Writing for Reluctant Readers
If you’ve always loved books, it can be hard to imagine what it’s like to struggle with reading.
Yet millions find it an uncomfortable experience. Rather than being drawn in by characters or voice, they’re constantly aware of tracking words on paper. Rather than being transported into the story, they struggle to get past the physical experience of holding a book and staring at a printed page.
After ploughing through a few paragraphs of a thick middle grade or YA novel, they give up on ever making it to the end.
The last few years have seen an explosion of Hi-Lo books – books with a high interest level and a low reading level – to cater for such readers.
I wanted to get involved with Badger Learning’s Teen Reads because I was impressed with the variety of their series. They weren’t stuck in predictable reluctant reader territory like dinosaurs and football. They seemed to publish interesting stand-alone titles for teenagers that just happened to have been written in a very accessible style.
I wasn’t given a set of rigid rules when I started writing for them. I tried to use simple vocabulary and sentence structure, and they checked the reading level when I was finished.
There’s no particular formula for hooking a reluctant reader any more than there is for hooking any other sort of reader. But I’ve found that establishing an everyday situation and quickly introducing a supernatural or fantastical element can work well.
The characters will be desperate to find out what’s going on. And hopefully the reader will be too, carrying them to the end of the slim volume and giving them the achievement of having finished a book.
My latest Teen Reads title is Mr Perfect, which is about a girl who is sent to test whether a robot can pass for human. It ties in with a lot of things in popular culture at the moment, such the Channel 4 drama Humans, but it’s a story I’ve wanted to tell for a long time.
On a more selfish level, writing for reluctant readers has allowed me to switch between genres in a way I might not be able to if I only wrote full-length novels. So far I’ve written sci-fi romance, folk horror and humour.
The Teen Reads series runs to 36 books now. I really hope we can show struggling readers that books are part of the world of entertainment, along with apps, games, vlogs, TV shows and everything else they’re into. Everyone should have a bit of reading in their cultural diet.
Tim Collins is the author of over 40 books, for both children and adults, including the Wimpy Vampire series, and the Dorkius Maximus series. You can find out more on his official website.