I recently read that one of the trends in writing for children is the journal or diary format. While I’m not advocating that you write to suit a trend, it’s interesting to explore some of the advantages of this popular format for middle graders.
The thrill of secrets. A story written as a series of journal entries creates an expectation that the reader will be learning the private thoughts of the narrator. Already, there is built-in anticipation. It’s like you’ve already got part of the hook to get your reader to open the book.
Connecting with the reader. The conversational writing style of the journal format brings the narrator close to the reader, almost inviting the reader to share in their experiences and feel the emotions they are feeling. In some schools, students in higher elementary grades keep writing journals, so they may already have sense of the journaling process, or may even keep a diary or journal. I’ve seen this style used to bring to life historical subjects that kids might otherwise consider boring.
Space for imagination. The journal format allows the writer to be creative, possibly including diagrams, letters, lists, margin notes, large or bold text for exciting moments. Breaking up the text in smaller chunks by days or events also can make it appeal to kids who want a lighter read and tend to shy away from dense text.
Passing time. Because journal entries are specific to a certain time period, it provides a convenient vehicle for showing how time is passing.
One challenge of writing in a journal or diary format is the showing vs. telling dilemma. It’s easy to describe an event you are writing to “tell” it to someone and possibly more challenging to “show” actions that allow the reader opportunities to construct their own interpretation. However, trying out a different form of writing could bring a new energy to your story.
A few (of the many) books with a journal or diary format:
Amelia’s Notebook by Marissa Moss
Ellie McDoodle: Have Pen, Will Travel by Ruth McNally Barshaw
Diary of a Wimpy Kid by Jeff Kinney
Dork Diaries, Tales from a Not-So-Fabulous Life by Rachel Renee Russell
McKenzie Blue - Friends Forever by Tina Wells
The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow
The Strange Case of Origami Yoda by Tom Angleberger
10 Trends in Children’s Books from 2010
An article about diaries and The Popularity Papers by Amy Ignatow from the Seattle Times. http://seattletimes.nwsource.com/text/2014403092.html
A perspective on the diary format in children’s books from the Barnes and Noble book club. http://bookclubs.barnesandnoble.com/t5/Letter-Blocks-The-BN-Parents-and/Dear-Diary-The-Diary-Format-in-Literature-for-Young-People/ba-p/501165
Have you read any great books with a journal or diary format? Or, have you ever tried using this form in your writing?