Tuesday, January 21, 2014

Writing for Middle Graders

My ten-year old got a Kindle for Christmas. I might be a tad jealous since I don't even have one, but I guess Santa was feeling generous and understood just how much that kid loves to read. And encouraging reading? Well, it IS something I try to do.

One of my favorite things about the Kindle is watching how he chooses to spend his Amazon giftcards. At first, there were a couple of recently released books he was dying for (ones that were the latest in a series he'd been reading). The choices were easy. But with all the book suggestions from Amazon based on his buying history, he realized really fast that there were plenty of other books that cost a lot less than the $10 ones he'd been buying.

The kid's good at math, so he figured out that he could get MORE books if he got the books in the  $0.99 to $2.99 range. Unless it's a deal, I found that this range usually means self-published. I know plenty of talented self-published authors who work really hard to make their books awesome, so I had no problem with this. But I tried to go through the reviews before buying, to vet his choices. Because let's be honest . . . there's self-published and then there's self-published. Those who do it right, and those who . . . don't.

There was one book in particular where I found quite a few less-than-complimentary reviews about the quality of the writing: 'the characters are very one-dimensional'; 'the plot meanders completely from where it started in the beginning'; 'the story is very derivative' . . . Big enough issues that were brought up in enough reviews that I strongly discouraged him from getting it. That said, I let him make the final choice (since, you know, it WAS his money).

Of course he got it. "It sounds really good, Mom!" And wouldn't you know it, by the time he finished the book (later that day, I believe), he was RAVING about the thing. "This is my second-favorite book, ever!" And the kid reads A LOT of books.

This experience really made me stop. I've thought a lot about this. I mean, why do we kill ourselves to make our prose shine, when in the end, our younger readers haven't yet learned to discern the difference between excellent and mediocre writing anyway? My son liked this book because it involved dragons (his favorite subject), it had lots of action, and it reminded him of other books he loved.

Isn't that enough to strive for?

I have to conclude that it's not. When I consider the power of a book--a well-written book--how can I settle for anything less than my best? And it's not just about getting it right for the reader. The writing/revising of a book is a transcendent experience that I believe makes me better as a person. I learn to find empathy for the vilest of villains. I learn to consider ideas from all different points of view. I learn what's important to me, and I solidify my beliefs as I spend hours and hours with my characters and their views.

I can't help but think of J.K. Rowling. She wrote for middle grade readers, and she captured them with a fun and adventurous book. But her prose was so excellent, the ideas she tackled so relatable, that she didn't only capture middle graders. She captured the world and caused a revolution in the world of books.

Yes, her story is rare, but isn't that what we all strive for? To write something that leaves people (including ourselves) thinking well beyond the actual reading of it? How can we possibly hope for that if we don't give it our all?

What do you hope to accomplish with your writing?

11 comments:

Leandra Wallace said...

We writers(for the most part) definitely expect the best from ourselves. Though some days it would be a lot easier to slap some words on the page and be like- That's fantastic, all done! =)Lol! Glad your son is enjoying his Kindle. I own a Nook, but they have a feature where you can sign up for daily emails that let you know what their specials are. I got Maggie Steifvater's The Scorpio Races for a 1.99 one time! Does Kindle have any sort of emails like that?

Bish Denham said...

You're right about kids not being so discerning. After all it's mostly adults who write the reviews (which is wonderful)but if we're writing for kids, isn't really their input we'd like to have?

I'm glad your son is liking his Kindle! May he have many pleasant hours of reading.

Robyn Campbell said...

Hahaha, power to the kid!! YEAH! Just goes to show, doesn't it Janet?

I want to make kids laugh. I want them to giggle and for the older ones, I want to instill a love of reading. You can go anywhere, be anyone, through the books we read.

Susanna Leonard Hill said...

Hear! Hear! Janet! You said it perfectly!

Dianne K. Salerni said...

"The writing/revising of a book is a transcendent experience that I believe makes me better as a person."

I love this! I honestly believe that I'm a better person for having learned to accept that my work needs revision, that my first idea did not work, that sometimes I have to let go of words I'm really, really fond of - for the good of the story.

I'm glad your son is loving his Kindle. Hopefully he knows how to get a free sample of the book to try out before he commits his gift card money to it!

Slamdunk said...

I bet this is fun for your son and mom both. I "borrow" the kids' kindles when they are asleep or at school--they are great for a convenient quick read.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

I'm glad that I had all those years of rejections. It made my writing better because of it. If I wanted agents to notice me (in a good way), I had to learn to become a stronger writer. That's still my goal, because we should never stop wanting that, but my new goal is to write stories that touch people's hearts and make them think.

Susanne Drazic said...

So glad to hear that your son is enjoying his Kindle. I hope he continues to find lots of wonderful books to read. Reading a good book can take the reader on so many wonderful adventures.

Margo Berendsen said...

I have to conclude that it's not. When I consider the power of a book--a well-written book--how can I settle for anything less than my best? And it's not just about getting it right for the reader. I have never seen another write capture this feeling quite so perfectly as you have here: "The writing/revising of a book is a transcendent experience that I believe makes me better as a person. I learn to find empathy for the vilest of villains. I learn to consider ideas from all different points of view. I learn what's important to me, and I solidify my beliefs as I spend hours and hours with my characters and their views."

And yet, your son's experience with this less-than-polished book is kind of an eye-opener too. But I definitely agree, I want to write a story that keeps people thinking after they have closed the pages.

Marcia said...

Middle graders want to know what happens in the story. If you give them a plot they love, many will not be discerning enough to look beyond that. Still, they're experiencing the writing itself even before they realize it, and they'll gradually awaken to the importance of better writing, I believe, especially if they're such enthusiastic readers. I, as a writer, want to be there with "my best prose on" when that happens, so that means I need to be there "with my best prose on" from the start.

Kimberly said...

How cool that your son got a Kindle and how awesome that he loves to read! I was always so happy that my son loved to read as well. :)

My goal is to always write the very best story I can and to never stop learning about the craft. :)