When you hear the word “interactivity,” what pops into your mind? Probably ebooks with linked content or apps with built-in games and personalization features. Your mind probably turns to digital solutions and transmedia storytelling–which are great, but might not be your cup of tea.
But did you know that you can make your writing interactive without adding digital bells and whistles? This post takes a look at five weird and wonderful ways that you can bring interactivity to your writing. Enjoy!
Technique #1: Repetition, Rhyme, and Rhythm
As any parent of small children knows, little kids love to listen to the same story over and over and over. Many picture book authors use elements such as rhyme and repetition to connect with their young audience. Little kids love the opportunity to recognize patterns and join in on the “chorus”.
Bill Martin‘s classic children’s book, Brown Bear, Brown Bear, What Do You See?, provides a great example. The question “Brown bear, Brown Bear, what do you see?” is repeated throughout the story, with modifications for each new animal and each new color. The repetition encourages young readers to join in for each question and answer.
2. Provide an Activity
Authors can encourage readers to interact with the story by including activities that complement the text. That’s what Steve (the Dirtmeister) Tomecek does with several “Try This!” sidebars in his new title Dirtmeister’s Nitty Gritty Planet Earth. The simple experiments demonstrate key concepts in the book. They’re also lots of fun, like the “Layers of Time” experiment–in which readers create a science experiment they can eat!
Author/illustrator Roxie Munro invites younger readers to help delivery vehicles find their way through eleven intricately drawn mazes in her picture book Market Maze. Each illustrated spread also includes hidden objects for readers to find.
3. Talk Directly to the Reader
“Hi! I’m the bus driver. Listen, I’ve got to leave for a little while, so can you watch things for me until I get back? Thanks. Oh, and remember: Don’t Let the Pigeon Drive the Bus!”.
In the next spread, the pigeon arrives on the scene… and proceeds to try to talk the reader into letting him (of course!) drive the bus.
What better way to delight young readers than to invite them to tell a story character “no!”
“You might think a book with no pictures seems boring and serious. Except . . . here’s how books work. Everything written on the page has to be said by the person reading it aloud. Even if the words say . . .
“BLORK. Or BLUURF.
“Even if the words are a preposterous song about eating ants for breakfast, or just a list of astonishingly goofy sounds like BLAGGITY BLAGGITY and GLIBBITY GLOBBITY.”
As the text becomes more and more ridiculous, the author encourages the child–who’s presumably listening to the story–to make sure the adult reader is actually saying all those crazy words!
4. Provide a Puzzle.
Kids love to figure things out for themselves, so you can practically guarantee reader engagement by giving them a puzzle to solve. That’s what Heather L. Montgomery does when writing about the wildly striped psychedelic frogfish in her book Wild Discoveries: Wacky New Animals.
Just like you are the only person with your FINGERPRINT pattern, each frogfish has its own set of stripes. If the fish to the left committed a crime… Could you pick it out of this lineup?”
She doesn’t underestimate her readers, either. This is no easy puzzle to solve!
5. Ask Questions.
Alice Jablonsky’s 101 Questions About Desert Life is written as a list of questions and answers. Its format encourages the reader to page through and find her own question rather than reading the book from start to finish—especially because many of the questions sound like they arose directly from a school classroom!
Heather Montgomery also invites readers to think like a scientist by sharing unanswered questions with them. For example, when she introduces the giant stick insect known as Chan’s Megastick, she asks readers,
Are these facts true for Chan’s megastick? Since ONLY THREE have been found so far, we’ll have to wait to find out!”
You can use interactive elements to help illustrate a tricky concept; to spark questions and discussion; or simply invite kids to play in your story world. Whatever type of interactivity you bring to your writing, though, it can help you get–and keep!–your readers’ attention.
So what are you waiting for? Give it a try!