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Writing a Chapter Book? Read Like an Author in your Genre (and Beyond)

*This is the second in a short series of posts about reading in your genre and level to expand your writing. In this second post, I’ll be talking about reading in your genre with an author’s perspective. Enjoy!

Post 2: Reading Like an Author In Your Genre and Beyond

You’re back! Did you get a chance to try Alice Kuipers’ exercise from the first post? What did you think? I’d love to hear your thoughts. In the meantime, let’s move on to the next part of this short series: Reading Like an Author in Your Genre and Beyond.

What do I mean by reading like an author? And what are the advantages of reading beyond your genre in say, non fiction or historical if you’re just writing a contemporary story?

Reading like an author means noticing things more quickly and on a deeper level: things like dialogue vs. action, the balance between dialogue and action, when a subplot comes into play or how much the setting has an impact on the characters and plot. 

In terms of reading in another genre or beyond your book level, I look at this as ‘reading wider’. For research purposes, I’ll read up–from chapter book to middle grade or from fiction to nonfiction–to expose myself to different voices, vocabulary and settings. 

Here’s how I approach new books. 

General Overview

Some of the first things I do when I pick up a new book are to scan the front and back cover and read the inside blurb. The blurb is a huge deciding factor for me to keep reading or not. I also look at the illustrations, the table of contents and any front or back matter. This can include a labeled world (like for fantasy), a town map, or a terms glossary. 

Then when I dive in to the book, I keep my “author radar” sharp for deeper reading.

It’s like reading with two personalities: the reader and the writer. And I focus on certain areas first: characters, voice, setting, and obstacles/plot points. 

Characters 

~Do I like them or not? Is there something about the MC that I can relate to or can a kid relate to? Do they all (MC and secondary/tertiary) have their own voice and personalities?

~What is the desire of the main character? What hinders his/her journey and who is the antagonist and what obstacles keep the action and tension high and exciting?

Voice 

~What voice is the character in–snarky, innocent, lively, sarcastic? Would a child connect with the tone and language? Is it kid speak and does the vocabulary match the age of the child?

Setting

~What is the setting? Does it change? Is it lending itself to the mood of the story or is it almost like a character? If it’s a new world, do I understand it and can I picture it?

(Some of the best settings I’ve encountered have been haunted houses, dense deep woods, a ship, Hogwarts (had to put that in!) and a small Maine town where a vampire came to visit.

Obstacles/Plot Points

~What are the obstacles the character is going through? Which ones are keeping her stuck and which ones are moving her forward? What are the pivot points that change the character’s actions? Who is behind these battles?

Reader’s Emotional Connection

As an avid reader, these elements go down smoothly, and in my mind, are even expected as I read a well written book. From a writer standpoint, I realize just how much goes into creating a really good book.

Speaking of a really good book, how do you feel as you’re reading it?

Did you ever just shout, “I love this! This is so funny!”or “What?? How sad!” or “That was creepy!”

I have! Connections don’t always have to be super deep, but most of why I read is to feel what the character feels or at least something close to it. I want to be in on the journey.

And equally important, I think about if the main character is relatable to a young reader. To me, if the main character can evoke some emotion and connection and keep the reader turning the pages, then the author has done the job. Speaking of that, I wanted to mention something about opening lines.

Opening Lines

Opening lines are the first sentences a reader will see in your book. I can’t wait to read that first sentence. Nine times out of ten, I’m hooked. 

Here are four examples of opening lines that I like:

Charlotte’s Web by E.B. White: “Mama, where is Papa going with the ax?” said Fern as they were setting the table for breakfast.

The Girl In The Locked Room by Mary Downing Hanh: “The girl is alone in the locked room.”

Invisible In The Third Grade by Margery Cuyler: “Alex Parsells was walking home from the bus stop, thinking about his bad day.”

Nightmares! by Jason Segel, Kirsten Miller: “It was five minutes past midnight, and a boy was gazing down at Cypress Creek from the window of an old mansion on the town’s highest hill.”

Do any of those grab you? They definitely get my imagination spinning! Talking about opening lines will be another whole post unto itself, but for now, maybe you’ll find some good ones in the recommended books below. 

Series books I’d recommend:

In the last post, I recommended some chapter books, and here are some more. The top list is geared toward older chapter book readers (7-10). The second list is for the younger readers (6-9). * I also included two middle grade series (8-12 yrs.).

Older Chapter Book:

Ghostville Elementary by Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones (*)

The Adventures of the Bailey School Kids by Debbie Dadey and Marcia Thornton Jones

*Small Space, Dead Voices, Dark Waters, Empty Smiles: Small Spaces Series by Katherine Arden

*Nightmares!, Nightmares! The Sleepwalker Tonic, Nightmares! The Lost Lullaby by Jason Segel, Kirsten Miller

Younger Chapter Books:

Eerie Elementary by Jack Chabert

Owl Diaries and Unicorn Diaries by Rebecca Elliott

The Notebook of Doom series by Troy Cummings

Taking Notes

Sometimes I take notes to remember highlights of the books. This includes scribbling on post-it’s (love them) to typing in a digital format. I discovered Microsoft One Note and I like that. If you’re looking for a digital note taking format, I found some cool free ones at this site:  becomingawritertoday.com/note-taking-apps. 

Next Steps for Your Writing

When the time comes, as you read more and more like an author, I bet you’ll find that you’re paying even greater attention to how you’re writing. You might even jot down phrases or lively language, funny scenes, interesting characters, thoughts about the setting and the dialogue flow.

Now You

What are you reading to help with a current or future project? Found any rocking’ opening lines? Are you reading outside your genre? Contact me so we can build our book lists! 

Writing along with you,

Maureen

 

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