Monday, December 8, 2014

Of interviews, Tammy Theriault, and cookies

Today, I'm at Tammy Theriault's blog, hanging out and participating in the craziest interview I've ever had the chance to be a part of. Come hang out! We can all be crazy (and eat cookies) together.


Friday, December 5, 2014

The Parenting Problem in MG: #8 Adventures Happen Away From the Parents

We are on our final day of the 8 part series on the parenting problem in middle grade! We've been talking about ways to get the kids away from the parents, so that they can go off and do the really big things, and solve all the really big problems, which isn't so easy for the kids to do when parents are around to step in and do it for them. Or at least help way too much. If you've missed any of the other seven, you can get to them here: the Orphan, the Absent / Busy / Bad Parent, the Capable Parent / Capable Child, the Sibling as Parent, the Parents who are Missing Entirely the Present Family, but Adventures Lie Within the Range of Normal, and when Adventures Lie Outside of Where Parents Normally Are.Today, we're going to talk about getting them physically away. Far, far away.

Adventures Happen Away From the Parents

Characteristics:

This can happen with any parent dynamic-- it's all about getting the kids away from their guardians so that the adventure can begin. Once you get the kids away from parents / authority figures, you are free to take them on any adventure you'd like.

Okay, so yesterday we talked about the one where the adventures lie outside of where parents normally are. In that one, the kids go the places where kids normally go without parents. In this one, the kids go where they normally DON'T without parents.

Examples:

Okay, I'm going to do lots of examples on this one.


  • In The Inventor's Secret, the two main characters have parents (and a grandpa who is heavily involved), but the action takes place at a boarding school for gifted kids, so they are physically separated from them.
  • In The Runaway King, the main character isn't getting separated from parents-- he doesn't have any relatives-- he physically separates himself from his advisers and from his castle itself to sneak off and solve the big problems he couldn't from where he was.
  • In Better Nate Than Ever, Nate hops on a bus to New York, and has his own adventures by himself in the Big Apple, while making his parents think he was at a friend's house.
  • In Sunny Sweet is So NOT Sorry, all of the action takes place in a hospital-- one the two girls have gotten to themselves.
  • In The Girl Who Could Fly, the main girl is taken by some evil people to something that's kind of like a boarding school. So she was physically removed from her family, although for most of the book, it wasn't by choice.
  • Okay, let's talk Wizards. This is kind of a brilliant show, in that it treats this method very differently. The kids aren't physically removed from the parents, but they are removed. If you don't know the storyline at all, the kids can do magic, and are taught by their dad, who hasn't been able to do magic since he married their mom, who has never been able to do magic. So their separation is in their skills, not in location. They have to solve their own problems, since most of the problems are caused by using magic and the parents can't help.

And there you go! All eight! If you're an MG writer, which ones have you used before?

To those of you who celebrate Christmas, I wish you all a very happy Three-Weeks-Until-Christmas! (You're welcome for that panic-inducing friendly reminder. :))

Thursday, December 4, 2014

The Parenting Problem in MG: #7 Adventures Lie Outside of Where Parents Normally Are

If you've been following along, we're on our 7th of 8 methods of separating kids from the parents / guardians / authority figures when writing middle grade books. One of the most important things to do, since the kids are the ones who really need to shine, and they can't do that if the adults are solving all the really big issues for them. And there are so many ways to do it! If you've missed any of the past ones, we've already talked about the Orphan, the Absent / Busy / Bad Parent, the Capable Parent / Capable Child, the Sibling as Parent, the Parents who are Missing Entirely and the Present Family, but Adventures Lie Within the Range of Normal. Today, we're on to the adventures happening away from the parents!

Adventures Lie Outside
of Where Parents Normally Are

Characteristics:

The parent situation can be anything you want it to be, because it doesn't have a strong bearing on the kids solving the problems, since most of the problems happen where the parents usually aren't present (such as school, bedroom, sports/music/arts practice, etc.).

Examples:

Okay, let's talk about these examples for a minute.


In Wednesdays in the Tower, the main character, Celie, is in the castle with her family. They're around, and she can go to them at any time, but all of the adventure parts-- and the parts where she really gets into trouble-- happen in her room or in the tower, or in parts of the castle where her family isn't.

In The Glitter Trap, all of MC Lacey's problems happen when she is either at school, walking to and from school, at a friend's house, or in her bedroom. Her family is there at home, but the parts where she solves the book's problems all happen when she's away from them.

And, of course, in P and F, the adventures happen in the backyard. (Well, and beyond, but that's where it all starts.)

Pros:

You usually never need to figure out how to get the kids away from their parents, because they already are, just by being in those places where kids that age are typically away from their parents anyway.

Cons:

All of their problems / problem solving generally have to take place within the physical areas where the parents would let them go on their own.

Tomorrow, peeps! TOMORROW, we'll get to the 8th and final method-- when adventures happen away from the parents. See you then!

Wednesday, December 3, 2014

The Parenting Problem in MG: #6 Present Family, but Adventures Lie Within Range of Normal

Hi, all! How is the writing going? Anyone just trying to recover from NaNoWriMo?

For the last while, we've been talking about how to get the kids away from the adults who like to... you know-- get in there and fix everything so the kids can't. Which, as cool as kids think that is in real life, isn't so awesome in books. Kids love to see kids doing the fixing. So far, we've talked about a lot of different ways to get the kids separated from the adults around them. We've talked about the Orphan, the Absent / Busy / Bad Parent, the Capable Parent / Capable Child, the Sibling as Parent, and the Parents who are Missing Entirely.

Today, let's talk about the family who is actually there with the protag!

Present Family, but Adventures Lie Within Range of Normal

Characteristics:
 
Generally a traditional family dynamic, where the family spends time together and is fairly functional. Most issues they run into are issues very normal kids would encounter. (And "traditional family dynamic" doesn't mean it has to be a mom and dad as the parents. It can any parent / guardian type. The big thing is that they are around, usually with siblings (or even cousins) in the mix, and that a lot of the issues or problems happen at home and with other family members involved.)

Examples:

I'm going to go with some kid TV shows here, because they are fantastic examples of the present family / normal adventures method.


In all three of these examples, the kids live with the parents, and a good portion of the time, they are at home. The rest of the time, they're at school or places nearby their home, usually with siblings there, too.

Pros:
  • This type works really great for contemporary books, and is instantly relatable to kids.
  • Since the parent(s) are actually around, you can include more conflict / interactions with them than you can with other stories where you are trying to separate them more. The kids still have to be the ones to solve their own problems, but they do get more input on how to do that from the other members of the family.
  • There's more history, depth of motivation, and consequence when the parent(s) / guardians are present.
Cons:
  • You generally can't have very big adventures or problems. And by "big," I mean big in reference to location (how far from home the story takes place) or breadth (so no saving the world :)). You can definitely go big in regards to the depth, though (or how serious the issues are).
Tomorrow, we'll tackle the method of when Adventures Lie Outside of Where Parents Normally Are.

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

The Parenting Problem in MG: #5 Missing Entirely

Hi hi hi! I hope your Thanksgiving was INCREDIBLE! Mine sure was. Times two. Since both mine and my hubby's families mostly live nearby, we get to have Thanksgiving twice! (But luckily they're on different days, because pie, people! PIE.)

So, for the last several days, we've been talking about writing middle grade, and how to get the parents / guardians away from the kids, so that they kids can do the really big, impressive things that solve the problems, without those pesky adults stepping in to save the day. So far, we've talked about The Orphan, the Absent / Busy / Bad Parent, the Capable Parent / Capable Child, and the Sibling as Parent. Today we are talking about those parents who are mysteriously MISSING.

Parents Missing Entirely

Characteristics:

Generally the parents are never even mentioned, as if they don't even (and didn't ever) exist.

Example:
Pros:
  • It's the easiest method. Because, come on-- if there are no parents, then there isn't a single thing you have to do to separate them from the adults. They already are!
Cons:
  • The reader will always (always, always, always!) question why. The real trick is getting the reader to not be bothered by not knowing why there are no parents / guardians.
  • Only some books will have a whimsical or fantastical enough feel to pull it off.
  • Without parents, the kids have no parents to please or to have as role models, and the opinions of parents really matter at this age. So with no parents, you lose that element of your story (and also lose out on some of the relatability kids will have with your characters).
Come back tomorrow, when we'll talk about a present family, but when adventures lie within the range of normal.

Monday, December 1, 2014

Great new MG action / adventure! PALADIN PAWN by Michael D. Young

Looking for a new middle grade book to sate your action / adventure appetite? Check out this fabulous book that just released a couple of days ago:


Paladin Pawn
by Michael D. Young
Middle Grade Fantasy
Trifecta Books
When nerdy Rich Witz unwittingly becomes a Paladin, a white knight, in training, he is thrust into a world where flunking a test can change the course of history and a mysterious bully is playing for keeps with his life.

Rich’s grandmother leaves him with one thing before disappearing for good: a white chess pawn with his initials engraved on it. The pawn marks him as the next in an ancient line of white knights. He must prove himself in a life or death contest against his Nemesis, a dark knight in training, all while dealing with math homework and English projects. With the ghost of an ancestor for his guide, he has seven days to complete four tasks of valor before his Nemesis does, or join his guide in the realm of the dead.

As Rich rushes to complete the tasks, he realizes the chilling truth: his Nemesis is masquerading as someone at school and will stop at nothing to make him fail. As the tasks grow ever harder, the other knights reveal to him that his failure will break a centuries-old chain and bring the Paladin order to ruin. If he fails, the dark knights win the right to control the fate of the world, a world without hope or the possibility of a new dawn. So this is one exam Rich has to ace, with no curve and no extra credit.

Michael is a graduate of Brigham Young University and Western Governor’s University with degrees in German Teaching, Music, and Instructional Design. He puts his German to good use teaching online German courses for High School students. Though he grew up traveling the world with his military father, he now lives in Utah with his wife, Jen, and his two sons. Michael enjoys acting in community theater, playing and writing music and spending time with his family. He played for several years with the handbell choir Bells on Temple Square and is now a member of the Mormon Tabernacle Choir.

He is the author of the novels The Canticle Kingdom series, The Last Archangel series, and the Chess Quest series. His also authors several web serials through BigWorldNetwork.com. He publishes anthologies for charity in his Advent Anthologies series. He has also had work featured in various online and print magazines such as Bards and Sages Quarterly, Mindflights, Meridian, The New Era, Allegory, and Ensign.


Wednesday, November 26, 2014

The Parenting Problem in MG: #4 Sibling as the Parent

Welcome back, everyone who's been following along! If you're just joining us, we've been talking about ways to get the kids away from the parents / guardians when writing middle grade. Because it's only when you get the kid separated from those who would fix all the really big problems that the kid gets to do it themselves. And that's what kids really want to read about when they pick up a middle grade book-- they want to see kids just like them being capable and doing the hard things that save the day. So far, we've talked about The Orphan, about the Absent / Busy / Bad Parent, and about the Capable Parent / Capable Child. Today, we get to tackle a Sibling as the Parent!

Sibling as Parent

Characteristics:

The parents are either deceased or otherwise unable to take care of the kids, so they are being raised by an older sibling.

Examples:

I'm going to use a couple of movies / TV shows as the examples, because try as I might, I can't come up with good book examples. (I know they're out there, though! If you can think of any of them, please mention in the comments, and I'll get some book examples up here.)


So in Lilo, her parents have died, and her older sister is taking care of her. In Carly, her mom is deceased (I think... I'm not sure I've seen an episode where it has said.) and her dad is in the military and always gone. So she lives with her older brother.

Pros:
  • Let's be honest: siblings generally don't keep as good of an eye on a kid as a parent does. They just don't. And voila! This makes for kids who have much more freedom to go off and be heroes than they would otherwise.
  • It adds an element of sibling dynamic that you don't usually get to explore. The sibling has to not only fill the role of the sibling, but also fill the role of parent, which gets things interesting.
  • Sibling parents tend to be over/underprotective on random and unpredictable things, making them flexible in both good and bad ways.
  • It's not overdone. (Ha! See above inability to list books... ;))
Cons:
  • Coming up with a way to make the circumstances in which the kids would be being raised by a sibling believable can take a lot of work. 
On next Tuesday, we'll talk about parents who are missing entirely. Until then, have the most wonderful of Thanksgivings! I hope it's wonderful and glorious and filled with family and good times and pie.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

The Parenting Problem in MG: #3 Capable Parent / Capable Child

If you've missed it, we've been talking about how to get kids away from the adults who so want to solve all the big problems, so that the kids can be the ones to solve them all. (SOOOOO important in middle grade books!) We've talked about two of the most common methods for getting the kids separated from the parents / guardians: The Orphan and the Absent / Busy / Bad Parent.

Today, we're talking about one of my FAVORITES METHODS OF ALL TIME. The Capable Parent / Capable Kid. I think what made this one work its way into my alley of love was the TV show Kim Possible. (A.k.a. one of the greatest cartoons of all time.) Kim's mom is a brain surgeon. Her dad is a rocket scientist. They're smart. They're capable. And they're around a good deal of the time. So how do the writers get Kim away from her parents so that she can go save the day? By making her capable as well. Uberly capable, in fact. So much so that her parents can trust her to go fix all the problems, and still make it home in time to do her homework.

Characteristics:

Consists of one or both parents (or even a guardian / guardians, such as grandparents, adoptive parents, etc.) who are capable caretakers. This works when the main character is also a capable child whom they can trust.

Examples:


In Rump, Rump's grandmother is his caretaker. She is a good guardian, and trusts Rump. So when he goes off to find his destiny, it works. In Sky Jumpers, Hope has good parents. There's also a bad situation where she can help, so she goes off with her mom's (but not so much her dad's) blessing. In Kim, they trust her to go off, because they know it'll be okay.

Pros:
  • It is a method not used as common, so there's a lot more room for uniqueness.
  • It can be nice to model good parents. It's something of a rarity.
  • Sadly, a lot of kids don't get to experience this in real life, so it adds an element of fantasy / wish fulfillment.
  • Teachers and parents appreciate when they aren't depicted as incompetent.
Cons:
  • Extremely hard to pull off, especially repeatedly and especially if the book is more realistic. (I can speak to this firsthand! I got my capable character away from her capable parents just fine in book one. But repeating it gets more difficult-- especially if you're trying to do it in a way that doesn't make the parents / guardian or the child seem like they're making a bad decision, and without making the child defy the parents and sneak off, knowing that the capable parent has said no.)
  • You get less sympathy for the character in this area. Nobody is going to cry crocodile tears for your character who has caring adult figures in their lives.
Come on back tomorrow-- we'll talk about the fourth method: the Sibling as the Parent.

Monday, November 24, 2014

The Parenting Problem in MG: #2 the Absent / Busy / Bad Parent

On Friday, we started talking about how to get the kids away from the parents in middle grade books, so that they kids can be the ones to really shine and do the do the hard things, without the responsible adults stepping in to do it for them. We already talked about having your character be an orphan. Today, let's talk about the parents (or parent-figures) in middle grade who.... well... aren't the best role models ever. Because let's face it-- it really helps when the parents are NEVER AROUND. (Haha! I just realized how that last sentence sounds if only read it and nothing else. Parents are awesome. Keep them around. Unless you're writing a book, of course. ;))

The Absent / Busy / Bad Parent

Usually characterized by a single parent, who is caught up in his/her own life, sometimes because of work, sometimes because of social. (Wicked Step-Mother also fits into this category.)


In Janitors, the MC's mom is a single parent who is gone a lot. In Ophelia, her father is in the middle of curating a display for a museum, and extremely busy with that over the course of the book. In Gregor, his mom is very sick, and his dad is busy trying to keep everything in order.

Pros:
  • It's easy to get kids off on an adventure believably. Tons of kids come from single-parent homes where the parent is rather busy and gone a lot (or even double parent homes where they both work a lot), leaving kids free to go on whatever adventures / mischief they'd like. So it's not a stretch for kids to believe that the kids are off doing things on their own.
  • Many kids have parent(s) who fall into this category, so it's very relatable.
Cons:
  • It can annoy the gatekeepers. Middle grade books get read out loud by teachers / parents / guardians / other adults quite a bit. And let's face it: we kind of get tired of the adults in the stories making us look bad.
  • It's been done a lot. So, just like with orphans that we discussed on Friday, it's a little more difficult to make it feel fresh and new.
Tune in tomorrow, when we'll discuss one of my favorites-- Capable Parent / Capable Kid!

Friday, November 21, 2014

The Parenting Problem in MG: #1 The Orphan

I think it's high time for some more posts on Writing Middle Grade! What say ye?

The biggest key thing in writing for a middle grade audience is LETTING THE KIDS SOLVE THE PROBLEM. Seriously. Issue nĂºmero uno. And sometimes that's easy. But sometimes.... not so much. Why? Because responsible adults wouldn't let the kids be the ones to go off and save the world / do the really dangerous things / tackle issues all by themselves. They step in and help. It's what we do.

So the trick is to get them away from the parents or other responsible adults in their lives. For however long is needed in the story for them to really solve the problem on their own.

How do we do that? Make them all orphans? After all, Roald Dahl said, "Kill the parents!"

And that is definitely one way. For the next 8 days (skipping weekends and Thanksgiving, of course!), I'll talk about the eight different methods you can use to separate the kids from the parents/guardians so that they can be the ones to save the day.

First up: Let's go the route of Roald Dahl's suggestions, and talk ORPHANS!

The Orphan

Characteristics: 

Parents are usually dead or missing, and the child is either being raised in an orphanage, a foster home, or by absent / unfit replacement parents.

Examples:


In The Boxcar Children, the kids are orphaned and living by themselves in an abandoned boxcar, figuring out everything they need to survive. In The False Prince, Sage is living in an orphanage before he gets dragged into his adventure. In Harry Potter, Harry is an orphan living with mean relatives. All of them have lost their parents, and are trying to make it on their own.

Pros:
  • The parents are conveniently out of the picture.
  • You get instant sympathy for your character.Who doesn't feel bad for a kid who doesn't have parents? We pretty much instantly root for any kid in this situation.
  • There's more at stake, since no one is coming to their rescue.When they don't have parents somewhere who care for them, there's no hope that they'll get saved by someone else.
  • Kids find the concept fascinating. Think about when you were a kid. You probably wondered several times what it would be like if you were an orphan, and had to do everything on your own-- and had the freedom to do whatever you wanted whenever you wanted.
Cons:
  • Because having orphans as main characters is so prevalent, it makes it harder to feel more fresh and integral to the story.
  • To be able to function on their own, many times the character ends up thinking and acting like an adult, which creates a credibility gap.
Things to look out for:

Look at the reasons why you want to make your character an orphan. Is it integral to the plot? Is it so that you can force the character to grow up faster? To give them more responsibility? To leave them isolated and wounded and more vulnerable?

Or is it just a convenient way to get the parents out of the way?

It will be more compelling when there is a good reason for them to be parent-less.

Check in tomorrow, when we'll talk about the Absent/Busy/Bad parent. Until then, happy writing, all!

And if you live in Central Utah and want to get a jump on your Christmas shopping by getting SIGNED BOOKS (the best Christmas present ever, right? :)), I'll be hanging out with 10 other authors tonight at the Orem, UT Barnes and Noble. If you can, come by and say hi!