Well now that y’all have told us what you want to see in “boy books”, Nick James shares his thoughts on the subject. But before we get to the main event, we have to announce the winner of the Signed/Personalized copy of Skyship Academy – the winner is Christi!!!!!!!!!!! Christi we have emailed you already so be on the look out for that! So now without further ado, here’s Nick!
When I set out to write my debut, Skyship Academy: The Pearl Wars, I knew that I wanted to target boy readers. That’s not to say I wanted to leave everyone else out, but my initial inspiration was to write the kind of story I would’ve wanted to read when I was thirteen.
Given that this was my plan, I put a lot of thought into the aspects that make a novel a good “boy book” and I kept coming back to these ten thoughts. Now, of course it’s a bit generalized. Whenever you do a list like this it’s going to be generalized. There are plenty of boys with different tastes and girls who flock to this kind of thing, but by and large, here’s what I found appeals to boy readers.
My evidence on this elusive breed? I know them, I work with them, and most importantly, I was one myself.
1. A good story, well told
This is a given, regardless of a book’s audience. Boy, girl. Young, old. Alien, non-Alien. Everyone likes a good story.
2. Boys that do more than blow stuff up
Likewise, while it’s pure fantasy to go around blowing things up (and fun fantasy, to boot), the really good books for boys feature protagonists with some depth. A sense of self-doubt, an inner turmoil or weakness. The macho soldier type is only interesting for so long. Case in point: Superman vs. Spider-man.
While Superman is the bigger icon (partly because he’s been around longer), I’d argue that Spider-man is more popular among readers. The reason? He’s relatable. He’s got weaknesses that go beyond the external.
3. Girls that do more than look hot
Most guys in the real world aren’t attracted to damsel-in-distress, devoid-of-personality girls, so why would they want to read about them? The stronger, more unattainable a female character, the more allure she has. Make her intelligent to boot, and the chase is on!
4. Gadgets, cool vehicles & puzzles
Boys love to figure stuff out. I mean, what is a video game, really, but an extended, visual puzzle? Non fiction books about gadgets or vehicles, with detailed diagrams and schematics, are so popular. It’s the same reason Legos are popular, or Transformers. It appeals to that tactile sense.
5. Plot. And better yet, plot with tension
Guys are naturally more goal-driven. While you can get away with more chattiness in other genres, I think boy-books function best when you merge that style with something much more plot-driven. Give a character a goal or an immediate threat he has to overcome. A sense of accomplishment is very important. Make that character an underdog who, at face value, seems completely not up to the task, and you’ve got yourself a story!
6. Humor, humor, humor
This applies especially to middle grade and younger YA, but it’s a vital part of any novel targeting this readership. Even if it’s a super-serious story, humor is key. Humor, for a lot of boys, is their gateway into a story or character. And humor doesn’t necessarily mean you’re telling a “light” or meaningless story. In fact, humor can make sad moments even sadder.
7. A cool cover
Guys are visual (well, we’re all visual to some extent), and I’m not sure a cover with an artistic wilting flower or abstract portrait representing grief/love/jealousy/whatever is going to appeal. There’s a reason so many “boy books” have an action scene from the story illustrated on the cover. I wonder, though, would illustrations or photographs appeal more?
8. A visual storytelling style
Going along with the last thought, the more you can make your book read like a movie, the better off you’ll be. That’s not to put movies above books, but like I mentioned before, boys are more visual. Of course they can appreciate good writing/figurative language/literary fiction, but if a book can make them forget that they’re reading a book, even better!
So if I haven’t driven that visual thing home yet, here’s my final example. If looked at superficially, this point could be seen as pretty stereotypical of the worst in “boy books.” But what is an explosion, really? It’s an external, visual representation of conflict. It’s big and dramatic–an exclamation point on that goal-driven plotline I talked about earlier. And if a book needs it, it’s a “hey, are you paying attention?” jolt of energy.
10. Cliffhanger endings
I don’t necessarily mean at the end of the book itself, but this type of storytelling device works wonders at the end of chapters. Remember the Goosebumps books? It seemed like every chapter ended with one. Sure, most turned out to be fake-outs, but still! It’s one of those things that keeps even the most reluctant readers glued to the page.