Today we’ll be taking a look at the novel Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children. Suffice to say if you’re a fan of the novel, you may not want to read below the cut
Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs is an example that can be given to anyone learning to write who is wondering what you mean when you say “trying too hard.” Riggs is an adept writer, but not of a teen. His main character, Jacob, is constantly making decisions teens wouldn’t make and thinking like a kid wouldn’t think.
For example, a fifteen year old does not see a bomb drop in the midst of a time loop and describe it as, “The kids applauded like onlookers at a fireworks display, violent slashes of color reflected in their masks. This nightly assault had become such a regular part of their lives that they’d ceased to think of it as something terrifying.” (Riggs 168). Writing is supposed to create an illusion, and to his credit, Riggs does create an illusion–the caveat being the fact that you’re constantly seeing the strings. At fifteen, you are not describing anything as a nightly assault. One would think the average fifteen year old Jacob is presented as would describe things in a substantially less poetic way. It’s his father who is interested in writing, not him. Such are the trappings of the first person perspective.
There are numerous small problems with this passage alone. The use of the word “ceased” seems more in line with either a third person or an adult narrative. When was the last time you heard a 15 year old casually say, “This person ceased to do that.”? It’s small things like that that highlight the puppet strings glinting on the stagelight, and you’re suddenly aware you’re watching a show instead of immersing yourself in the narrative.
Riggs main blunder is in his worldbuilding. I’ll give him credit to the way he uses the photos littered throughout the novel, they bookmark the text in a way that will gain the readers’ attention an ever-more visual society. A home for peculiar children with strange powers doesn’t seem to be enough for Riggs. His worldbuilding reads like he gave a child two cans of Red Bull and Monster energy and asked the kid to create an urban fantasy world.
“So X-Men was cool,” the kid might say, speaking so fast his words are crashing into each other. “But what about Harry Potter! That was cool, too! What if there was a secret school for people with powers and it was used to train them? And the teachers are like the Hogwarts ones but the students were like X-Men! But they’re trapped in the past–like how the students at Hogwarts are all dressed like they’re from Victorian times.”
“Dude, that’s so awesome,” one imagines Riggs saying.
“But wait–wait! What if we threw in time travel! Time travel’s cool! We’ll put it in World War two and stick them in a time loop right before a huge bomb explodes killing everything! BOOOM!” But this child is five. So he does not understand how unnecessary such a thing might be to the story. And, being five, not understanding how messy time travel plots can get, he thinks that it’s awesome and it should be left in. “And then Jacob ends up in a relationship with his grandfather’s immortal girlfriend!” He suggests, being, again, five–and not having any understanding of Oedipus and having never read the treatment of Claudia in Interview with the Vampire.
“Dude, that’s so awesome!” Riggs might say, writing all this from the perspective of an adult looking back on being a teenager, instead of writing as a teenager might–which further complicates the narrative.
“And then–and then, we’ll throw in monsters. And they’re the bad peculiars who wanted to be immortal without a convenient time loop,” the kid says, being five and not understanding the moral implications of the heroes having the very thing that made the villains evil with no repercussions. “And the evil peculiars eat the good ones! And the time travel is caused by these women peculiars! And oh! Oh! What if Jacob’s therapist was a zombie?”
“That would be so awesome!”
“And then Jacob–what if he had a peculiarity, too?”
“What if he’s the only one who can see the monsters…?”
“The sounds anticlimactic.”
“Trust me,” says the now caffeine-addicted five year old, “It’s going to be so awesome.”