Igniting the Power of Craft in Nonfiction Writing
Linda Hoyt & Seymour Simon
Our second day at IRC we attended a lunch session featuring Linda Hoyt and Seymour Simon in a seminar on writing nonfiction. I found myself looking forward to this session because of my interest in my own writing along with how much I enjoy teaching students how to write (if only I enjoyed grading it as much as I enjoyed teaching it!). Seymour Simon also holds a special place in my heart because my daughter loves his nonfiction books.
During Hoyt's segment, she spoke on a few things including punctuation to make sentences more exciting, creating a chart of good words to use for writing, and visualizing while writing. Hoyt's presentation discussed the use of a variety of sentence-types and good description words based upon the visualization process.
Once Seymour Simon took the podium, I had finished my dessert (which was delicious!) and could take notes more easily. Listening to Simon speak about writing nonfiction was as exciting as reading his nonfiction! If you've never picked up a nonfiction book written by him, do it the next time you step into a Barnes and Noble or other book store. His combination of words and photographs gives the reader excitement about the topic and makes the reader want to read on.
Interestingly enough, one of Simon's first pieces of advice as a writer of informational text is to write nonfiction like you would write an exciting story. This is excellent advice, especially for children, because if they get into the habit of writing nonfiction text in a manner that makes the reader want to read on, they will continue writing this way. I was instantly reminded of Voice in the 6+1 Traits of Writing. Simon knows his readers are younger readers, and therefore he writes his nonfiction in a manner that makes his young readers excited to read on. Not only is he sucking them into his writing and encouraging them to read, but he is giving them a fantastic model of writing informational text! The voice in his writing is strong and evident.
Another aspect of Simon's writing that is unique is the language that he uses. During his session he explained the importance of the vivid language, action words, and comparisons that his readers would understand. One example that he gave that afternoon was from his book Whales. In this book, Simon compares the weight of the tongue of a blue whale to that of an elephant. The tongue! Imagine that! Kids know that elephants are large and heavy. Some have even seen them at the zoo or on television. To quote an actual weight in pounds or kilograms would have been pointless to children, but to compare the weight to an elephant, his readers now have a basis from which to consider the enormity of the blue whale. If the tongue is that big, imagine how big the WHALE is!
Simon also touches on the idea of using imagery when writing nonfiction. Appealing to all five senses is a great way to get the reader involved in the text, and Simon tries to give vivid descriptions that do just that. The photographs chosen to accompany his writing he feels are just as important, as they give the reader a better visual and break up the text for a more motivating read.
Finally, Simon reemphasized the importance of writing using varying sentence structures and asking questions to get the reader more involved in the read.
Although none of what Simon or Hoyt mentioned to the group was an earth-shattering, brand new approach to writing, I found the session to be enlightening. They were able to give some clear suggestions as to how to help students improve upon their writing (both fiction and nonfiction). I also thought that the way that Simon spoke about writing nonfiction as an exciting story was important to hear as it impressed upon me the importance of voice in writing. In my future collaborations, I will keep Hoyt and Simon's session in the back of my mind, as the advice they gave was both useful and practical.