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How Well Do You Know Genre?

Highlight text to reveal the blanks.

Romance + Comedy = Romantic Comedy. Comedy + Crime = Caper

The Caper Story is also known as a Heist.

The Thriller is sometimes also called Suspense.

Crime is a subcategory of Mystery

Noir is the only ‘genre’ made up entirely by film critics.

The three most metaphorical genres are Horror, Science Fiction and Westerns.

The three ‘suspense genres’ are mystery, crime and thriller.

Psychological Thrillers emphasize the unstable psychological and emotional states of its characters. Similarities to Gothic and detective fiction in that there is sometimes a dissolving sense of reality. The setting is usually domesticated. The main characters are usually obsessed/tortured/sociopathic. Unreliable narratives are common. e.g. Psycho, Homeland, pretty much everything by Stephen King, Henry James, Patricia Highsmith.The work of Agatha Christie are examples of Cosy Mysteries.

The most popular form of storytelling worldwide is the Police Procedural.

Hard-boiled Detective stories are a subcategory of Detective stories, but feature a tough cop with a moral view of hard-won experience. While he almost always sees justice prevail, there is usually a bittersweet resolution.

Detective is a subcategory of Mystery.

A Police Procedural is much like a Hard-boiled Detective Story but with a larger cast and a special focus on police tactics, squad-room psychology, station-house politics and the tensions between police/politicians/media/citizenry.

The Courtroom Drama is a subgenre of Mystery/Detective.

The Gangster Story is a subcategory of Crime.

In a Romantic Comedy two lovers generally meet at the Catalyst and are thrown together by the Big Event. But the Back Story gives rise to a flaw which interferes with love. Even so, they fall in love anyway at the Midpoint (at least one does), and are separated at the Crisis. In the Showdown, one or both overcomes the flaw and they come together. In the end, the Realization comes that they will live happily ever after.Noir is also known as Transgression Thriller.

All Gangster Stories are about success in the modern world, shorthanded as “the American Dream,” and how that Dream has been corrupted from its original idea of success as spiritual attainment to success as material gain.

In the Action genre, a hero attempts to right an injustice and ends up either putting his world to rights, or not. It’s a straightforward genre. Since stories in this genre are about justice, that’s why they’re popular.

An Epic Thriller usually concerns the threat of some catastrophe affecting whole communities, cities, countries, even the planet. The threat need not be total devastation—the assassination of a leader will do—but the effect of the action must be profound.

Die Hard is a classic example of the Action genre.

There are two quite different genres which have something in common: They both involve the wearing of some kind of mask, which comes off at some point to reveal the true person underneath. Those two genres are Comedy and Noir/Transgression Thriller.

Titanic is a blend of (Disaster) Action  and Love.

Avatar is an Epic Romance. In this kind of story the fate of the nation (or world) is determined by the love between two people. It’s very hard to get right but if done right it has wide appeal.

Superhero Stories are a sub-form of the Action genre with a number of Fantasy and Horror elements thrown in.

Date Night is an example of a genre blend difficult to get right: Comedy and Thriller. This blend used to be more popular and Hitchcock did it for an appreciative audience but modern audiences don’t tend to like it much.

Black comedy is the comedy of the logic—or more exactly, the illogic—of a system. This advanced and difficult form of storytelling is designed to show that destruction is the result not so much of individual choice (like tragedy) but of individuals caught in a system that is innately destructive.

When the creator of Desperate Housewives pitched the show as a Comedy, no networks were interested. But when he re-pitched it as a Satire it was picked up immediately.

A Buddy Story is actually a combination of three genres: Action, Love and Comedy.

A Buddy Cop Story is a combination of three slightly different genres: Action, Love and Crime.

Farce is different from most comedies in that, in most stories, the audience learns information at the same time as the hero. But in this subgenre of Comedy, the audience is always in a superior position.

The premise of a Switch Comedy is that the hero suddenly discovers they’ve been changed into being something or someone else. Mark Twain was a master of the technique. Tootsie and Big are more recent examples.

In its original sense, a Shaggy Dog story is an extremely long-winded anecdote characterized by extensive narration of typically irrelevant incidents and terminated by an anticlimax or a pointless punchline.

Technically, Masterpiece is not a true genre — this refers to advanced screenwriting that in many ways goes beyond genre. Writing one of these means creating complex characters, inventing your own story structures, tracking twisted moral arcs, and expressing the big themes. In all of these stories the hero is trapped in a system.

For critical success in film world you need to combine one or more genres with Drama.

The Epic story has a large scale. There will be a large arena — probably with a limited arena and a seemingly endless number of satellite arenas (e.g. Harry Potter). The setting will often be a time of war or some other societal crisis. The story will typically take place over a long stretch of time. The central conflict of the film is usually seen as having far-reaching effects, often changing the course of history. The main characters’ actions are often central to the resolution of the central conflict.

Melodrama is about extremes, whereas drama isn’t about absolute right and wrong.

The heroes of Coming-Of-Age stories are typically teenagers. Almost without exception, coming of age stories are about the transition from adolescence to adulthood, from being defined by family or society to defining oneself. The hero is somewhere between 10-years-old (Elliott in E.T.) and late teens (the four heroes of American Graffiti).

The Bildungsroman is a specific subgenre of coming-of-age story. It is especially prominent in literature and focuses on the protagonist’s psychological and moral growth, and thus character change is extremely important.

Storytelling Tips from Northern Lights by Phillip Pullman

Northern Lights is a YA story with broad appeal for adults. It follows mythic structure.

The story has been adapted into a film (2007) and also into an action/adventure puzzle game (by Sega). While in some cases films can be just as enjoyable — or even more enjoyable — than the books upon which they are based, that is nowhere near true in this case. There are many reasons for this which resulted from too many cooks spoiling the broth. Not least: Continue reading

Picturebook Study: More and Better by Margaret Neve (1980)

STORY WORLD

Once upon a time there was a green valley, with a hundred farmhouse windows shining across the meadows. People were happy and prosperous there, but as the years went by the land grew poor. Many farmers left the valley for the town.

Continue reading

Teachers In Children’s Literature

THE EARLIEST TEACHERS IN STORIES

The teacher archetype is related to the traditional ‘wise old man’ and ‘wise old woman’ archetype seen in many older stories. The teacher is the modern equivalent of these people, dishing out advice to help the protagonist get through the story. Teachers can be mentors, opponents, fake opponents, or very much background characters. In YA, teachers can also be love opponents. Continue reading

Film Study: We Are The Best (2013)

This is an adaptation of Coco Moodysson’s (director Moodysson’s wife’s) autobiographical graphic novel which she never completely finished.

PREMISE

Three girls in 1980s Stockholm decide to form a punk band — despite not having any instruments and being told by everyone that punk is dead.

STORY WORLD

  1. The year is 1982. This is the world of punk, and without having the graphic novel in front of me (which looks like it stars punk characters), the director definitely prides himself on being a punk and antiestablishment. In the early 80s punk had supposedly died and New Wave ruled.
  2. The creator of the autobigraphical graphic novel says there were no role models around that time for girls of this age. There were Swedish girl bands, but they were older and their songs were about having sex “and we thought that was disgusting. We wanted to look tougher, like boys.” A modern audience might at first read these girls as proto-lesbian but context is clue; these girls are perhaps a little femme phobic, and have definitely grown up in an environment which equates toughness with masculinity. So that’s where that comes from.
  3.  Stockholm, Sweden. These are city kids who seem to attend public school but without the ‘inner city’ problems you might find in somewhere like America. There’s enough money. That’s where some irony comes in — these girls are too young and too sheltered to really know what they’re standing up against.
  4. Winter.

STORY STRUCTURE

Self-revelation, need, desire

This is a coming-of-age story. I believe the characters are 13. Mira Barkhammar, who plays Bobo , was actually 13 during filming. Mira Grosin, who plays Klara, was only 11; Liv LeMoyne, as Hedvig, was the eldest at 14. Anything around this age is the classic time for a coming-of-age tale.

In the first scene Bobo has already begun her transformation. She has cut her hair, and we see her mother embarrassing her by pointing out the new short cut to a large gathering of adult friends at a party. Over the course of this story, Bobo learns that she doesn’t need to play second fiddle to her more exuberant, prettier friend Klara. She takes the first step with a boy. Rather than being the follower of Klara, the addition of the conservative Christian Hedvig to their group means that Bobo learns, like Hedvig, to think for herself. She also learns not to let a boy come between her and her best girlfriends.

At the beginning Bobo already knows that she doesn’t want to be like everybody else. This is what has drawn her to punk. But she hasn’t yet learnt to be her own person entirely — she’s under the influence of Klara.

She is wrong about her own uniqueness and individuality. She professes to not care about what others think of her, but she is deeply wounded by rejection from the boys who she doesn’t even like. She’s on the right track to intellectual freedom, but her need for peer acceptance is holding her back.

She is also dismissive of everything and anyone who doesn’t fit her version of cool. She can’t accept Hedvig as a friend without wanting to change her first. She is dismissive of other people’s musical tastes, including Hedvig’s.

At first it seems as if Hedvig changes the most — why isn’t she the (secret?) hero? But take a closer look and you’ll see that even though Hedvig has her hair cut, she hasn’t changed that much; she is solid and independent at the beginning of the film, and remains so throughout. Sure, she’s gained two new friends and become more cool than she was, but she is still the same basic person. Bobo definitely ‘grows’ more than either Hedvig or Klara. Klara doesn’t really demonstrate that she’s changed at all. She thinks she’s the best at the beginning of the film, and even in the final scene she declares ‘I am the best’, showing that she’s all about her own self. She genuinely doesn’t care about other people, or what they think — even when those people are her best friends.

Ghost

Later in the film, when Bobo is being comforted by Klara after throwing up on Klara’s older brother’s records, Bobo tells Klara that she’s sick of Klara getting all the boys and being invited to all the parties. We don’t know it at the start, but Bobo has a history of rejection. This explains in retrospect why she has been drawn to punk and to Klara, and why she is so upset when Klara hooks up with the punk boy they go to meet.

Story World

The arena is a school and its local surrounds in Stockholm, Sweden.

They are heading into winter time and snow has settled on the ground. This means the characters are forced to basically live indoors, except for the scene on the roof, when Bobo sort of threatens to jump off. The season is significant because it’s an ironic one — coming of age stories are often about ‘blooming’, and therefore spring, but punk is an ironic, subversive, transgressive genre, and so the story inverts the usual season and has Bobo heading in to winter.

The city is an entirely man-made space.

The important tool for the girls is an electric guitar, because an electric guitar will propel them into the realm of ‘cool’, or so they think.

This is a contemporary story set around 2013.

Weakness & Need (& Problem)

Bobo has distanced herself from the crowd, which is fine, except her only ally in the world is Klara, who is an imperfect friend. Klara can be a little callous, and is inclined to take the limelight. Bobo has no self-confidence. Feeling she is ugly, she has cut off her hair and refused make-up to buck the expectations of her gender.

Under Klara’s influence, Bobo also can treat others badly, which appears when the two of them basically bully Hedvig into getting a punk haircut.

Bobo’s crisis at the beginning of the story is that she is not accepted by her peers, namely boys. She has no idea how to fix this and doesn’t even know she wants to.

Inciting Incident

Bobo and Klara impetuously decide to start a punk band and participate in the autumn concert. But they are too late, and the middle-aged woman in charge says they’ll have to come back next year. This annoys Klara so much that she thinks if she can’t play in the autumn concert she doesn’t want to play at all. But they decide to keep playing so they can show everyone just how good they can be.

But actually there is a series of three inciting incidents. This is preceded by the older boys calling them ugly. The girls decide to book the drum room, partly to piss them off and partly because they genuinely want to start a band. The desire to perform in the autumn concert comes out of that.

The audience can see that these girls are nowhere near good enough to play in any concert. They’re full of verve but have no skill. By putting themselves forward, they’re risking further and more permanent rejection, which puts the audience on edge. (Similar to About A Boy.) In this way, the two girls have got themselves into ‘the worst trouble of their lives’.

Desire

Bobo wants to be cool in a non-mainstream way. She is a conformist non-conformist. The goal that extends throughout the story — the concrete goal — is to perform in front of an audience and achieve accolades of some kind.

The importance of this desire increases throughout the story because with the addition of an accomplished and gifted musician (Hedvig) they become genuinely accomplished. The stakes become higher because the friendship between Bobo and Klara is compromised over a boy, so they need to reunite, and they can do this by working in unison to perform a concert.

Ally/Allies

Bobo’s main ally is her best friend Klara. Klara and Bobo share the same desire of wanting to prove themselves punk and prove themselves to be cool.

Opponent

The most obvious opponents (though they are numerous they’re basically one personality) are the older boys at school who refuse to take the girls seriously. They call them ugly and try to bar them from the drum room and insist on calling theirs a ‘girl band’. The boys, too, are competing for the goal of performing on stage and winning cool points.

Bobo’s mother is oblivious to Bobo’s inner workings, and doesn’t realise that by drawing attention to her daughter’s hair in front of a crowd she is being excruciatingly inappropriate — Bobo cut her hair to avoid attention rather than to get it — her whole point is that looks shouldn’t matter, so compliments defeat the point.

Fake-ally opponent

Klara is the fake-ally opponent — sometimes ally, sometimes opponent — if only because she does ‘punk’ better. She has a more genuinely punk hair cut. She probably rates higher on the sociopathic spectrum, and is able to genuinely not care. Bobo doesn’t have this luxury. She is empathetic, as demonstrated when her mother breaks up with the latest man friend. By following Klara, Bobo is self-sabotaging, somewhat. Klara wants Bobo to be cool, but she wants to keep her in her place. She doesn’t want her to go out with her brother, for instance, shitting all over the fact that Bobo likes him. Both Klara and Bobo are competing for the exact same goal, so that’s good.

Klara has sufficient complexity to be this person. She knows about the party the boys are having, but hasn’t revealed it to Bobo. She appears to be up-front about everything, but her candour comes across as aggressive. “I just want to check you’re not jealous, or anything.”

The other interesting thing about Klara is that she starts to feel more like Bobo’s ally as the story progresses. By the end of the film they are on a more equal footing, despite Klara maintaining that ‘she’ is the best, despite Hedvig protesting that ‘we are the best’.

In this story, Klara was introduced after Bobo. Klara has no specific plan to bring her friend down — hers is more of an ignorant dilemma.

Changed Desire And Motive/First Revelation & Decision

While the girls started off wanting to perform in the autumn concert not caring that they sounded shit, they changed to wanting to learn their instruments properly after witnessing Hedvig on stage. (The reveal is that Hedvig is pretty good at music, even though she’s super uncool.)

Plan

Now they’ll persuade Hedvig to teach them about music, and in turn they’ll draw her out of Christianity so she can be cool like them. (And she won’t bring them down.)

Opponent’s Plan and Main Counterattack

The boys continue to undermine the girls.

Klara has a plan to contact some punk boys they know of, so they can go and meet and make boyfriends. But she doesn’t really care about whether the other two make boyfriends. While Klara is not deliberately evil, these scenes give the audience a chance to see the regular dynamic that goes on between these two best friends.

Drive

Klara decides to get Bobo back. She calls the boy who liked Klara (though he doesn’t seem to any more) and arranges a meet up. She wants to persuade him to be her boyfriend, not Klara’s. She manages this, though the boy tells Bobo he’ll have to break up with Klara first, then never does. Calling your best friend’s boyfriend is a bit of an immoral action, even if the relationship seems to have fizzled. But Bobo is desperate for acceptance. We see this when she spits on her own reflection in the bathroom mirror.

Bobo’s actions have now changed in a fundamental way because before this she would never have gone behind Klara’s back, or assumed she could take a boy from Klara.

Attack by ally

There are two plots in this story: There’s the conflict between Bobo/Klara and Hedvig (or Hedvig’s mother), then there is the battle between Bobo and Klara as they each wrestle for power within the relationship.

In the first plot line, Hedvig’s mother is the voice of reason when she calls the girls to her house for tea and biscuits then gives them an example about how they shouldn’t try to change someone just because they want to be her friend. You have to accept people as they come.

In the other plot line, Hedvig (her mother’s daughter) is the voice of reason the whole way through, encouraging the girls to reconcile. She’s not a very outspoken girl, so she needs to be pressed to say much, but there are conversations in bedrooms during which Hedwig refuses to join in with the other two when it comes to shitting over other people’s likes.

Apparent Defeat

Despite every effort to be cool, even cutting her hair short like Klara’s, Bobo still misses out on a boy she really likes. We see how devastating this is for Bobo when she jumps around on the roof, risking her life, trying to divert the hug that’s going on between her best friend and the boy she likes.

Obsessive drive/changed drive

The revelation Bobo has is that: No matter how hard she has tried, she cannot win boys as long as Klara’s around.

She’s going to have to take control.

Audience Revelation

Sure enough, when we see Klara and Bobo in action with the boys, we not only see the day in its own right, but we see the whole history of their friendship. We see that Klara is indeed more popular with the boys (at first) and that Bobo plays second fiddle. We are probably older and wiser (this is a film for adults) and know more about the friendship dynamics than Bobo does. Because of this history, we are now given a little distance between ourselves and Bobo, and we’ll see why she does what she does, by calling the boyfriend.

Gate/Gauntlet/Visit to Death

Bobo spitting on the mirror shows us that she has reached rock bottom in self-esteem. It happens after their visit to see the boys.

Battle

Sure enough, there is a showdown between Bobo and Klara when Bobo tells Klara that the boy has been ‘cheating on you… with me’. The fight gets physical and is broken up by pacifist Hedvig. This shows how similar Bobo and Klara are at this point.

Self-revelation

Bobo learns that she can’t be Klara, but she is just as worthy as Klara.

Bobo has also learned from Hedvig that you can’t change people in order for them to be your friend, and she applies this same revelation to herself. She can’t change herself to fit her ‘ideal version of a friend’.

Moral decision

Bobo has learned that she must ‘be herself’ rather than be a follower. She demonstrates this resolve onstage with the audience booing at her.

New Equilibrium

This is demonstrated on the bus home in the final scene after their disastrous concert. They have been rejected in the most terrible way — an entire audience turned against them. But they are determined to call themselves ‘the best’ anyway.

Film Study: Carrie (2013)

This is a remake of a 1976 movie based on Stephen King’s 1974 (breakout) novel. Critics don’t like this new one much. The criticism is mostly that it was unnecessary because the first adaptation was so good. The original has a slower, more sinister pace and the main thing the reboot did was to add the social media dimension and some modern SFX. However, this is — unfortunately — a timeless story of high school exclusion and bullying.

PREMISE

A shy girl, outcasted by her peers and sheltered by her religious mother, unleashes telekinetic terror on her small town after being pushed too far at her senior prom. (In the book it’s called the Spring Ball — a lot of the slang/words have been updated.)

DESIGNING PRINCIPLE

Your own powers can be the end of you. Continue reading

Storytelling Tips From Desperate Housewives (Season One)

TAGLINES

Taglines are for the marketing copy. 

Season One: Everyone has a little dirty laundry…/Secrets. Romance. Murder. All On One Street.

 

THE LOGLINE/PREMISE

For maximum narrative drive the premise should be all about the plot. A premise that works will contain some sort of contrast.

“Secrets and truths unfold through the lives of female friends in one suburban neighborhood, after the mysterious suicide of a neighbor.”

The contrast in this logline is that ‘friends’ have ‘secrets’ in the ‘suburbs’, an arena we generally associate with ‘knowing everybody’s business’ and ‘nothing interesting ever happens’.

GENRE BLEND

drama, mystery, satire

When Desperate Housewives first aired in 2004 it was the tone which drew me in. I hadn’t seen anything with quite that balance of 1950s housewife satire, comedy and mystery. It’s easy to forget that now because we’ve since seen a number of TV dramas with a similar vibe: Pretty Little Liars for one was pitched as ‘Desperate Housewives For Teens’. Like Desperate Housewives, there is a cast of four distinct female archetypes who are friends. There is also a slight supernatural overtone to the story, with a dead person pulling strings/narrating omnisciently.

The women on this show aren’t real women — nothing like it. An excellent example of the ‘unreality’ of the characters can be heard in the audio commentary to episode 15, season one. Marc Cherry is especially proud of his writing of this episode (and it was the first time they shifted to their new, more expansive set), so he guides DVD owners through the episode they called Impossible.  In this one, John’s roommate Justin blackmails Gabrielle into having sex with him by becoming their new gardener. Gabrielle turns the gardener down, both for sex and for free garden work with obvious strings attached, but her husband lets him in and he surprises her while she’s in her own bathroom upstairs. The male writer and producer tell us on the audio commentary that actress Eva Longoria did an excellent job of ‘taking control of the situation’ but was ‘rooted to the spot’ for the first few takes, terrified at the prospect of finding a well-muscled young man confronting her for sex in her own space. The scene is meant to be played as comedy. Longoria’s acting made it somewhere there, but I did watch this episode the first time thinking that it’s not good comedy material, and a ‘real woman’ would not react with Gabrielle’s bravado — not with genuine bravado — in that particular situation. From my perspective, the male writer on this occasion simply did not understand how terrifying this scenario would be for a woman, and seemed a bit mystified about why Eva Longoria had trouble acting her part in it.

The men are archetypes, too. Even the children are preternaturally scheming/mature/creepy, harking back to a time before the concept of childhood existed. In this ways and many others, Desperate Housewives is a series of fairytales.

The show was originally pitched with ‘comedy’ in its genre blend but none of the networks were interested. When it was re-pitched as ‘satire’ suddenly it found a home. Networks had assumed it was just another soap. But they realised the audience was ready for a ‘self-aware’ version of the daytime soap, and changing the genre from ‘comedy’ to ‘satire’ did the trick.

SIMILAR TO

Continue reading

Film Study: Me and Earl and the Dying Girl (2015)

Greg […] is coasting through senior year of high school as anonymously as possible, avoiding social interactions like the plague while secretly making spirited, bizarre films with Earl, his only friend. But both his anonymity and friendship threaten to unravel when his mother forces him to befriend a classmate with leukemia.

Deadline Hollywood

 

Okay, I admit it. I thought, “This is very much like The Fault In Our Stars.”

But remember, the sick-lit genre popular in this Third Golden Age Of Children’s Literature did not actually start with John Green’s YA novel — it started way back in the late 1990s with The Lovely Bones.

The YA novel by Jesse Andrews Me and Earl and the Dying Girl was published in 2012 and released as a film three years later in 2015. Jesse Andrews was the main scriptwriter for that. Here I’ll be talking about the film because I haven’t read the book.

Apart from a breakdown of story structure, in this post I’d like to touch on:

  • “sick-lit” — yes, it’s a derisive term but what else can I call it?
  • the female maturity principle
  • mothers in coming-of-age stories
  • tear-jerkiness and how to achieve it
  • the metafictive elements of this self-aware coming-of-age tale

TAGLINE

“A little friendship never killed anyone.”

GENRE BLEND

drama, comedy >> coming-of-age tearjerker

DESIGNING PRINCIPLE

I’m having trouble with this. Could it really be as simple as:

Sometimes it takes proximal death to teach us the value of life?

STORYWORLD

The author himself attended Schenley High School, Oakland, Pittsburgh, not that long ago (as of 2017 he’s only 34). The story is set there, and suburban surrounds.

The majority of the film adaptation was actually taped at Schenley High School.  When the cameras showed us the corridors from above I noticed that the tops of the lockers were dusty and the place had a general run-down look to it compared to slightly more glossy depictions of high schools in other teen dramas coming out of America. As it turns out, this may not have been because the set designers were actively aiming for a run-down state school — the real Schenley High School closed its doors back in 2008 after 99 years. This was originally an expensive school to build — one of the first to cost a million dollars, which was a lot back then. In 2013 the historic but closed school was sold to some developers who plan to turn it into luxury apartments. Anyhow, the filmmakers must have scooted in there before that happened. Continue reading

Storytelling Tips From Kings Of Summer (2013)

Sometimes when you find out a story used to be called something different right up until the marketing team stepped in, the original name can offer extra insight. Kings of Summer was originally called “Toy’s House”. The main character is called Joe Toy, and I did spend a bit of time wondering if this is a symbolic name. The boys build themselves a house in the woods and set about pretending that they’re living off the grid. And it really is a pretence, because all the while they’re using a sum of stolen money to buy roast chickens from a nearby fast food restaurant. After learning the original name I realised this is basically a Doll’s House Story, in which characters play out a scenario in a form of play that becomes quite serious.

GENRE BLEND

comedy, drama >> coming-of-age, adventure story

I will call this ‘quirky comedy’. Continue reading

Teaching Emotional Literacy Via Chapter Books

“Everybody else on the block rides two-wheelers. Only babies ride tricycles.” She made this remark because she knew Howie still rode his tricycle, and she was so angry about the ribbon she wanted to hurt his feelings.

Ramona the Pest, Beverly Cleary

Adult readers are left to work out motivations, ironies and desires for ourselves — we read between the lines. And this is true for young adult novels, too. But when children are learning to read they are also learning to recognise and name their feelings. Chapter books such as the Ramona series are good at doing that because they add that little extra bit of explanation.

This little bit of extra explanation can be found in children’s books for older readers, too:

“So you should have told me before, that’s what. You shouldn’t hide things like that from people, because they feel stupid when they find out, and that’s cruel.

Northern Lights, Philip Pullman (Lyra to her father)

When an adult is unable to identify their own feelings it’s called alexithymia.

Alexithymia is defined by:

  1. difficulty identifying feelings and distinguishing between feelings and the bodily sensations of emotional arousal
  2. difficulty describing feelings to other people
  3. constricted imaginal processes, as evidenced by a scarcity of fantasies
  4. a stimulus-bound, externally oriented cognitive style.

Alexithymia is found more commonly in the autistic population, but not all autistic people have trouble understanding and identifying emotions. In fact, only about one in two autistic people have trouble with this.

Likewise, a surprisingly high 10 percent of non-autistic individuals are alexithymic.

Reading and understanding complex and difficult emotions are skills that need to be learned by all of us. Another reason not to skip the chapter books!

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