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Thursday, December 5, 2013

Bad writing habits start young.



Just got back from a trip to the library with my two kids. We read a few books. Then I let them play in the kids' play area. While my son pretended to be the Dark Knight cooking me food (active imagination, I suppose), I read the first several chapters of Michigan Mega-Monsters (American Chillers #1), which I had just picked up from the shelf.

In some ways it was a very exciting book for a young reader, but I noticed something that I have noticed before. Bad writing habits abound!

  • Overuse of -LY adverbs, especially in dialog tags.
  • Overuse of the exclamation point!!! (though admittedly only one per sentence)
  • Unrealistic, clunky dialog, even for kids during summer vacation.
  • Lots of telling statements, often when a descriptive showing statement would have done just as well if not better.
    • It was in the voice of a young person, so some of the telling statements made sense, but I've read other books meant for kids, told from the point of view of a kid, that were better at it than this one.

Don't get me wrong! The book was good on many levels as well. There was obvious foreshadowing, though from the perspective of the narrator which is different than adult foreshadow ... but made me smile a few times regardless.

Overall, the author did his job because although I didn't care enough to check the book out and take it home, I may pick it up the next time we are at the library. I do kinda want to know what happens next.

But, that's not really why I wanted to write this post. 

I've been mulling over bad writing habits that a lot of authors struggle to overcome (others are oblivious to these errors, of course), and I think part of the blame is that our standards of what is acceptable change as the reading level ages.

But this doesn't have to be the case.

One of the books I read to my kids was Creak! Said the Bed. I'm not trying to compare the two books; they are, after all, from two separate age groups. One is meant for preschoolers and the other for kids much older.

My question is, how does the witty repetition of a book for preschoolers turn into a kid's chapter book full of bad writing habits? Of course, there are some preschool books that are written just as badly, but why don't adults—parents, teachers—help young people recognize good literature from the other?

There's probably not a satisfying answer, but I say this: good writing habits should be practiced, encouraged at all reading and writing levels. And if adults are writing chapter books for children (and getting their books into the library), they shouldn't be allowed to get away with the same bad writing habits that self-published authors are raked over the coals for.

Or maybe we should give self-published authors a break. After all, they aren't the only ones with bad writing habits, a skill many of us learn from an early age.

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