Suppose there were 12-year-old twins, a boy and girl named John and Abigail Templeton. Let’s say John was pragmatic and played the drums, and Abigail was theoretical and solved cryptic crosswords. Now suppose their father was a brilliant, if sometimes confused, inventor. And suppose that another set of twins—adults—named Dean D. Dean and Dan D. Dean, kidnapped the Templeton twins and their ridiculous dog in order to get their father to turn over one of his genius (sort of) inventions. Yes, I said kidnapped. Wouldn’t it be fun to read about that? Oh please. It would so. Luckily for you, this is just the first in a series perfect for boys and girls who are smart, clever, and funny (just like the twins), and enjoy reading adventurous stories (who doesn’t?!).
Hearty Har Har
Do funny books have to have “heart”? I’m seriously asking.
In entertainment, “heart” is a term of art meaning sentiment, warmth, poignancy, and feeling. It’s most often used in Hollywood, in script development for television and movies. “It’s got laughs, but it needs more heart,” is the standard producer’s criticism, based on the assumption that large audiences need to feel something nice in addition to getting laughs. “We need to care about the hero,” they say, even with regard to the silliest comedies.
In fact, in the arena of big studio movies, you’re not going to get your comedy made without a touching, “redeeming” heart moment at the climax. No matter how raucous or “wicked” the comedy, the protagonist is going to come to a serious emotional confrontation before it’s all over, either with his/her antagonist or his/her self—even if it’s acted by Will Ferrell playing a completely unself-aware doofus.
There is nothing wrong with this. It’s not (or, at least, it needn’t be) particularly dishonest, manipulative, or sentimentally phony. Still, many comedy writers chafe at it, fearing—with cause—that a script heading toward a heart-rich climax will have to pull its comedic punches en route, lest the heart moment seem arbitrary and unearned.
Television provides a little more leeway; you can, and actually have to, provide less heart per episode. A season of thirteen weekly emotional climaxes can, especially to a modern audience more emotionally sophisticated than ever, seem labored and forced. Famously, when Larry David and Jerry Seinfeld were creating Seinfeld, David’s controlling aesthetic was: “No hugging, no learning.” “No heart” was implicit.
But the above examples deal with adult (and teenage) entertainment. What about books for younger people—for, say, children ages 9-13? I have no idea whether a climax characterized by heart is necessary or not.
In The Templeton Twins Have an Idea, the climax of the action occurs when the bad guy is (literally) shot down and, with the other bad guy, flees in disgrace. But the story itself has one more turn, which by any reckoning can be called a “heart” moment. It deals with the twins realizing why their father felt it necessary to move to a new place.
I wrote that section because it felt like a legitimate aspect of an “origin story,” the first in a series. And one or two reviewers praised it as “touching.” I liked that.
But constitutionally, I don’t like heart—or, rather, I don’t mind reading it, but it doesn’t come naturally to me, the way parody and exaggeration does. So recently, when I wrote the second in the series, I assumed I had to include a heart-ish moment at the end, and did so more out of a sense of obligation than anything else.
The funny part, though, was that, either because I was merely being dutiful (i.e., my heart wasn’t in it), or the story simply didn’t sustain it, my editor asked that it be cut. As I recall, her hand-written comment about the scene was, “MEH.” I was quite happy to agree. What remains is a small exchange between the twins and their father, in which he praises them for doing something nice for a friend.
As heart moments go, it’s a small one. In fact it barely qualifies. In any case, I’m not so sure kids need a “touching” moment to help them “care” about the protagonist. Once they commit to reading a story, they care plenty. I’ll be interested to hear how readers react to the happy, but relatively heartless, conclusion of the second book.
Visit http://www.scribd.com/doc/94086414/The-Templeton-Twins to read a chapter excerpt from The Templeton Twins Have An Idea.
Stop by and pester the Narrator at http://templetontwins.tumblr.com/
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