Thursday, August 4, 2011

Tell Me A Story!

The common advice for writers today, at least for writers of children's literature, is to keep the plot going, action packed, use as little description as possible, and damn the adverbs and adjectives. Voice must be close third or first person. Any hint of an omnicient storyteller is deadly. Why? Writers are in competition with the visual images of TV, movies, internet games and all forms of visual stimulation. The quiet rhythms of words are no longer enough.

Eudora Welty learned her craft as a child by creeping under the dining room table and listening to the adults talk. Jane Austen paid close attention to the music of conversation. And in multiple books and short stories, Mark Twain imitated the language of the streets, camps and polite society laced with his own sardonic observations. Their readers "listened" as they read.

I thought of this a great deal recently as I watched two young boys at play, constructing stories of their own with a large village of old blocks and ancient toys. Now, at the age of nine, will they ask their parents to "read me a story?" or will the siren call of the TV screen beckon? Will coming generations lose the ability to picture things in their mind even as the written word unfolds before them?


  1. Truth be told, growing up, I watched a lot of TV. I knew the complete nightly line-up on ABC, CBS, NBC. Don't tell my kids, but I even did my homework in front of the TV.

    But I also read -- a lot.

    I don't fear the end of reading. And I don't think video games and television are completely responsible for the more direct style of writing today.

    Every cultural art changes with time. Music is certainly different that it was in Jane Austin's time. Art too.

    One thing I do think would help engage kids in reading is if high schools encouraged students to read more contemporary YA -- the kind of literature they relate to. That is the age kids -- especially boys -- begin to read less.

    My high school's suggested summer reading list contains a lot of great books -- but not one YA title.

  2. "The quiet rhythms of words" - you can still get away with that in a certain sort of picture book, but those are harder and harder to sell.

    Yes, I think the media of today probably contributes to making kids impatient readers. They crave motion and excitement more than previous generations.