Reading and Writing Chapter Books
I teach struggling readers, so I spend a lot of time with chapter books. Because they play such an important role in creating and building readers, I’ve realized they can’t just be about anything. These books really have to have something special that has the power to transform a reader. They have to have a really strong concept to hook a nonreader or struggling reader.
So as a writer of chapter books, how do we write something that will be special enough or powerful enough for these young readers?
It all comes down to two simple things: reading and writing.
What Have You Read Lately?
Obviously, if you want to write a chapter book you need to read a chapter book (or two or three or a hundred) first. Seriously. You should read at least 100. And not just 100 counting the ones you read when you were in 5th grade. Classics are great. And they are a must. But, those aren’t the books that are being published today. You need to read at least 100 books from the last 0-5 years. And not because you are going to write to a trend, but if you are going to be serious about writing books that will currently sell, you have to be aware of what is currently selling.
Also, by reading, you will learn and discover so much about the craft of writing. You will find authors you love and styles of writing you love and will want to imitate or aspire to write like. Plus, you will see what’s out there and by simply reading, new chapter book ideas will start sparking in your head!
What Have You Written Lately?
Obviously, to have a book published, you need to actually write the book first, right? (Duh.) But before you even write, how much time have you spent generating ideas? For the past several years, Tara Lazar has been hosting PiBoIdMo, where you dedicate an entire month to generating Picture Book Ideas. The goal is to generate at least 30 ideas in 30 days. But why stop there? Many people that participate, end up generating 50-100 ideas. Are all of these ideas good? No! Of course not. Most of them will actually be terrible! But that’s the point.
Robert McKee, author of Story, said:
No matter our talent, we all know in the midnight of our souls that 90 percent of what we do is less than our best. If, however, research inspires a pace of ten to one, even twenty to one, and if you then make brilliant choices to find that 10 percent of excellence and burn the rest, every scene will fascinate and the world will sit in awe of your genius.
So in order to get at least one good idea, you need to generate at least 9 bad ones. To get 10 good ideas, you need to generate at least 90 bad ones! So if you only think up one idea, what are the odds that it’s going to be an amazing one? I’d say the odds are pretty slim.
Kate Messner takes it even one step further with her post on Picture Book Math. The same concept could be applied to Chapter Books.
So don’t limit yourself. If you are serious about writing (specifically chapter books) do what it takes to get those really fantastic concepts that are going to hook those young readers. (Why spend years on one idea that really isn’t that great of a concept and won’t inspire young readers to read, because it’s lacking a hook?) Read as much as you can! Generate many, many concepts and ideas before committing to only one.
And then of course write, revise, and repeat. We owe it to the children we want reading our books.
1/12/2015 12:06:30 am
Fabulous post - and resources - Mandy! WHATEVER you write, I think this is fabulous advice!
1/12/2015 12:57:00 pm
1/12/2015 12:57:50 pm
You're welcome! I love that quote. I read it years ago and it's really stuck with me.
1/12/2015 11:56:38 am
Excellent post Mandy! I am a bit too busy (or fearful?) to jump into chapter books at the moment, but this is a phenomenal post and applies to all of writing. Best of luck to all taking the course, I'm sure it will be fabulous!
1/12/2015 12:59:38 pm
Thanks Maria! Plus these two pieces are so much fun to do. Reading your favorite type of books you want to write and idea generating! Love it.
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We are so excited to be mixing things up at CBA, beginning with some delicious additions to the Blogfish. Meet our awesome bloggers!!
Here's our lineup:
1st Mondays begin with awesome multi-published former student Shirin Shamsi who will be focusing on Muslim and cultural kidlit.
2nd Mondays will feature super smart Melissa Stoller whose career is taking off with several new books.
3rd Mondays will feature Bryan Patrick Avery, published writer, man of mystery, and professional magician among other things.
4th Mondays will feature STEM, STEAM & SEL obsessed author Kourtney LaFavre sharing delightfully dorky, quirky, and fun info.
And 5th Mondays we'll be taking a break