Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Storyteller’s Rulebook: Writing for Reluctant Readers

“Holes” is a great book for girls, men and women, but it’s especially valuable as a rare book that you can use to get reluctant boys to read something. And of course that’s great, because, on a certain level, we’re all reluctant readers. Even full-time readers who get paid to read books are always looking for excuses to dump one and move on to the next. Anything that can suck readers and rivet them to the page is going to help you tremendously in the marketplace and in finding a place in people’s hearts. So how does the book do that? It uses some classic tricks:

  • Short chapters. Chapter 1 is one page. Chapter 2 is just eight sentences. Short chapters give the reader a sense of accomplishment.
  • Simple sentences. Let’s look at that beautiful first sentence: “There is no lake at Camp Green Lake.” No adjectives, no adverbs, one specific detail, and an ironic contradiction. That’s perfect.
  • Short paragraphs, which create a great voice.

Let’s look at four paragraphs:

  • Here’s a good rule to remember about rattlesnakes and scorpions: If you don’t bother them, they won’t bother you.
  • Usually.
  • Being bitten by a scorpion or even a rattlesnake is not the worst thing that can happen to you. You won’t die.
  • Usually.

You can’t help but hear Sam Elliot reading that. It’s charming. It’s bad-ass. It tells us that Sachar cares about our reading experience. We trust him to entertain us and we want more.

If these pages are all you’ve read, you might think, “So what? He’s telling a simple story with simple words, so of course it won’t be challenging to readers.” Those of you who have read the whole book, on the other hand, know how complex and rich the book will become. Sachar isn’t dumbing things down to the lowest common denominator, he’s easing entry into an ultimately very ambitious book.

Every children’s author dreams of writing the book that will make a child fall in love with reading for the first time. For many, this will be that book, then they can revisit at an older age and more fully realize how much meaning was packed into it, and how skillfully it drew them in.


Anonymous said...

Great points! Just ask James Patterson...

Unknown said...

If you want to get your kids reading, force them to read the first chapter and you won't see them until they've finished. While I was in college, I even wrote a 6 page essay in just 3 hours about this book.