Reading for better writing

  • Current word count: 38,753
  • New words written: 1,205
  • Words til goal: 1,247 / 78 words a day til the end of September
  • Down to less than 100 words a day needed to meet my goal. Yay! But this word count is actually for Saturday’s writing, because I didn’t write either yesterday or today, but I’ll be back on track tomorrow and hope to have this book finished by the end of the week.

    Doing some research this weekend, I stumbled on a new blog — new for me, that is — Hook Kids On Reading. I love the concept of this blog: “Where parents and children’s writers come together with the goal of finding or writing books that hook reluctant readers — especially boys.”

    Getting kids hooked on reading is a wonderful thing, and to live up to the task, books really need to speak to the kids and the draw them in, be it through some sort of magical adventure or simply the same every day struggles the readers are experiencing. And recognizing the books that do this is great for parents who want to encourage their kids to read.

    It’s also really useful for writers. I’ve heard so often that writers learn so much through reading, and it’s true. I have found that in my own writing, with my work taking off when I’m inspired by whatever I’m reading at the moment.

    It’s also very helpful for writers to read the books that kids are enjoying in the genres the writer is writing. I’m writing middle-grade urban fantasy, so the last few years, I’ve been working my way through various middle-grade bestsellers. I’m currently re-reading the Harry Potter series, but I’ve also devoured most of the Gregor the Overlander series and the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series and have started the Sisters Grimm series.

    I’m always on the look out for books that are good at pulling in a reader, so I’m going to add some of the books I see on the Hook Kids on Reading blog to my to-read list.

    How do you find books to read?

    Write On!

    Getting children to read

    As with many other industries, the last couple quarters have been rough on publishing, with houses downsizing with huge layoffs, closing imprints, and restructuring to bundle imprints together with the same staff. Some smaller publishing houses have closed altogether. Before Christmas, calls went out on many blogs, including mine, for people to put books on their gift lists, to not only help the industry we love, but also to hopefully make more readers.

    Reading has a lot of competition today: movies and videogames, mostly. Yet reading is one of the best — and least expensive — pasttimes for children and adults alike. People who don’t read say it’s boring, but those who do, usually fell in love with books when they were kids.

    I’ve read that the children’s book segment is actually one of the least-affected by the economic crisis, but it still has been affected. Meanwhile, videogames continue to increase in popularity (not that I have anything against videogames; my husband and I are quite addicted to Rock Band).

    So, I applaud British children’s book author Michael Rosen’s new program to get children to read. Along with England’s BBC, Rosen is creating an hour-long program called Just Read that will be designed around encouraging reading in children. Rosen says British school curriculums teach children how to read but not how to enjoy reading, and that’s what he wants to improve on, according to The Guardian newspaper.

    Here’s a quote from Rosen, printed in The Guardian’s article (link above): “It’s about putting books at the center of the curriculum, getting children engaging with worlds beyond their own, reading about complex ideas in an enjoyable way.”

    I wish him much success, and if any TV producers are reading this, keep an eye on Just Read. Maybe it’s something you can do in the U.S. too.

    As for us writers, we can do our part by continuing to write books that, as Rosen says, engage children with worlds beyond their own.

    Write On!

    P.S. My husband and I were in Barnes & Noble yesterday, and we were pleasantly surprised at how busy it was. Go buyers!

    Chapters for a children's book

    When I was writing my middle-grade novel, I didn’t pay much attention to page counts and chapter length. Mainly, chapters were broken up by scenes.

     

    But during my hiatus — after getting to The End — I finished reading “Barkbelly” by Cat Weatherill and was amazed at how short her chapters were and how many she had: most chapters have only 2 to 3 pages, 5 seemed to be a max, and the book has 63 chapters in a total of 309 pages.

     

    A quick look at some of the other books on my shelf and she seems to be the exception: The sixth Harry Potter book has 30 chapters, the first of which is 18 pages, with a total 652 pages; “The Lightning Thief,” the first in the Percy Jackson series, has 22 chapters and the first is 15 pages with a total 375 pages; “Nightmare Academy” has 17 chapters, the first being 21 pages with a total 310 pages. “Eragon” has 59 chapters, the first only 3 pages, the second 10, for a total of 497 pages.

     

    What does this mean? Well, first and foremost, do what’s right for the story. But second, feel free to experiment.

     

    “Barkbelly” got me thinking about chapter breaks in a new way. Not that I think I have to limit chapters to five pages, but that I don’t have to use them to show a change in a scene. In “Lightning Thief,” Rick Riordan often changed the scene in the middle of a chapter and started a new chapter in the middle of a scene — but when something really exciting was happening. It reminded me of my days studying screenwriting, especially for the TV. TV shows are really formulaic — even more than you think. But one thing they all have in common is placing a major plot turning point or exciting moment right before the commercial break to ensure their audience will stay on that channel.

     

    Books, I would say especially children’s books, should do the same. “Barkbelly” is wonderfully written and very sweet, but it’s a simple story that intrigues because of the oddness of the characters and situations more than the action. Short chapters, I suspect, keep young readers interested and feeling as though they’re moving forward. Weatherill split her chapters by scene breaks, mostly, so her scenes are short, but she could have had multiple scenes in chapters (in a few cases she does, but then the scene is only a few paragraphs showing a transition between the last scene and the next).

     

    Following Riordan’s method of ending the scenes at WOW parts, right in the thick of the action, keeps readers coming back to find out what will happen in the rest of the scene, much less the rest of the book.

     

    As readers, we often think chapters are good stopping places, be it bedtime or whatever. Parents might tell their kids they can read one or two chapters before they go to bed. Having the ends of those chapters right in the middle of the action practically guarantees that readers won’t want to put the book down, and if they do, it’ll be all they think about until they pick up the book again.

     

    Weatherill kept her chapters short perhaps recognizing that kids have short attention spans and by finishing a chapter, they feel invested in a book and as though they have accomplished something. Plus, she ended some chapters with a harbinger: “If he had known about the shock he would receive the next morning, he wouldn’t have slept at all” ends chapter 54. Not for use when you’re writing in the protagonist’s point of view, of course.

     

    I had one or two chapter breaks like Riordan’s in my novel, but most were scene changes, not unlike Weatherill’s but with much longer scenes. During my revision now, I’m looking at these differently. When I typed The End, I had 20 chapters and about 206 pages. I’ve already found some interesting places to split the long scenes in early chapters and have added those as chapter breaks. I’m probably at about 24 chapters now and I’m only on chapter 8, which used to be in the middle of chapter 6. I don’t have any chapter quota I feel I have to hit. My goal is merely to make sure I have the most exciting chapter break possible.

     

    How do you determine when to break for a new chapter?

     

    Write On!

    Reading to write

    I’m back on the novel. Last week was still really busy, but I jumped into the rewrite of my novel anyway. Time to start waking up at 6 am again! New goal: Finish the rewrite by November.

     

    I’ve also made strides with the Sir Newton Color Me Florida book. Drawings are completed and fixed up in the computer. All that’s left is finishing the layout and final editing.

     

    During my novel hiatus, I still worked on it through reading. Any time I’ve been stuck in my writing, reading has helped bring me back. The more you read, the rhythm of the story, pacing, dialog — it seeps into your brain like osmosis. To get you in the mood — so to speak — for your own work, read books that fit what you’re writing. If you’re writing a fantasy, read a fantasy. If you’re writing in first-person, read a book that’s written in first-person. Also, read what’s hot, what your target audience is reading.

     

    How can you find the best books in your area? Librarians are a great place to start. They’ll be able to tell you which books kids are checking out the most. The message board on the SCBWI website is a good source too, if you’re a member. You can also try the good old Internet. I found a great link for this while I was doing some research yesterday: A message thread on Amazon detailing the best books to get middle grade boys to read. (Click here to read the thread. Make sure to read the post from Julie M. Effertz.) Write down these books, and that’s your must-read list.

     

    What books are you reading right now? What’s on your must-read list?

     

    Write On!