A Monthly Column by Anthony D. Fredericks
Communicating with Our Readers
This November my wife and I will be celebrating our 50th wedding anniversary. We will be journeying back to The Williamsburg Inn in Williamsburg, VA to spend three nights in the same historic house we stayed in on our honeymoon. Back in 1971, the rate for the house was $35.00/night. Let’s just say that the rate in 2021 is much, MUCH different! But the memories will be just as sweet!
Over the past few months, friends and acquaintances have posed the inevitable query: “What is the secret to a long marriage?” Our response is usually captured in two words—good communication. As I was discussing this with a long-time friend (a fellow writer), it also occurred to me that good children’s writing is also based on good communication. It’s one thing to type words and sentences on a computer screen; quite another to convey emotions, feelings, and a connection with characters and themes. The first is merely talking, the second is communication.
I specialize in writing nonfiction for children. I know that it is quite easy to do some background research and put down an amalgam of words about mysterious animals, exotic locations, or environmental threats. That’s the easy part. That’s how encyclopedias get written, how legal documents get penned, and how bland and nondescript books get created. Or, to put it in different words, that’s talking through a book rather than communicating with readers.
My challenge, every time I sit in front of my computer, is to share the passions and ferver of my subject to young readers, to incite personal discoveries and promote self-induced explorations, and to create an appreciation for a topic or subject that may be outside readers’ experiences or knowledge. To do that, I can’t simply “talk” my way through the manuscript; I have a linguistic obligation to communicate with my readers . . . to build a bond (okay, to build a “marriage”) that will be both sustaining and long lasting. Writing is not about the transference of words from one head to another—it’s always about evoking an engaging relationship that may change, influence, or inspire.
For the moment, let’s take a look at some examples of communication versus talking. To do that, I’ve extracted examples of good communication from several children books and YA novels. Those have been listed in the left-hand column in the chart below. I’ve also taken the liberty of rewriting those examples as though the author had simply been talking (rather than communicating) to their readers. I hope you notice the differences.
|Communication Example||Rewritten as a Talking Example|
|“The rain here is different than the way it rains in Greenville. No sweet smell of honeysuckle. No soft squish of pine.” —Jacqueline Woodson, Brown Girl Dreaming||It rains in Brooklyn. It also rains in Greenville.|
|“This is the wall, my grandfather’s wall. On it are the names of those killed in a war, long ago.” —Eve Bunting, The Wall||The Vietnam Veteran’s Memorial is in Washington, D.C. It has lots of names on it.|
|“There is a secret that almost nobody knows. I will tell it to you, if you promise to tell someone else.” —Douglas Wood, Making the World||I have a secret. Would you like to know what it is?|
|“Not every thirteen-year-old girl is accused of murder, brought to trial, and found guilty. But I was just such a girl . . . .” —Avi, The True Confessions of Charlotte Doyle||Once, I was arrested. Let me tell you my story.|
|“When May died, Ob came back to the trailer, got out of his good suit and into his regular clothes, then went and sat in the Chevy for the rest of the night.” —Cynthia Rylant, Missing May||My grandfather was very sad when my grandmother died.|
|“Henry Brown wasn’t sure how old he was. Henry was a slave. And slaves weren’t allowed to know their birthdays.” —Ellen Levine, Henry’s Freedom Box||Henry Brown was six years old.|
Communicating to our readers may be one of the most challenging things we do as writers. It implies a respectful relationship—one that conveys thoughts, feelings, and emotions through the magical manipulations of words. The words we choose and the order in which they are presented to our readers differentiates a simple manuscript from a meaningful, relevant, and engaging book.
As they say, talk is cheap. On the other hand, the power of our tale—whether nonfiction or fiction, picture book or YA novel—is ultimately determined by the arrangement of vocabulary and the passion of the author. Like any good marriage, it is the degree of communication we share with our readers that determines the longevity of a story and the embrace of minds.
A retired educator and prolific author, Tony is an award-winning writer of more than 50 children’s books. He has also penned the critically acclaimed Writing Children’s Books: Everything You Need to Know from Story Creation to Getting Published (https://amzn.to/3kl74YQ). [“If I could give this book ten stars, I would!”]
Editor’s Note: If you’re looking for fresh ideas on the nature and nurture of creativity, check out Tony’s new blog on PsychologyToday.com: https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/contributors/anthony-d-fredericks-edd. It’s full of strategies to “energize” your creative batteries and new postings are added all the time.