Dragonfly Words

The Shame of the Grown-up YA Reader

August 12, 2010
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If you love reading YA/Tween/MG books, you probably know what I’m talking about. If you don’t, I still invite you to keep reading. You may learn something new about this wonderful group of books.

Many of my friends and coworkers are bookworms, and I mean that in the most loving of ways. Unfortunately, they don’t read what I read. They tend to focus on the more ‘literary’ books, you know, the books that have some deep meaning and make you think. The books you have to work for to get through. Now, there’s nothing wrong with these books, and I read them occasionally, but they really aren’t my cup of tea. I think all day at work and I get upset and frustrated with everyday life. When I take the time to read a book, I want that book to allow me to escape. I want it to move. I want it to excite and entertain me. I want to be treated like I have the attention span of a 14-year-old, which, by the end of the day happens to be the case. I turn to YA books to fulfill these needs.

Today, as happens most days, I was sitting at work and the subject of great books people are reading came up. Everyone in the room started naming obscure books or tear jerkers that leave you hating your life or sappy novels about finding your meaning in life. And I sat quietly, hoping no one would look to me to contribute. The same happens when the dreaded question “reading any good books?” comes up. This question comes up often. I usually say ‘nothing at the moment’ or I try to avoid the conversation all together.

But why should I feel that the books I read have any less value? Certainly they are meant for a younger reading level, but they are still well-written, carefully crafted stories. Sometimes I think the imagination that goes into YA books is far greater than what you see in grown-up books. And with YA you aren’t bogged down by the “cynicism of our adult selves,” as Pamela Paul suggests in her essay The Kids’ Books are Alright.

And so I have decided to quit disguising the books I’m reading in nondescript book covers as I bury my face in them in shame. Starting now, I will proudly tell anyone who asks what YA/MG book I’m currently reading. I will not use the excuse of research. I will tell it like it is – that I’m reading said book because I want to; because it engages me and keeps me entertained. There is no shame in reading what you like.

In light of my new resolution, I am proud to announce my excitement over beginning The City of Ember tonight. A full report to follow once I’ve finished the book.


How long should your novel be?

August 5, 2010
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I just found this great post by Sarah Webb on how many words a book should be. She, in turn, got some great info from kidlit.com. The general breakdown is as follows:

• Board Book — 100 words max
• Early Picturebook — 500 words max
• Picturebook — 1,000 words max (Seriously. Max.)
• Nonfiction Picturebook — 2,000 words max
• Early Reader — This varies widely, depending on grade level. I’d say 3,500 words is an absolute max.
• Chapterbook — 10,000 words max
• Middle Grade — 35,000 words max for contemporary, mystery, humor, 45,000 max for fantasy/sci-fi, adventure and historical
• YA — 70,000 words max for contemporary, humor, mystery, historical, romance, etc. 90,000 words max for fantasy, sci-fi, paranormal, etc.

You can also check out Chuck Sambuchino’s Word Count for Novels and Children’s Books: The Definitive Post

Looks like I’m closer to my target word count than I thought I was. Guess that means there will be some serious editing in the near future.

Guide to Literary Agents – Some Tips for Writing a Series

July 29, 2010
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Nice article about writing a series: Guide to Literary Agents – Some Tips for Writing a Series.

Overweight Characters in Children’s Books

January 6, 2010
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Is it wrong to make my overweight characters evil and mean? Is this playing into stereotypes? Is this too much of a cliché? Does this teach children to view overweight people negatively? So often with writing it becomes difficult to see past the works of those whose footsteps we walk in so that we can forge our own path. I worry that I will inadvertently play into the stereotypes created by my predecessors, and that my work will suffer as a result.

Certainly obesity is something that shouldn’t be encouraged in children, but children who are overweight, or those with body issues, may become more self-conscious about their weight if characters physically similar to them are villanized in stories. Equally, the kids who would pick on overweight children may feel their behavior is justified through the negative portrayal of overweight characters in books.

The Harry Potter series instantly jumps to mind when I think about negative portrayals of overweight people. Dudley is fat, unintelligent, and a bully. Malfoy, on the other hand, while evil, is intelligent and conniving. He is also thin.

There are many other children’s books that also portray overweight characters in a negative light. Of course, overweight characters are equally portrayed as jovial, yet simple. Rarely do you see a normal, run-of-the-mill overweight character. Rarely do you see an overweight hero (one of the refreshing things about Disney-Pixar’s UP).

But would we want to write an overweight hero? Aren’t we trying to encourage weight loss and exercise? Do we want children to associate being overweight with being dimwitted and/or mean? Or are we inadvertently excluding an increasing population or readers? According to the CDC, 17% of children in 2006 were obese. This is double the amount found in 1980. With these numbers rising, maybe we should not treat obesity in such a negative way. Certainly we can show an overweight character struggling with their weight, or facing obstacles they would not face were they more fit (again to reference UP : Russell faced obstacles brought on by his lack of fitness), but to make every overweight character less than the fit characters may not be the best message to send children.

Books on Writing ~ The Procrastinator’s Tool

December 26, 2009
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Books on writing – you walk into the bookstore and there sit shelves and shelves of books, all promising to make you a better writer. Sitting for hours on the floor of the bookstore, you feel like you are accomplishing something as you peruse the content of book after book. Then you decide on one or two and as you pay for them, a warm feeling washes over you. This book will be the one that works. This book will provide you with the secrets you need to succeed.

Weeks go by and you have yet to finish reading the book, or finish much of anything else. Slowly you begin to realize that this book was not the cure to your writer’s block. It did not provide you with the secret to quitting work so that you could find the time to write. It did little more than provide you with a couple weeks worth of a false sense of accomplishment.

Not all writing books, though, are created equal. For Christmas, I got a new writing book. Whereas the others were how-to writing books full of inspirational stories and writing prompts, this one is nothing more than a reference. As an aspiring children’s book writer (grades 5/6), I felt that Mogilner & Mogilner’s Children’s Writer’s Word Book, 2e would be different than the other books. This book does not claim to provide some secret to success. Rather, it is a thesarus set up to help writers choose appropriate words for young audiences. Writing for adults, any word that naturally comes to my mind should be at the appropriate reading level. Writing for children, though, its hard to say. Looking back on my childhood, I like to think that I knew all the words then that I know now. But deep down, I know that this is not the case.

This book also provides information about what subjects children learn in school at various ages. I must say I was extremely relieved to see that environmentalism (the underlying theme of my novel), was cited not only as one of the big topics from 5th grade on, but also as a topic that will continue to be published for years to come.

In addition to this book, I have also found Karen Weisner’s First Draft in 30 Days to be equally useful. While I have always resisted outlining, her outlining techniques have really helped me to work out some tricky plot points, such as how to end my novel and who the protagonist will be. I was also able to work in some really good subplots. Now all I have to do is sit down and turn those outlines into stellar prose!

Books on writing may be the procrastinator’s best friend, but there are a few gems out there that can really aid one’s writing.