Janet Sumner Johnson
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Kindle

Writing for Middle Graders

Jan

21, 2014 |

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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?

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