Lessons from the Hi-Lo Market with Erin Thomas

High Interest, Low Reading Level – We All Deserve Great Stories

by M.C. Perron

After a long hiatus from the WCYR, I decided to attend Erin Thomas’ presentation as a way of coming back. I am still congratulating myself for the great choice I made in attending the workshop. This is what I learned from Erin. Hi-lo writing has, at its core, true respect for the reader no matter what their reading level. With this in mind, great stories do need to be tailored for “reluctant readers.”

Those readers could have English as a second language, be dealing with a reading disability, might have a short attention span (like most of us nowadays…), or might just be looking for a fast read while commuting.  The reluctant reader will usually read a few levels below their grade instead of above. 

What are hi-lo stories made of? Like any story, they need to have engaging characters, stories and topics. But they also need to be fast-paced and exciting, as well as have a lower number of characters who need to be well-defined. Reflection and descriptions should be limited in favour of straightforward plots and high action. 

The major risk of hi-lo stories is the reluctant reader getting bored and deciding this book is not for them. Reading is not for them. That the page they’ve just finished reading will be their last one. Forever. The stakes are high. No pressure.

But there are many rewards of hi-lo stories. They open whole new worlds to the reluctant reader. Offering a sense of accomplishment. Helping them take the first step in a lifelong journey of loving stories available in the written form. 

To help us understand how to write for the hi-lo market, Erin asked us to write a short piece to tailor, applying the tips in her presentation. We could use the writing prompt cards she provided, or come up with our own idea. I used the cards and created a paragraph about a fly that fell into a magic potion and now smelled like chicken soup. True story. 

The magic was in transforming my verbose sentences into shorter hi-lo ones. I used different words, a tighter point of view, faster paced verbs. I also cut out the self-reflection (of a fly, yes, I know). This resulted in a faster-paced story that was more engaging and had a sense of immediacy that I neve knew I could create.

It was a fascinating experience that opened new possibilities for all of us. I thank Erin Thomas from the bottom of my heart for sharing her knowledge and lifting the veil of a new writing world in such a fun, interesting, and engaging way.

M.C. Perron is an aspiring writer who lives in Barrie, ON with her husband and a grumble of pugs. She holds a B. Sc. In Anthropology from the Université de Montréal and loves to learn about all aspects of humanity. Her interests lie in science-fiction and fantasy, history, science, and everything in between.

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