Saturday, August 4, 2012

Jordan Brown: Writing for Boys

Jordan Brown is an editor at two HarperCollins imprints: Walden Books and Balzer + Bray, and he shared the secrets of writing books that boys will like to a packed crowd (which included the illustrator Dan Santat, who drew a robot as Jordan talked).
Definitely not
Jordan Brown

Jordan says there are some misperceptions about writing for boys: that there are certain authors that appeal, or that the content matters (such as far jokes). 

To understand how to write for boys, you have to understand how to find books and how boys choose what to read, Jordan said. 

He shared six observations with us about how boys find books they like. Here are the first four: 

Observation No. 1: Boys won't like reading if they don't like what they're reading. "I know that sounds like Yogi Berra's Guide to Writing for Boys, but I'll explain." 

Almost Jordan Brown
If a boy is told that reading a graphic novel isn't real reading--if reading is seen as work or punishment--who's going to start to think of something as enjoyment. If boys don't develop a love of reading, they're not going to get to any of those other books that people want them to read.

When Jordan was young, "reading really felt like work." He felt ashamed and connected the act of reading to shame. He never would have been turned on by reading until he had a visceral experience reading what he loved. 

Turning kids into readers is the first priority--more important than having them read certain books. 

A Jordan Brown book
Observation No. 2: Boys live in a multimedia world

Demonizing video games and television isn't going to work. Books, TV, games can appear on different platforms. 

Observation No. 3: The Rise of the Do-It-Yourself aesthetic

Diary of a Wimpy kid looks like something a kid could have done. Or a book like the Sid Fleischman winner THE FOURTH STALL have humor, which feels accessible to kids. The voice feels like them. 

Observation No. 4: Develop connections with authors and illustrators

After they finish a book they love, they often ask, "What should I read next?" This is why series are popular. It doesn't mean you have to write a series, but develop a brand for yourself, as Jon Sciezska has done. 

Another Jordan Brown book,
the Sid Fleischman award-
winner about a middle
school godfather type
Other notes: Writing for boys isn't the same as writing for reluctant readers. All boys can become readers. 

What does this mean for writers? Jordan rarely thinks "for" boys. He thinks about boy appeal. Boys don't like to be talked down to, and they're really good at recognizing it. Gross-out humor is an example of this. Boys do like it, but it's not the only thing. 

Also, just because a boy likes to play hockey (or whatever) doesn't mean he wants to read about it. 

Boys are drawn to things that are 100 percent real, or things that feel real. "Tether your fiction to the truth," he said. 

THE FOURTH STALL really seemed like something that reflected authentic middle school currency. Jordan read us a hilarious passage about a bully named Kitten, which conveyed a lot of feeling and emotion through plot description and action (not thoughts and feelings). 

The bottom line: It comes down to theme, a feeling of reality, and characters. 

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