Are you making use of the Avi Reads! pages on my website? Your classroom, library group, and family can hear readings from all three Crispin books and the six Poppy books. The selections are from 1 to 14 minutes in length. Enjoy!
The New York Times recently quoted Stephen King as saying, “If you listen to something on audio, every flaw in a writer’s work, the repetition of words and the clumsy phrases, they all stand out. As a writer I say to myself, how will that sound?”
I sometimes think that instead of writers’ groups—which are organized around folks reading one another’s work, and then critiquing the writing—might be more effective as reading groups, in which writers read their work to one another.
And, to make it even more effective, record those readings so you could listen to what you yourself have written as you head home.
It just might be sound advice.
Thanks to MackinVia for this excerpt from a longer interview I did with them recently. You can view more of Mackin’s videos here.
If you haven’t already read Catch You Later, Traitor, here’s more about the book.
In discussions about writing there is often talk of a writer’s “Voice,” the voice of the narrator, be it the author’s voice or the character who is relating the tale. Not often mentioned is the rhythm or cadence of a narrative.
What I am writing about here is close to poetic usage, but not quite. A well written piece contains a natural, consistent flow of words that carries, indeed propels, the reader forward. Choppy, halting prose, causes the reader to stumble, so to speak. The English language, with its immense vocabulary, allows for infinite word choice, with vast varieties of syllable structure. It also allows for great simplicity. But that word choice is crucial, because it has much to do with structural rhythm.
Pick up an eighteenth century novel, say by Sarah Fielding, and compare it with the nineteenth century prose of Alcott, and then the twentieth century writing of Baum, or J.K. Rowling (all writers for young people) and you will immediately feel different rhythmic structures.
And while there are these general patterns of cadence for various historical periods, I would suggest that each and every book, to be successful, requires its own rhythm.
The best way to sense this in your own work is to read it out loud. Read it to someone, but listen carefully for that rhythm. Have a pencil in hand, and when that rhythm breaks (and it will!) mark and then rewrite.
Be consistent, strengthen that rhythm, and you will have a better piece of writing.
Just the other day I opened a letter from a boy who told me how much he enjoyed my Crispin books, and begged me to write one more.
Lovely enough, but most unusual, there was this: “P.S. From —-‘s mom. Thank you so much for writing the Crispin books. We read them aloud as a family. (I had a hard time reading through my tears when Bear died and at the end of the third book.) They are beautifully written, exciting, and very moving. We all hope to hear more of Crispin’s story some day!”
I won’t pretend I didn’t appreciate the praise. That said, we often forget that it is the nature of books for young people, that the subject of families constitute its essential subtext. Thus this image, this notion, of a family gathered around and reading my books, touched me deeply. I can’t think of a higher honor or achievement.
Therefore, as another writer, in another time and in another book wrote for the same season: “As Tiny Tim observed, God bless Us, Every One!”
Susan, from Bennington VT, writes, “As a new language arts teacher can you suggest a couple of ways to help my students become better writers?”
1. Beyond all else, whatever the grade, read daily to your students: books that are well written, dramatic, engaging, and emotional.
2. Do not allow yourself to be the ultimate reader of what your students write. This is to say, become the editor, or facilitator of what your students write, making sure that what they write is read by other people beyond you. Perhaps it’s a monthly, or bi-monthly magazine of your students’ writing. With various computer publishing programs, your students can turn their writing into good looking pages.
This collection of writings (by all) students is then sent home or shared with other classes. The point is to get your students to think of writing in terms of many people reading their work. You will cease being the person who assigns the grade, and become the person who helps them get a good response to their writing.
I’m often asked, “What can I do to make my students better readers and/or writers?” My answer? Take voice lessons.
Anyone who has heard a great singer, speaker, or preacher knows the power of voice. It is a unique musical instrument, capable of infusing text with emotion, meaning, and clarity. Tie those gifts to reading aloud and you have the most powerful tool for sharing and teaching literature. Take a course in learning how to use your voice—voice lessons. How to pace yourself, stand, breath, articulate, phrase the text. Simple stuff, but powerful. Teachers, hire a voice coach for a three-hour lesson. Your students will love you even more. Over the years I have heard many a tale of a “favorite teacher.” More often than not, the favorite teacher “read to us aloud.”
To read to students—kindergarten on up—is to instill vocabulary, grammar, narrative structure, and meaning to words. It will make the art of reading emotional. Kids who are constantly read to will think, speak, and write better. Those of you determined to score higher in tests will get better test results if you read to the kids—every day. Parents who read to their kids—everyday–develop great psychological and emotional bonding.
Choose books that make you laugh, cry, and feel deeply. Your students will laugh, cry, and feel deeply right along with you—and they will love reading.
I recently made an appearance at an event during which I was asked to read something of my work. I did a few pieces from older books and than decided to read something new. Folks enjoy hearing unpublished books. I enjoy getting a reaction, taking it out for a test run, so to speak. When I do that, I usually read the first chapter since it’s often too complicated to explain a mid-stream section. That is what I did, reading something I had worked on for a year.
Folks—young and old—were attentive and engaged, giving every indication they were enjoying the reading. But as I read, I sensed something wasn’t right. My reading done, I tried to decide what the problem was but was whisked off to sign some books. Rule number one when signing: be attentive to the good folks that come along.
But the minute I was free I went back to thinking about that section. I listened anew, as it were, to my reading. The moment I got back to my hotel room I brought the text up on my laptop, and read it again, listening. And figured out the problem. I edited and rewrote the section. The text became much better. How I wished I could have shared it with an audience.
It all reminded me of something the poet Robert Frost once said: “The ear is the best reader.”
Was up early and out of the house before eight and went to the school where I am reading my newest book. (Book # 1) As I read, I mark MS where I think I can do better. It’s gratifying when I get to the end of my twenty-five pages, and they plead for more. That’s when I schedule the next date.
I go home, and review what I just read, and make the adjustments I need.
Then I pop open the computer screen and work on Book #2, revising the first few chapters, trying to get the voice right, the sense of the story, so I can move forward. Now and again I check the editor’s notes to see if I am answering the questions posed, the suggestions offered.
In the afternoon I go off to interview someone in the know about the subject I plan for book #3. It’s extremely complex, and makes me feel I have waded into a wide river that’s swift and very deep. And I am trying to learn how to swim. But the people I’ve spoken to are very helpful, like the notion of what I intend to do, and offer promises of more help and more contacts to interview.
Then I go home and review my notes, in part by telling my wife what I’ve learned. “Have you decided how you are going to tell the story?” “I’m trying,” is the best I come up with.
I return a bit to Book #2.
Tonight I think I’ll read someone else’s book. It’s a lot easier than writing #1 or #2 or #3.