Bounce Ideas Off of a Kid
My son is learning how to read. Actually, he is teaching himself to read. It’s really quite remarkable watching the wheels in his head turn as he makes associations and the words come to life. As a writer, observing a new reader is pure fascination.
I’ve noticed that when he turns the page, he examines the pictures before he tries to figure out the words. (He’s looking for context.) I also noticed that he takes exclamation points literally – sometimes too literally (he’s looking at punctuation for clues) and he enjoys rhyming words (the syntax is pleasing to his ears). He also likes side notes, the little blurbs or fast facts off to the side for quick points of interest. (This earmarks a preference for shorter paragraphs.)
It occurred to me that our reading habits and preferences are embedded in us from an early age. For example, paragraphs in newspaper articles are only a few sentences long by design, because we are more likely to read shorter paragraphs than longer ones.
My mentor always tells me to read my writing to my son. If a 5-year-old gets it, an adult will get it. If a 5-year-old likes it, an adult will like it. At first, I thought this advice was a little pedestrian, but now I see the true value in terms of the larger picture.
This isn’t necessarily an exercise about content, so don’t your book aloud to a kid. Not all books are G-rated. (Nor should they be.) I think it’s an exercise in basics. Many parallels can be drawn from comparing a child reader to an adult reader, only children lack internal monologues. They say what comes to mind and they are brutally honest. They will tell you what they think and they will not hold back. Read them an excerpt and you will get excellent feedback from them (whether you want to hear it or not).
Children and (many) adults also have similar attention spans. When discussing a basic premise, if you lose a kid’s interest, ask why. It might help you avoid losing an adult’s.
Oftentimes, authors overcomplicate their writing. The message can sometimes be lost in flowery sentences. A child can help you determine whether you need to simplify.
In summation, if you’re questioning an idea or a passage, run it by a kid, evaluate his/her response and then Write On…