This is a guest post by author Fiona Ingram as part of her book blog tour.
Teachers and parents welcome with open arms books that help kids enjoy reading, immerse them in a wonderful new world and encourage them to want to learn more about the subject or topics covered in the story. The hardest part of writing fiction that involves facts, history, mythology, geography and the details that my middle-grade adventures involve is knowing what to put in and what to leave out.
My first middle-grade book, The Secret of the Sacred Scarab, is set in Egypt. Although I actually went to Egypt with my mom and my two nephews (who later became the templates for my young heroes), going to a place and writing about it are very different. I think Egypt was even more daunting than I imagined because so much has been written about the country, its history, and its culture that I felt under enormous pressure to check, double check, and check again (just in case) all my facts. There are also conflicting opinions of experts so one must be careful whose opinion one chooses.
I confess I overwrote the rough drafts of the first manuscript. There was so much information that I ended up almost drowning in it. It seems a shame that hours of research goes into looking up facts that will make perhaps only a brief mention in the chapter concerned. However, there is no point in inundating readers with lots of information. After careful thought, I realized that all I should include was what the young heroes needed to know as the plot unfolded. Details should be carefully and subtly woven into the story, always being an integral part of what the heroes need to know to move along in their adventure.
So, after the excitement of Egypt, what came next? The next book in my adventure series The Chronicles of the Stone takes place in Scotland, where the heroes are in search of the Second Stone of Power. The title is The Search for the Stone of Excalibur and that should be enough of a clue for fans to see where the story is heading. I had already spent a few amazing weeks in Scotland, researching old castles. Ask me anything about castles … with or without drawbridges, moats, portcullises, battlements … you name it, I visited it.
Finally, I settled upon the fabulous, fairytale setting of Dunrobin Castle, for me
an exquisite vision, as the setting for Book Two. Interviews with experts are a real boon. Leila, our fantastic guide in Egypt, was a walking encyclopedia of knowledge on the country. Contrary to what one might think, travel guides (the official ones) in any country, have a vast amount of knowledge on their subject. It came as no surprise to find that Leila had a university degree!
In Book 3: The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper, set in Mexico, the young heroes must play an ancient form of a ball game, the Mesoamerican ball game, to survive. I was fortunate enough to find an expert on the subject whose advice and book were invaluable. Again, so much has been written on this topic, as well as the ancient cultures of the Maya and the Aztecs—that feature in the story—that I really had to pare down the details to just what was integral to the plot and to the young heroes’ survival. Dialogue is a great way to include details that are necessary and having characters exchange information makes the detail realistic and interesting. I try to include storytelling by characters to share information. In all my books there are old stories or legends that make an appearance and add to the mystery. Told as a story within the main story makes it interesting for young readers. This could also lead on to further activities—for example, the students might enjoy acting out scenes from the stories, or even undertake their own research to find out if and how the fictional version deviates from the known facts.
Stories within the main story are a must. This gives an added depth and introduces cultural elements that are so unusual for young readers in a modern, media-driven and technologically saturated world. Within each of my books, the young heroes are told old stories, either legends or myths or in the case of Book 2: The Search for the Stone of Excalibur, the old ghost stories surrounding the castle. What a lovely experience, with delicious shivers going up and down their spines! In Book 3: The Temple of the Crystal Timekeeper, the young heroes hear some important stories about the ancient Aztec and Maya gods, and when their adventures are finally over, they tell the story of their exploits to the villagers seated around the campfire, perhaps creating their own legends in a way.
Another excellent idea for authors whose books contain facts and relevant information is to include an appendix, either a young readers’ guide (which I do) or even just a glossary of unfamiliar words. Parents can then encourage their kids to read this to enhance their enjoyment of the story, achieve a greater understanding of the environment and atmosphere of the events, and teachers can use it to inspire further research. Contrary to popular opinion, kids love to learn, be it new words or new facts and/or details. Books that inspire the desire in kids to learn more deserve a top place on every bookshelf.
You can find Fiona at –
Author Site: http://www.FionaIngram.com