Different Kinds of Quiet

Publishing, like much of life, is filled with contradictions. My writing friends and I have all received rejection letters saying words similar to “beautifully written but too quiet.” Many writers receive such rejections. Yet, visit an independent bookstore or the new displays at the library and you’ll find recently published quiet books. Editorial tastes, goals, timing, and fame of the author all come into play. This can be frustrating. But it can also be an opportunity to enrich our writing. Instead of just grumbling, “what do they mean too quiet!” we can explore the different kinds of quiet.

A BEACH TAIL by Karen Lynn Williams is a wonderful example of a quiet, dynamic picture book.  It is quiet because no characters shout, and the action is minimal and leisurely. In addition to this, the setting is warm and intimate. Intimate, that is, until the young protagonist loses all sense of safety.

Gregory and his father are alone on the beach. Gregory plays in the sand. His father warms him to stay where you can see me. Gregory is totally absorbed in the lion he is drawing in the sand. As he draws, the tail of the lion grows longer and longer. It loops around objects resting on the beach. Gregory is lost in the reverie of exploring how long the tail can be. Suddenly he can’t see his father. He’s lost and accidentally disobeyed his father.

There is tension, feat and action, but A BEACH TAIL remains quiet in both tone and pace. Rather than can crying for help in a panic, Gregory takes a significant personal action. He decides to solve the crisis on his own. Both boy and narrative gently retrace their steps along the lion’s long tail. This book is certainly quiet. But it is so rich with characterization, tension, and action it far from being “too quiet.”

When we find a new picture book that seems quiet like A BEACH TAIL, let’s make the opportunity to explore what makes it quiet and how it might be different from our own rejected manuscript. Does our manuscript have tension? Are the experiences in our narrative significant to our characters? And, most important, does our protagonist experience growth? If our protagonist grows it creates the opportunity for our reader to grow. And that is vibrant action.

A BEACH TAIL by Karen Lynn Williams. Illus. by Floyd Cooper. Boyds Mills, 2010.

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