Wednesday, January 5, 2011

A is for Attention

Writers of children’s fiction are told over and over about how kids have short attention spans. If they don’t get hooked on your story or characters right away, they’ll put down the book and move on to something more exciting, like their latest video game.

This is definitely true. But I think it’s also true that if kids are interested in something, they can spend hours doing it. Think about all the time they spend building Lego structures, hunting for bugs, or imagining they are in the world of Harry Potter.

How can you get your story to be that engaging? Here are some ideas:

1. Include a strong main character. Your readers want to identify with your character. They want to be inside the character’s head, helping them make decisions.

2. Keep the story moving. Things that kids do for long periods of time are usually active. In writing, that means your characters need to be doing things. Something always needs to be happening. Use active words, dialogue and only small amounts of description.

3. Create problems to solve. Ever watch kids playing? They are curious and love to discover new things. Building, imagining, or even playing a video game allows them to use their skills and creativity. Good stories do that too. If new sections or chapters bring something new to the story, like a new twist, a new problem, or a new idea, readers will stay with the story longer.


Over at the WriteOnCon site, a great article by J.S. Lewis called Writing For Middle Grade…Or, Welcome to Neverland highlights the way middle graders think and gives you tips for getting their attention.

Livia Blackburne at A Brain Scientist's Take on Writing writes about How to Get and Keep People's Attention using knowledge gaps and the element of surprise.

What's your best advice for coping with a short attention span?


  1. Great post and excellent links. Thank you!

  2. My attention is kept best by - great writing - which includes voice, snappy word choice and dialogue and secrets that make me turn the page.

  3. Great points - especially #3. Listening to my kidlet have adventures with her friends, there are always things happening to them (or their figures) - problems to overcome, crises to address. And her favorite books are the same.

    Wonderful links as well. Thanks!


  4. I liked your reading suggestions, Andrea. And hitting the ground running at the opening and keeping the story moving is absolutely spot on.


I love to hear your responses and thoughts! Your comments will appear after moderation (I’ve decided to enable moderation due to excessive spam).