An interesting post by fellow blogger Bane of Anubis got me thinking (he’s good at that). We talked yesterday about how covers influence which books your children (and you!) may pick to spend your time with. Once you get your kids past the cover, the pacing of a story may well determine if your child sticks with the story or bails out.
Now to me, abandoning a book in the middle is a sin only slightly less horrifying than skipping to the end. I had no idea these literary atrocities occurred until I observed my husband reading the end of a book I knew he had just started.
“What are you doing?” I frowned.
“Reading the ending?”
“What on earth for?” I asked, aghast.
“Because I want to know how it ends.”
Rare is the book I will walk away from, even if the slogging gets tough and there is far too much description of Georgian architecture or New Orleans flora. I keep thinking it has to get better, at some point the plot will kick in, and I’ll finally figure out who the aliens are and why they’re killing off the petunias. Worm Burner on the other hand, has no problem putting down a book, even half way through. In his awesome little midget brain, they’re wasting his time. And no doubt they are.
Which brings me to pacing. Children’s books (young adult and middle grade) are generally shorter, and have a much faster pacing, than adult books. That many adults prefer this faster pacing, as well as dramatic teen story arcs, explains part of the boom in YA right now. Children’s books have to be parsimonious with their words, getting the biggest bang for the smallest word count. Does this mean the story has to start out with an explosion or death-defying act to keep children’s attention?
I think the answer is no.
Some books have slow starts, like 100 Cupboards, where languid character development occurs long before Henry discovers 100 portals to other dimensions in his closet. Some jump right into the action, like Artemis Fowl, intriguing readers with a mysterious fairy, a magical book and an evil plan. Some, like Among the Hidden, set the stakes high from the beginning (a hidden third child), then meander through the playground the author has set up, before getting to the heart of the conflict.
As an writer, I can appreciate both slow starts and action starts. A story should begin where it needs to begin. As a reader, I want to know what the stakes are up front, either through the blurb or the beginning of the story. As a parent, I want my kids to continue reading to the end of the book! Is an action start necessary for this? I think not. Worm Burner, my book abandoning child, read all three books above. On 100 Cupboards: “It starts slow, but then it’s awesome.”
It’s not the slow build, but the lack of interesting or compelling story that makes Worm Burner put the book down and forget to come back. Building an intriguing world is dinner, whereas high-wire acts in the first paragraph are dessert. Dessert is tasty, but dinner sticks with you longer. Give kids a reason to care, and they will keep coming back for more, and more, and then will make up their own stories, long after leaving yours behind, armed with the raw material of the world you have built for them. Of course you can do your world-building after the explosion in the first few pages. But it’s the immersion in a world where dragons are real, or boys are invisible, or clones are slaves, that ultimately keeps them coming back for more, and keeps them reading.
Are your kids book abandoners, or do they soldier on through the purple prose?
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