For me, because I deal in stories, it's easy for me to think that my life is like one. And, in a way, it is. I have a beginning, I'm currently in the middle (at least, I hope so), and eventually, on this earth, there will be an end.
See, the thing about studying writing (especially screenwriting) is that you start to see things in the mindset of the three act structure. It begins with the inciting incident, and that involves a choice, a choice our hero must make. Whatever he decides, that choice propels him to action, which eventually brings about the resolution. Of course, there will be set-backs along the way for our hero, but eventually he arrives at the end.
I think that this structure resonates with people because, in a sense, it's true. Life really is like this, situationally-speaking. Think about it... You meet someone. She is attractive. You have to make a choice - do you ask her out on a date or not? This choice on your end prompts her to have to make a choice. She accepts. This one situation and your subsequent choices concerning it propel you into eventual marital bliss... hopefully!
Isn't life exactly like that?
Umm, not exactly. Perhaps the girl that you asked out on the date didn't want to go. What then? Do you find a new girl to date? What if that girl doesn't want to go out with you? If it were a movie, it would probably be a dark comedy, and you'd eventually find yourself in some sort of weird situation where (depending on the mood of the screenwriter), you'd either die in the end or meet the quirky girl of your dreams.
But I digress.
You see, life is so much more complicated and boring and exciting than one story can encapsulate. In fact, I think our lives are many, many stories each. Some wrap up quickly, some last until you breathe your last breath. That's what's good to remember when you are feeling down about something in your life. It's possible that this is just one small story, one small subplot, after all. Or, it could be a big story that's just not resolved yet.
That might seem depressing, but that means there's still hope to cling to. Think about the best movies you've ever seen. Isn't it when the hero is most down, when things seem the bleakest, when all hope is seemingly lost that redemption comes? That's what we all long for, and I believe if you hold out as long as you can and you keep looking for it, and you keep fighting even when all things seem at a loss... redemption will come.
I'll end with a quote from one of my favorite authors.
I know. It’s all wrong. By rights we shouldn’t even be here. But we are. It's like in the great stories, Mr. Frodo. The ones that really mattered. Full of darkness and danger they were. And sometimes you didn't want to know the end. Because how could the end be happy? How could the world go back to the way it was when so much bad had happened? But in the end, it’s only a passing thing, this shadow. Even darkness must pass. A new day will come. And when the sun shines it will shine out the clearer. Those were the stories that stayed with you. That meant something, even if you were too small to understand why. But I think, Mr. Frodo, I do understand. I know now. Folk in those stories had lots of chances of turning back, only they didn’t. They kept going, because they were holding on to something.”
Saturday, June 3rd, I participated in the Thousand Island Book Festival for the third year in a row. It’s a great event held in Clayton, NY where local authors and authors around the Northeast come together. Local schools participate as well, bussing in kids to attend seminars where authors teach them story, illustrating, writing, or any other topic that is relates to the author’s work.
On Friday night, the night before the event, there is an author’s cocktail party where the authors can mingle, get to know each other, as well as speak to those who put together the festival (most of whom are librarians).
My wife and I attended and had a good time, catching up with those we have gotten to know over the years, as well as meeting other authors for the first time.
(We also had a great view overlooking the St. Lawrence River!)
This was the first year I attended since my second book, Rise of the Branded, had been released. I had a lot of interest in Scar of the Downers the past two years, and so I was hoping that some of the same kids would be there. If they liked the first book, I was hoping they would want to purchase the second one. Some that did happen, but most of the books that I sold were to new readers, which is also exciting.
And, this was the first time I was able to take credit card payments, and I’m happy to report that all went well with that. In fact, I think that was one of the best moments of the day for me – I had some anxiety over how it would go, and when all went smoothly, it was a big relief.
And, my girls had a great time as well. They went to different author presentations and played on the playground. What more could a kid want?
But, interacting with readers and other authors was truly the best part of the day for me. It’s easy to feel alone in this business. Writing is a solitary activity for the most part, and so to have an opportunity to be with others who love books (the reading and writing of them) was energizing and encouraging.
We feel it is extremely important that our children are able to do it and do it well. For education and knowledge, reading is the key. The struggle has always been, how do we get our children to love reading? My wife has lamented in the past that our four girls do not read as much as she did as a kid. Of course, television, video games, and a host of other activities eat up a lot of free time. And, not all of these time-stealers are bad, I believe. For instance, since our children are all girls, they play with one another all the time. This cooperative imagining, I believe, is a plus. They are building and investing in relationships with one another that will last. And I would say that’s more important than reading.
Screen time is also another obvious factor – there are too many! TV, computer, kindle, ipod… let’s face it, screens are fun and easy to play. As a parent, I have to constantly fight against the draw of the brain-sucking screen.
However, I’m going to address another reason why I think kids might find it hard to like reading. And, I know this may seem controversial, but not many people really read this blog, so it doesn’t really matter.
The educational system is guilty as well.
Well, this is how I see it.
If I wanted my child to be interested in sports, I would introduce them to a sport that I know she would enjoy. If I knew she liked a sport like basketball, I wouldn’t force her to play golf. Now I know there are some people that believe that a child would enjoy golf if you introduced it to her early enough. Maybe, but maybe not. No matter what we introduce children to, in the end, they still have their own personalities that will determine their likes and dislikes.
Winning a literary award may be an honor to an author, but it means nothing to a child.
But this is how school systems force children to read. We introduce them to books that we think are “well written” or that have stood the “test of time” before they even truly like reading. Now I know school systems encourage children to read books they like outside of class. But most children want to play and run around after sitting in a classroom all day. They don’t want to run home and read a book on the couch.
So, the reading of their choice must be done on their time. They would, however, rather play than read.
We have become so obsessed with awards. We force children to read books that adults like for them. Do you know how many Newberry Award winning books my children have wanted to read on their own?
None. That’s right. While I’m not criticizing specific books, awards don’t make them interesting to children. It may be an honor to an author, but it means nothing to a child. In fact, my children have found several of the books too boring to keep reading.
I understand that in some cases it is important to introduce them to these classic books. But in many cases, these books are written for children of a different era – children with little or no access to TV shows, movies, and video games. Entertainment moves at a quicker pace now, and so we have to catch children’s interest early on. At least, that is, until they learn to read quickly. And, the best way for children to learn to read quickly is to read a lot. And often. Usually with fast-paced, interesting books that suck them in and make them want to know the end of the story.
Forcing kids to read books they have no interest in, I think, is the quickest way to get them to HATE reading, to loathe it. It seems arduous to them, painful. You and I can enjoy a classic novel because we are experts at reading. We don’t have to sound out words or figure out punctuation. It’s relatively easy for us, and so we can push through to the “good parts.”
The publishing and educational world (basically, adults) can have a rather elitist attitude, and seem to want to force children to read books that they deem are important.
But it is far more important to get a child to WANT to read, to LOVE to read. Let’s face it. I’d rather have them read a Barbie book than no book at all. Let’s not force some of these slower-moving books on our children just because we think they are classics. Once they love to read, they will discover those books on their own.
Speaking of children and reading, The Thousand Island Book Festival is this weekend, Saturday, June 3rd. This is a great event that encourages children to read and meet different authors. This is my 3rd year participating, and I'm sure it will be just as fun as the other years were.
Recently, I attended the “Ready Set Fun! Bookfest” hosted by the local PBS station. There were lots of children and adults, and many booths. I brought my own children, who loved the afternoon.
The turnout was great and I was able to meet a number of nice people. I even sold a few books!
Each booth was to have games or activities that would engage children. Since my books are fantasy novels, the task of creating activities based on my books seemed daunting. What was I going to do? How would I use it as a tie-in for my novel?
With the help of my brilliant wife (who actually took the lead in creating these activities), we were able to produce several different things.
I also developed a few questions kids should ask themselves if they wanted to write their own books and create races of their own. You can check out some of the questions below:
Fantastical Character Creation Worksheet
Every fantasy novel needs fantastical characters! To create the characters in your fantasy novel, here are a list of questions to get you started.
1. Where does your character live?
2. What does your character look like?
3. What about your character’s physical appearance helps it survive in its environment?
4. What is unique to your character’s kind or culture?
5. How did this character’s kind come into being?
6. Does your character have a special power?
7. If so, how did they acquire this special power?
8. How did the character get where he is today?
Overall, it was a fun experience and I was glad to have been invited. I also came to the realization that in this day and age, as an author I need to have a way to accept credit cards. So, that’s what I’m doing now – figuring out how to get a card reader for our cell phone. I have another book signing event (The Thousand Island Book Festival) in a week or so… I’ll let you know how it goes if I ended up using it there.
Scott Keen grew up in New York, the youngest of three children. While in law school, he realized he didn't want to be a lawyer. So he did the practical thing--he became a writer.