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Welcome to the Kite Tales Writing Prompt: #KTWriteOn. Each writing challenge is crafted by a kid-lit publishing professional to help spark ideas and creative energy. This prompt was created by Stephanie Guerdan of HarperCollins Children’s Books. Stephanie acquires and edits middle grade and teen books. Some of the books she has worked on include the acclaimed debut We Set the Dark on Fire by Tehlor Kay Mejia and the Soldier Dogs series. She likes queer fiction, weird science, and Star Wars.

By Stephanie Guerdan

There are so many different ways to tell a story — even if you narrow that down to just the format of a book. From traditional prose novels to full-color graphic novels, from highly illustrated to photographic, and everything in between.

Stephanie Guerdan

One format that’s particularly close to my heart is mixed media. This kind of storytelling eschews traditional prose and instead tells a story through a collection of various kinds of media. In a way, it’s taking Marilyn Cram Donahue’s collaging prompt to the next level.  Instead of using your collage images as inspiration, you’re creating your own media and using them to tell the story itself.

For a long time, the only place I found mixed media storytelling was in fan fiction — think, an Avengers story told entirely through news coverage, tweets about the heroes, and group texts between the various characters. These sorts of stories blew my mind, because they told a compelling and resonant story in a way that didn’t depend on traditional exposition or narration. But it must be more difficult when you have to create the world from scratch, right? I never expected to see this format in a bookstore.

So, you can imagine my excitement when I first read Amie Kaufmann and Jay Kristoff’s Illuminae, a science-fiction epic that’s told, rather than in straight prose, as a collection of digital diary entries, chat logs, surveillance footage transcriptions, countdown clocks, and other ephemera. It’s super accessible even to reluctant readers because despite being a thick book, it’s designed in such a way that there are very few pages that are all text. But at the same time, it offers a challenge to the reader, because you have to pay attention to how all the pieces fit together to create the larger story.

I’m lucky enough to work on a few mixed media titles at Harper. One is Joe Ballarini’s A Babysitter’s Guide to Monster Hunting, which is written as if it’s the protagonist’s own copy of the titular Guide, where she pastes pictures, drawings, maps, and other info that’s relevant to monster hunting and catalogs her adventures. This all falls alongside annotated guide entries that describe monsters from the Boogeyman to Bigfoot so that sitters can identify them in the wild.

Another is Lisa Greenwald’s TBH series, which is told through text group chats, notes passed in class, postcards, and emails. It’s bright and fun, and it deals with some heavy topics at times that are nonetheless easy for young readers to digest because they’re told in a way that feels familiar. These series are both middle grade, but that doesn’t mean the format is necessarily young. As I mentioned, Illuminae was my first original fiction encounter with the idea, and it deals with a lot of dark topics. The mixed media world is your oyster, and it’s just waiting for you to slurp it…okay, yuck. That metaphor got away from me.

Now it’s over to you, writers! I’m challenging you to write something that’s in a mixed media format. Don’t worry about design skills right now — that sort of thing can come later. You can always just mark different pieces of text — letter, email, etc. — in the meantime, just so you’re getting your ideas on the page.

And depending on your setting, there are so many ways to approach this. If you’re writing historical or fantasy, maybe some of your media objects are pages ripped from old manuscripts, letters, or newspapers (if your world has those). A contemporary story is open to every kind of media we have at our fingertips these days, from Twitter and texts, to email, blog posts, and Instagram comments. And a sci-fi setting opens up even more possibilities, because you can imagine whatever sort of media you want!

This is also a great way to practice honing voice — how does a character’s voice differ when they’re writing in their journal versus when they’re sending an email or scribbling notes in the margin of a textbook?

I can’t wait to see what sort of stories this inspires!   

To learn more about Stephanie, follow her on Twitter: @captainsteph or listen to her cosplay podcast, Character Reveal. You can also check out a previous Kite Tales interview with Stephanie.

If you want to share your work, progress, or ideas based on this writing prompt, or if you just want to connect with others who are tackling this challenge, comment on this blog post or Tweet us  @SCBWISOCALLA with the hashtag #KTWriteOn.

Need more inspiration? Check out all the past #KTWriteOn prompts.

For more fantastic content, community, events, and other professional development opportunities, become a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators today! Not sure if there is a chapter in your area? Check here.


Portrait courtesy of Stephanie Guerdan. Book covers from Knoph for Young Readers and Katherine Tegen Books. Stock image by Dustin Lee on Unsplash.