Saturday, October 01, 2016

Writing for Boys

I don't need to post stats to convince any of you that we are in a fight against an ever growing number of distractions that pull our readers away from the written story. Those who write adult novels compete with hundreds of television channels, Facebook, the internet in general, and what seems like a new movie release every day.

For those of us who write for children, you can add schoolwork, and socializing to that list.

For those of us who wish to reach boys between the ages of 8 and 13, add video games, sports, and video games.

Yes, I know girls also get involved in sports and video games, but girls are also more mature at that age and naturally gravitate toward books. I invite you to peruse Instagram, search #bookstagram, and do a quick survey of male vs. female readers.

If I were to hazard a guess, I'd say that there are ten girl readers for every boy, and we're losing them at an alarming rate.

So how do we middle-grade writers fix it?

We have to create characters who do the things that boys daydream about. As a former boy, allow me to help. Boys fantasize about:

  • flying through outer space
  • saving the cutest girl in his class from certain death
  • fighting in a war (against the living and the dead)
  • having a pet grizzly bear
  • scoring the winning touchdown in the Superbowl
You will note nothing on that list about a first kiss (though the cute girl he saves will certainly offer one), finding a long-lost relative, or taking first place in a singing contest.

When you think boys, you have to get out of his house. Probably out of his town. Maybe even off of
his planet. Boys play video games because they take them to places and adventures that they could never really hope to see in their drab middle-school existence. And that's how we have to write for them. Take your 9 year-old protagonist to Mars. Put your 15 year-old in the pilot seat of a WWII bomber. Have your 12 year-old boy save the cutest girl in class when the zombie apocalypse overruns the playground.

There's a reason the word "x-treme" in advertising is aimed at teenage boys. Anything less is what they already have, and it bores them. Think x-treme and you'll pull your reader from his PS4. And if you run out of story ideas, play with a PS4. You may be surprised to learn that there are stories being told in those games (face it, PacMan was a very one-dimensional character). 

And who knows? Maybe one day you'll see your character on PS4 game cover, shooting down Martian zombies with his death ray.

Ron Estrada writes young adult and middle-grade novels. His first YA series is available on Amazon. His first middle-grade historical is in the hands of his trusty agent, seeking a publishing home. You can find out what Ron is up to at


chappydebbie said...

So true. My 8 year old grandson is totally into space and video games and my 7 year old granddaughter loves books. Both kids are reading well, but my granddaughter definitely likes it more.