Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Teacher as Writer. And Vice Versa - Guest Post by Darby Karchut

Hi everyone! *waves from Colorado* Thanks so much for having me here today and letting me yammer on about my dual identity.

Besides writing middle grade and tween novels, I also teach at a middle school. To be more accurate, at a junior high school. I teach seventh grade social studies, which in Colorado means covering the geography, history, economics, and political systems of the regions of the Eastern Hemisphere.

Yes, I am sleep deprived nine months out of the year.

But, man, oh, man, do I love these twelve and thirteen year olds. One moment, they are just big kids and begging for a turn to play with my collection of action figures. (Because nothing promotes cultural literacy and awareness like a sword fight between Aragorn and Obi-Wan Kenobi. For those that are wondering, Kenobi always wins. Dude, it’s a light saber.) Then, the next moment, they are discussing the ramification of outsourcing on a country’s economy.

The characters in my books mirror my students in so many ways. Middle school students are more complex than many adults think they are. They can be emotional, yes. But not all the time. Sometimes, they are thoughtful, questioning, and quite analytical. They can be self-absorbed, but not all the time. Sometimes, they are incredibly aware of the hurt or joy of others and can be compassionate without calculating the cost.

All this “juice and joy” is grist for my author-brain. That part of my brain that sucks up the conversations and actions of these not-quite-children-not-quite-teens, then spills it back out onto the pages of my books. This especially helps me in writing dialogue. Here’s a couple of things about dialogue I’ve notice over and over:


1. Slang. This can be tricky, as use of pop culture words and idioms can date a book. I was surprised how little fad words are used.

2. Rhythm: Teens tend to talk in choppy segments, often interrupting each other. But I’ve also notice they speak in more formal sentence structures when they are address important issues or the Big Questions.

I count myself blessed to be able to write books for these students, especially the boys, who grace my classroom each day. And when I spot one of them reading my book, it never fails to give me goose bumps.

Thanks again for letting me visit today and talk about my favorite people!

...Catch up with Darby at her author website; purchase her latest, FINN FINNEGAN, here.



  1. Yay for teacher-writers! And yes, the general population seriously underestimates middle schoolers...

  2. Thanks for having me visit today and brag about middle schoolers. They are an amazing group to work with. I adore my students!

  3. I bet your students adore you too, Darby. Great post.

  4. You are so right, Darby. Kids are more complex and intuitive than most think. We'd all do well to remember that! Your observance of rhythm was very interesting! Thanks!