Writing HI-LO Material (High Interest, Low Ability) for Slow Readers
To write books for readers at an elementary reading level (for either adults or children) you start off exactly the same way as you do any other book: you work out a strong plot and people it with interesting characters.
Your primary concerns:
Children between 9-12 years who are just learning to read or who need to be encouraged to read like to read about:
Before You Start
Before you start to write this sort of book yourself, get hold of some published books for your targeted publisher and study them. Make sure you read them aloud, too. That will help you get an idea of the rhythm and length of the sentences.
You'll probably find it helpful to type out several pages to get the 'feel' of the simpler writing style. It wouldn't even hurt to type out a whole book. Then you can start applying what you've learned to your own material.
How To Proceed
Write the story without worrying about the vocabulary or sentence length. If you fret too much at this stage about whether your story is 'easy' enough, it'll never get written. Or you'll finish it, but it will seem stilted and slow. So just write. Let the story come to life.
Then edit and polish your story until you're happy with it.
The Final Step
Finally, go through and start adapting the text to a simpler format. (Even when you've written and published quite a few hi/lo texts, and you naturally start to write shorter sentences and easier words, you'll find that this second run through pays off.) Shorten the sentences. Where there are two ideas in a sentence, make it two sentences. Every so often make a sentence a little longer or very short. If all your sentences are the same length and structure, the book will seem stilted.
Check The Words You Have Used
Study the words you have used. Where possible, substitute simpler words for those with difficult sounds. Note: you will not always be able to do this. For example, 'thought' is quite a difficult word to read. (The sound ough can say different things, as Pedantic Pat pointed out in her column!) But the word 'thought' might appear in your story several times, because it's hard to think of another way of saying 'he thought'. In this case, use it. And use it several times, so the reader will get to recognize it. But you must then avoid using other words with the ough sound in them, if it is pronounced differently in those words.
Other difficult sounds are 'augh' as in laugh and caught; 'igh' as in night and thigh. Also beware of words that contain silent letters such as know, knife and psychic. The letter 'y' can also cause problems in the middle or on the ends of words: for example, 'funny' and 'spy'.
Try to remember: not too many new sounds; avoid using sounds that are spelt the same but pronounced differently in different words.
Sending Your Story To A Publisher
Publishers may ask you to divide your story into chapters. They then decide, in collaboration with the artist (if illustrations are to be used) where the page breaks will occur. Some editors prefer that you divide your story into 'chunks' for each page as you go, telling you approximately how many words they want on each page.
If you do write your story in sections divided ready for each page, don't start each section on a new page when you send your story to the publisher. Just insert several line spaces to indicate page breaks.
When you have finished adapting your story to the hi/lo format, you should leave it a while before the final edit. (This is good advice for any story, of any length, for any level of reading ability!) When you come back to it, read it through again, silently and out loud. Ask yourself:
(c) Copyright Marg McAlister
Marg McAlister has written many books for reluctant readers, as well as being the foundation editor of Lit-Bits, a newsletter for adult literacy providers. She has also published magazine articles, short stories, ezines, promotional material, sales letters and web content. She has written 5 distance education courses on writing, and her online help for writers is popular all over the world. Sign up for her regular writers' tipsheet at http://www.writing4success.com/
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