Today’s guest post comes from Jon S. Lewis, author of The Brimstone Key, as well as three other Grey Griffins books. Jon was kind enough to write a guest post about reluctant boy readers, a topic near and dear to Ink Spells’ heart.
Relucant Boy Readers
by Jon S. Lewis
I am a reluctant reader.
Okay, so I might be risking my career as a writer by admitting that, but it’s true. It’s hard for me to take the time to read a book. They require a huge investment of time, and time is a precious commodity. But once I find a book I love, I can’t put it down.
In today’s world, most boys are shackled with the title “reluctant reader” as though they have some kind of disease that needs to be cured. But I have a theory. Maybe it’s not their fault. Maybe the books they’re being forced to read stink. Or at the very least, maybe those books aren’t relevant.
Remember, it’s just a theory, but here’s the thing . . . right or wrong, we live in an age where businesses cater to our every whim. What happens when a tween boy hears a song on the radio that he likes? Instead of begging his parents to take him to a record store to buy an expensive CD with 1 good song and 11 bad songs, he can hop onto iTunes and download the one song he wanted. It’s immediate. And it’s not considered a privilege, that kind of service is expected.
So when he goes to school and is forced to read a specific book that doesn’t align with any of his interests are we surprised that he doesn’t want to read?
And what about the competition for his free time? Does he read or hop online and check his Facebook page? Tweet? Text? IM? Practice an instrument? Go to football practice? Do his homework? Watch TV? Go to a movie with his friends? Where do books fit into the hierarchy?
I’m not sure there’s an easy answer, but I do think there’s hope. There are some talented authors who are writing books that boys love . . . Rick Riordan, Brandon Mull, Eoin Colfer, PJ Haarsma, and Mike Lupica just to name a few. All we need to do is connect those reluctant readers with the right book and they’ll discover the power of reading.
For me, that book was The Hobbit and I’ve read it every year since seventh grade. I read other books too, but if a story doesn’t grab me in the first few pages I walk away and never look back. Why would we expect different from young readers?
When I sit down to write a book, I don’t worry about critics, awards, bestseller lists or whether or not the story fits into a category that sells huge numbers. Instead, I write the kind of books that I’d want to read. I think that’s why we get emails and letters from time to time where educators tell us about “reluctant readers” who not only finished our books, but they went on to read other books as well – without being prodded.
That’s the kind of story the warms my heart – not because someone read my book (though that’s always wonderful to hear), but the idea that I might have played a small role in introducing a young person to the wonder of books is both humbling and exciting.
Here are five suggestions to help you write books that reach reluctant readers:
1) Use Humor. There’s a reason that Captain Underpants and Diary of a Wimpy Kid books sell in the millions. We all love to laugh, and kids are no different.
2) Give Your Protagonist Real Issues. It doesn’t matter if you’re writing a fantasy series like Harry Potter or Eragon, a Sci-Fi story like Ender’s Game or historical fiction like the Crispin series, kids across genre and time face many of the same issues. Rejection. Loneliness. A deep longing to be accepted. Call on those real emotions and let the audience suffer through them with your protagonist.
3) Keep it Moving. Make sure the pacing of your story doesn’t linger. That doesn’t mean you need to have explosions on every page, and it isn’t a excuse for weak character development either. One way to ensure good pacing is to keep the tension high.
4) Consider Shorter Chapters. James Patterson is famous for his 1-2 page chapters. Maybe you don’t have to go that far, but 30 page chapters are intimidating. Keep them manageable, and consider cliffhangers at the end of every chapter to keep them wanting more.
5) Authentic Dialogue. Make sure that the kids in your story interact the way kids interact today. Slang changes from generation-to-generation, and so do speech patterns. Not sure how kids talk today? Watch Nickelodeon, the Disney Channel or recent movies with child stars. Teach a Sunday School class for kids who are the same age as the characters in your book. Volunteer to watch your friend’s kids for the weekend and study their speech patterns.
Thank you so much Jon! I love the tips, especially number 2!
I’m giving away my copy of The Brimstone Key and more in the Steampunk Prize Pack of Awesome Giveaway. Click here to enter!
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