Yesterday Nicholas Kristof — who blogged from Liberia last year — took on another interest of mine, boys as readers. The basic message: boys are more likely to fail in school, especially when it comes to reading and writing.
The part that struck me is this aside:
Some educators say that one remedy may be to encourage lowbrow, adventure or even gross-out books that disproportionately appeal to boys.
I acknowledge the problem, but am wary of this “solution” and the constant insertion of this pragmatism into the discussion. It basically says to me that boys are dumb and need to be tricked into reading with the dumb stuff that boys like. Mind you, I have nothing against an adventure story or even an occasional silly novel. It’s the idea that these are the only ways to get boys to read, and should be emphasized. To me this has a certain contempt for boys and their books. The flip side would be saying that girls must be given more books about ponies and being pretty. Few would stand for that kind of trivialization of girls and their books.
Inspired by the essay I shared last week, here’s a few tips on “How to Write for Boys.”
- Include “adventures” in the title, otherwise boys will assume it’s boring. It’s advisable to also include words like “extreme,” “extraordinary,” or “ridiculous.” How else will boys know what a romp your book is?
- There are basically two genres of chapter books for boys: breathless non-stop action and zany humor. Nothing else is interesting to boys.
- Don’t mix the two genres. Boys are confused and upset by any narrative that is slightly unconventional.
- There is one genre of picture book for boys: stories about machines and motor vehicles. Boys hate people. Try writing about trucks.
- Feature at least one monster or explosion per chapter, if writing action, or a half-dozen booger jokes, if you are writing humor. Boys have the attention spans of cats. They need the shiny light to be waved in front of them constantly or they’ll wander off.
- Since you can’t waste any time at all on character development, it helps to give characters defining names like Professor Badguy so boys understand.
- Secondary characters can be created with the simple formula: give one physical trait, plus one character trait. For example: he is tall and tells jokes. He is fat and good with computers. To boys, this is robust character development.
- Boys can’t understand moral ambiguity, so be sure that decisions faced by the hero have a clear moral distinction, such as: Save the world, or go and be wicked with the bad guys?
- If you have a measure of success, go to writers conferences and teach aspiring authors to avoid descriptions, feelings, elaborate plots, nuanced character development, prologues, adverbs, extensive dialogue or back story because boys won’t get it. They’ll just be bored, and go play video games.
- Also talk about what a shame it is that boys don’t find books important, despite everyone’s best efforts to create books that are trivial and simplistic enough for boys to read.