Writing for Fickle Boy-Readers

When it comes to reading, boys tend to be less than enthusiastic.  Ask any frustrated teacher, librarian or parent who is trying to find enticing material for the young male reader.  If that doesn’t convince you, check the statistics. According to the International Reading Association, 39.9% of boys surveyed called reading ‘boring’; 11.1% said the stories they were asked to read were boring; 7.7% said they just couldn’t get into it.  Compared to girls, boys spend less time reading, prefer activities like watching television or movies, and score a grade and a half lower on reading tests. For many boys, reading is ‘something that girls do’.

The reasons for the dismal record are varied and complex, mired in genetics, social stereotypes and environmental influences at home and at school.  For writers of material for young people, though, the news is a silver lining of sorts. The market is rich in opportunities for those who know how and what to write for the fickle boy-reader. Witness the success of series books like J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Jeff Kinney’s Diary of a Wimpy Kid, proof that despite their lacklustre reading interests, boys can, and will become hooked if the material and approach are right.untitled

For writers up to the challenge, here are a few things that turn on – and turn off – boy readers, and perhaps editors who are looking for marketable boy material, too.

Guys lead…

According to Boys and Reading: Is There Any Hope? (Robert Lipsyte, New York Times, August 19, 2011) while girls will read books about boys, boys – especially teenagers – rarely read books with predominately female characters – at least not willingly or openly.  Whatever the genre, a strong male cast with one or more central male protagonists encourages boys to read further.

Go big, go bold…

Call it stereoboy adventurertypical, but it’s often true: boys tend to be adventurous, competitive, and risk-takers when it comes to physical pursuits. In Why Johnny Won’t Read (School Library Journal, 08/01/2004), Michael Sullivan says: “Developmentally, boys view the world as a place filled with rules and tools, and their job is to understand how it works in order to get things done.”  All of this plays out in the topics that interest boys – sports, dinosaurs and daredevils, mystery and adventure, magical and supernatural encounters.  Boys dwell in worlds where heroes and superheroes live, where justice prevails over bullies, and where oversized deeds conquer seemingly impossible odds.

 Action first, then emotion….

Just watch a group of boys at play. Roughhousing and competition are mainstays.  Feelings and emotions, meanwhile, often take a backseat. While girls find satisfaction in internal reflection, dialogue and passages that strike an emotional chord, for many boy readers this is a turn-off According to www.guysread.com/about/, “boys aren’t practiced and often don’t feel comfortable exploring the emotions and feelings found in fiction”.  To grab boys’, action and plot – physical stuff – should be front and center.  Emotions and feelings – the things we often associate with character development – can follow but as a consequence.

Fast and sure starts …

No tortured and slow beginnings for boy readers who don’t have the reading skills or patience for this. The first few paragraphs must capture their attention, and embroiling boy readers in action from the start is one way to win them over.

Add sensory jolts…

brainBoy brains function differently than girl brains, and that impacts the way that boys process information.  Michael Gurian, author of Boys and Girls Learn Differently: A Guide for Teachers and Parents (Jossey-Bass, 2002) writes that boys’ brains engage in less cross-hemisphere activity than girls’ and to fully engage boys while they read, they need additional sensory input – a boost of sound, color, motion, or other physical stimulation.  Authors wise to this, reach boy readers by delivering extra doses of sensory detail.

Larry Verstraete is a Winnipeg educator and author of non-fiction books for young people.

For Larry Verstraete, an award-winning author of books for young people, writing is all about the journey and often the perfect writing storm occurs when high adventure, science and history converge. An advocate for literacy, Larry often visits schools and libraries to share his passion.

The Keys to a Successful Teen Novel?

What makes a best-selling novel for adolescents?  I decided to read two teen novels that have enjoyed huge popularity.  One was published in 2007 and another in 2011. In January of 2013 both were still on the New York Times bestseller list. 

miss peregrines home for peculiar children by ransom riggsAs I read Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children by Ransom Riggs and The Absolutely True Diary of  a Part Time Indian by Sherman Alexie I looked for what characteristics the novels share that might have contributed to their massive success.

1. They have a male protagonist. 

2. They are written in the first person. 

3.  The hero of each story is part of a minority group- Jacob in Peculiar Children is Jewish and Arnold  in True Diary is a Spokane Indian. 

4. Their mothers and fathers are well-meaning but struggle with personal problems of their own that make it difficult for them to effectively parent their sons. 

5.  The main characters have a close  relationship with a grandparent and that grandparent has a huge impact on their life. Both Jacob’s grandfather and Arnold’s grandmother die in the story. 

absolutely true diary of a part time indian

6. The main characters each have a friend who is a stereotypical bad boy. Jacob’s friend Ricky in Peculiar Children has green hair, smokes, spits and drives a battered old car. He’s described as a “punk, redneck James Dean”.  Arnold’s friend Rowdy in True Diary is “the toughest kid on the reservation”. Both Rowdy and Ricky help protect their friends from……..

7.Bullies!  Bullies of various kinds plague our heroes and they must each find the courage to face them. 

8. The novels contain a fair bit of profanity.

9. Characters in both books meet with violent deaths which are described quite graphically. 

10. Jacob and Arnold are exceptionally intelligent.

11. Our protagonists have medical issues. Jacob is seeing a psychologist because of crippling phobias and Arnold has poor eyesight, stutters and experiences seizures. 

12. The young men end up with attractive girlfriends. Jacob has Emma and Arnold has Penelope. 

13. The two main characters are not middle class.  Arnold’s family is incredibly poor and Jacob’s is incredibly rich. 

14. There is an important visual element in each book. 

Arnold is a gifted cartoonist and illustrates his diary with his lots of drawings. 

There are many photos of the peculiar children and adults Jacob befriends in his novel. 


It would be interesting to read all the books on the teen best seller list and see how many of these fourteen characteristics the others would share. Which of the fourteen do you think are the most important to include in a successful novel for teens? 

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Two Audiences

Leaving Them Cliffhanged

The Newspaper – A Great Resource For Children’s Authors

MaryLou Driedger is just beginning to write fiction and non-fiction for children after working as a teacher, newspaper columnist and free-lance journalist for thirty years. She also blogs at What Next?

MaryLou Driedger is a free lance writer with a long career as a newspaper columnist, curriculum writer and contributor to lifestyle, education and religious publications.

Autumn The Perfect Time For Writing

Autumn is the perfect season for writers because………..
waterfall-cornerbrook-driveNature is putting on an inspirational show that prompts us to color our writing with vibrant images

The chill in the air drives us inside to our writing desks

park-bench-juba-park-october-2012Trees are transforming. We can transform our writing habits from the lazy patterns of summer to the disciplined practice of fall

Autumn is the season of thanksgiving. We can be thankful for writing friends and mentors, writing successes, and writing lessons learned
Version 2Autumn is a time of harvest. We can take the storehouse of ideas we’ve harvested and begin turning them into stories and poems and memoirs

Leaves die and trees rest in autumn. Perhaps it is time to let a part of a manuscript we are working on die too, or put a particular project to rest and start another one

apple-orchardAutumn is a time to nourish ourselves with  hot cider, roasted potatoes, tangy apples and spice cookies. It can also be a time to nourish our writing selves with a podcast about outlining stories, a workshop about getting started on a novel, or a magazine article about editing a manuscript .

Autumn is a time for Halloween, a scary night. Can we conquer our fears and send a manuscript off to a publisher, share our writing with others and open ourselves to criticism and suggestion?

fall-newfoundlandWe can look at the how great writers have described autumn and be motivated by their way with words.
Autumn is a second spring when every leaf is a flower – Albert Camus
Autumn…the year’s last, loveliest smile – William Bryant
Delicious autumn! My very soul is wedded to it, and if I were a bird I would fly about the earth seeking successive autumns- George Eliot

Yes autumn is the perfect season for writers.

Other posts……….

Writer or Palaeontologist


MaryLou Driedger is a free lance writer with a long career as a newspaper columnist, curriculum writer and contributor to lifestyle, education and religious publications.

Outlining, it pays off

I’m outlining a new novel idea.

I wrote my first novel with no outline at all. Copious notes for research filled my notebook and Word files. But I wrote… as a pantser… and I don’t do pantser well. It took me three years to complete the rough draft, including several bouts of writer’s block when I didn’t know how to transition from one scene to another. I took a workshop with David Annandale and he said to me some magic words… “Then don’t transition. Skip it and write what comes next. You’ll transition on your re-write.” (or something close to those words) Well, thank you David. Within a couple of months I finally finished my first draft. Setting it aside for a few weeks, I did a second draft. A year later I was still not happy with it. Finally, last fall, I wrote an outline for each chapter and a timeline. I realized I had whole sections of the story out of place. The flow wasn’t right. Things didn’t happen in order. I had to do a major overhaul of re-writing and move entire scenes. After outlining, I knew where these scenes had to move to. And where to make my story stronger. However, it now requires so much work, I feel overwhelmed and anytime I think of pulling it out, I just… well, don’t. However it is one of my goals.

I wrote my second novel using this book:

Ready, Set, NOVEL! by by Lindsey Grant, Tavia Stewart-Streit and Chris Baty

(Available at Amazon.ca and Amazon.com)

I began with an idea in March (2012), purchased this book in about May, spent majority of our driving time on our camping trip to Niagara Falls with this book on my lap (in July) and wrote and wrote and wrote. I followed many of the directions, however, I found that I changed up several of the activity suggestions to create scenes that would more likely show up in my book later. I used it as a guide. When I finished the book, I had outlines or snippets of several scenes written and most importantly a detailed timeline for not only my main character but my secondary characters as well. My timeline included the main plot line plus the subplots and when they come in to the story. Instead of writing the novel in chronological order from beginning to end, I wrote it in scenes. My timeline had them all outlined (and with David’s words of ‘transition later’) I felt free to write whatever scene struck me at that time. I started the first draft the first week of August and completed 30,000 words by mid-September. I then re-wrote it three or four times by November. Since then, I’ve had five writer friends from my critique groups read the entire manuscript and I’ve taken in all of their suggested changes and I’ve re-written it a further six to eight times (including changing the ending). My goal by March of this year, is to be submitting it to publishers. One year… much improved over book one.

I am sold on outlining and timelines. As I start my new novel I am experimenting with yWriter software. (Downloadable for FREE here: yWriter5) It’s going a little slow, as user-friendly as the program is, there’s still a learning curve. And I’m figuring out how it’s going to work for me. But I intend to completely outline this novel before writing a single word into a draft. I like the feeling of knowing where my story is going. With this new story I am thinking of the outline as the first draft. So much easier to move story sections around when it’s all in point form.

I’ll keep you posted about my experience with yWriter. Do you outline? Not outline? What’s your writing process?

¸.•´¸.•*´¨) ¸.•*¨)
(¸.•´ (¸.•* Suzanne Costigan writes middle grade and YA novels. She lives in Winnipeg, Canada with James, her children, three dogs and four cats.

Suzanne’s first novel, Empty Cup, is an edgy contemporary young adult story about a seventeen year old girl who lives through life’s ultimate betrayal. Suzanne lives in Winnipeg, MB.

The Classroom and School Community

When you develop community in the classroom, you provide your students with a safe, secure environment where they can freely learn more about themselves and grow in their knowledge and skills. As their teacher, you model caring, acceptance, and support for everyone in the classroom. Through listening to the language of acceptance and modeling inclusion, you show children how to positively function within their community.

In my book “Relationships Make the Difference” I talk about how to use the Moral Intelligences (Michele Borba, 2001) to develop acceptance and inclusion with our students. It opens many doors of opportunity when you help your students develop and use respect, kindness, empathy, fairness, self-control, tolerance, and conscience with themselves, their peers and community.

I worked in a school that decided their school goal would be to develop these intelligences as they connected us to the moral fiber of our school community. Parents, students and staff believed these were crucial intelligences and encouraged their use on a daily basis; we were all using the same language and students got to practice daily in class, at recess and at home with their families. Students began to understand their personal strengths and learned how to share these and better support others. Some children became leaders because their strengths were knowing how to support and help others; others benefited from this extra support and learned more. There was a positive carry over to their daily learning and students felt part of a caring community were their needs and talents mattered.

Children demonstrate social responsibility when they learn to respect and care for others. Instead of only thinking about themselves, students realize that everyone needs to be treated with respect and kindness; we need to walk in other people’s shoes to understand how they feel and then tolerate their differences; this belief should be apparent in our decisions.

By adding moral intelligences to student academic learning we are providing the opportunity to develop their social and emotional skills too. Children learn at a deeper level and continue to develop these skills into their adult lives.

Patricia Trottier, an experienced educator, loves working with and writing about the daily joys and challenges of children and adults.
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