Wednesday, September 20, 2017

How gross must we be to attract young readers?

How gross must we be to attract      young readers?

There are articles circulating on the Internet asking how gross we have to be, in our writing, in order to attract boy readers. I won’t quote the titles out of respect for the readers of this blog, and children who might also be visiting it today.

In recent years, a number of books have been published that make use of toilet humor, gross words or situations, and certain sounds. Are dirty or questionable words funny? Of course they are. Are certain body parts, sounds, and functions funny? No question. But that is no excuse to use them in our writing, especially when children are the intended audience. 

There are two kinds of comedians. One can tell a side-splitting joke, or set up a situation and deliver a line so funny, it hurts our stomachs and makes our eyes run, all without reaching down into the gutter. Others come out on stage with crutches. Their crutches include nasty situations, dirty words, swearing, and a gross use of humor.  Just because it’s funny is no excuse for us to say it or write it. 

As writers we have a responsibility, especially to the next generation, to set positive examples in the language we use. Our daughter teaches 3rd grade, in a public school. “Dad,” she’ll say, “you can not believe what these kids say to each other, to me, and to other teachers.”

Where does this come from? Truth is, they see it on TV, listen to it in their music, hear it in their own homes or from friends, and read it in some of the books intended for middle grade readers. 

We can do better. And we owe it to them.

The Internet articles I mentioned take the position that the more gross we can be in our writing, the more likely we are to attract boys back to reading. While the premise might be true in some cases, I reject the concept. Even though one might be able to point to skyrocketing sales figures, what is the long term effect going to be.

My favorite styles of humor are either sight humor, where something is visually funny, humor where something that is said or seen earlier, gets a funny punch line later, and humor you can see in your head.

You might ask, “Okay, so you’re saying we can write for kids, and clean humor will attract young readers?” That’s been my experience so far. Not only can we, I believe it’s our responsibility. 

Humor is an important component of all my middle grade adventure and mystery books. Over the next few weeks, six of my new books will be published. 

Following those, another nine will be republished after the original publishers went out of business. I grew up hating to read, so I write for readers 8 –13, especially boys. And girls enjoy reading them just as much. 

When  it comes to writing for kids, we’re talking about the next generation. And shouldn’t we try to leave this world a better place than the way we found it? As the adults in the room, we ought to be looking for ways to raise the bar, not lower it.                                                                    

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