fleshed out and, to my surprise, the Shockpockets became a family of very unique individuals that keep their chins up in the face of adversity and never bend to the pressures of society to conform. In spite of the character evolution I felt the personality traits and their importance to the story might be lost in the overall story and humor.

LESLIE: If the Shockpockets lived today, how would they be described based on their unique personalities?

HENRY: That is a great question. We, as a society, not only identify those people that we perceive as being outside of a narrow band that we call The Norm, we also create labels for those individuals. If Thaddeaus lived today, people would see that he is unable to concentrate on one thing at a time. In conversation, he jumps from topic to topic and is constantly coming up with new ideas and inventions. He is highly intelligent in several areas of science, but is unable to focus on just one. Today he would probably be labeled as attention deficit.

Sherlock appears to march to the beat of his own drummer and stays mostly to himself. He only wears kilts, he says, because he likes them. What he never confides is that the feel of cloth against is skin is highly irritating. He prefers to be along in the library reading because too much noise overloads his senses and causes him stress. He is very focused on details and this attention to order makes him extraordinarily good at designing mechanical devices. Were Sherlock to be here today, he would possibly be diagnosed with Aspergers Syndrome.

Tweak may be the character type that is easiest to identify. She is always spinning and dancing and never sits still. When she is happy, which is most of the time, she is on top of the world. On the other hand, when she is down it is best to stay away from her as her down times are dark indeed. She might be labeled as slightly Hyperactive and, given her mood swings, a bit Manic Depressive.

Katherine may be the most mainstream of the family. She is fairly level headed and is the rock of stability that the family can always fall back on. But even she might be labeled due to her soft spoken nature and preference to spend her days reading and studying other cultures. Her label would probably be Introverted.

LESLIE: Did society have similar labels for unique personalities in the time of the Shockpockets?

HENRY: The Shockpockets lived at the end of the Victorian Era and into the Edwardian Era. Psychology was refining its definitions of personality traits and the medical community was developing a number of new diagnosis and terms, but these were not widely used in public and it would have been more likely for the personalities of the Shockpockets to have been labeled with street terms for their behaviors.

Thaddeaus may have been called absent minded and eccentric. Sherlock might simply have been called an odd duck. Tweak would probably have been called spirited and moody, and some would have said she had the fidgets. If Katherine were labeled at all, she might have been called shy and less than sociable.

LESLIE: So how do these four characters and their unique personalities play into the adventures and experiences of the Shockpockets and what is the back story you refer to?

HENRY: These are four people that are pushed away from their peers because of they are outside of the norm. Thaddeaus is fired from the University after the unfortunate incident with his pet chimpanzee at the king’s birthday party and he is regularly ridiculed by other scientists, first and foremost his former college friend Wallace Bogglesworth. Sherlock is considered an outsider in his school in England and is probably better off for accidentally spending several years of his youth in the Amazon jungle as an adopted member of a local tribe. There, he was not held to the same standards as in his homeland. Instead he was held in high esteem for his house building skills and for introducing kilts to the tribe and this helped him grow into a confident young man. Tweak would rather get her hands dirty, create new inventions and fly about in an airplane or airship than take tea with other girls in the local village. And Katherine would rather stay in the study and read about other cultures than participate in the local womens’ horticultural society.

In spite of not fitting in with the rest of turn-of-the-century society, they make innovative contributions to the world and enjoy the adventure that is life. The message of the story is relevant today for all of us. Many, if not most of us, have at one time or another been labeled, or are guilty of labeling others, as odd or dysfunctional. The message is to relax, be happy with yourself and enjoy this crazy adventure that is our lives. There is only one person like you in the universe and there will never be another.

LESLIE: Do you bring any personal experiences to the stories and personalities?

HENRY: I suppose I do. We all probably know of people that exhibit these personalities, perhaps even ourselves. To some degree I am Thaddeaus. I have a very short attention span but love to learn about everything. I like to read, but if a book is thick and has a small type font, I will not even attempt to read it. I prefer to read short stories and that is, in large part, why The Journals of Thaddeaus Shockpocket is written in the format it is. Each book is only around twenty-five thousand words. Within the main story arc are several sub-stories, each one making up a single chapter. This is by design so that anyone can pick up the Journals and consume them in small bits.

As far as experience with others that exhibit personalities outside of the mainstream, I am happy to say I know countless people that fit all of these labels and more and I think they are all absolutely brilliant. What a dull world it would be without creative minds and unique characters.

LESLIE: In addition to making your stories shorter to be more accessible to those with short attention spans, are there any other tools or stylistic things you are doing in your books to assist those with learning disorders.

HENRY: I was recently made aware of a font that is designed for readers with dyslexia. I understand that it is very effective and I am currently looking into having the journals printed in a second version using this font.

LESLIE: Any last thoughts?

HENRY: I have said this many times and it still sums up my outlook on life and hopefully comes through in my writing. The world is absolutely brilliant. Difficult sometimes. Confusing often. But humorous almost always. Enjoy the adventure.


What is normal?


“The Journals of Thaddeaus Shockpocket – ALBION 77”

To blog or not to blog? My publisher says that it is imperative to blog. Much like the ‘publish or perish’ maxim in the academic world, the modern world of the author apparently requires a blog in order to maximize exposure. I wonder what it is that makes blogs so important or, more to the point, so popular in our current culture. Well, blogs that focus on specific topics like the latest cooking trends are a great source of practical information such as new recipes and ways to prepare dishes that otherwise are simply old and tired. Movie review blogs steer me to pictures that suit my particular interests and book review blogs do similar for my reading selections.

But what about all those other blogs? Those that simply chronicle someone’s activities or their random thoughts on arbitrary topics with no rhyme or reason as to why they chose that subject matter for the day. Why are they so popular? Is it because we are voyeuristic by nature and get some degree of pleasure by sitting at a screen and reading of another person’s activities and thoughts without actually having to interact with them? Or is it that we take comfort in hearing of other people’s misadventures and reading the sordid details of their dysfunctional families and strange proclivities that make our own dysfunctional families and insane thoughts seem almost normal by comparison.

Yes, that must be it. Often are days when I think the other members of my family are certifiably crazy, my own behavior a tich off kilter, and my life a comedy of errors, but then I read blogs and take comfort in the knowledge that my world, while not exactly perfect, is certainly more normal than that of others.

Then again, what is normal? One dictionary defines it as, ‘conforming to the standard or the common type; usual; not abnormal’.  Not abnormal? And what is abnormal defined as? Not normal. Okay, that cinches it. Normal does not mean anything. It is a construct to make people feel a part of a group. A way of identifying and segregating the ‘others’. Behave as we say and you will be deemed normal. Deviate from our standards and you are abnormal. It is really just part of a clan mentality. We find comfort in grouping with others that hold the same interests. Those within a group of similar types are, by definition, normal. But to outsiders, they are probably abnormal.

Wow, that turned into a bit of a rant. Maybe this blogging thing is not so difficult after all. And, believe it or not, a rant on normalcy ties rather nicely into my adventure book series The Journals of Thaddeaus Shockpocket. Because, while the popular series of humorous stories is, on the surface, about the misadventures of a turn-of-the-century English explorer and his family, astute readers have identified that this is a family that is certainly not ‘normal’ within their society. Each has their own personality quirks and challenges but, in spite of these, the Shockpocket’s not only survive, but thrive as they make great discoveries and create wondrous inventions to make the world better.

Recently, Leslie Orton, publisher and editor of The Aether Chronicle noted in her review of The Journal of Thaddeaus Shockpocket Book 2 – Victoria, that the Shockpockets refuse to be defined by others rules and use their unique talents and approach to the world to persevere and grow as a family. As a follow up to the review, Leslie interviewed me to look a bit more into the subtext of The Journals and the positive message about being unique in the world. In my next blog, I will reprint that interview.