Monday, July 29, 2013

Writing Middle Grade: A few random MG tips

Let's talk a few random writing middle grade tips.

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(But first, a random gif that has nothing at all to do with what I'm writing, just because dang. This cat’s impressive.)

So here goes! Random writing middle grade tips:
  • Sacrifice almost anything for clarity.
Try to be dynamic and clear at the same time. You should never confuse.
  • Dialogue attributions should come as soon as possible. 
This is especially important in middle grade, because of how often they are read aloud. Here’s a few examples of the same dialogue, based off one of the first pages of Sky Jumpers:
“Nah. I was just enjoying how fresh the air smelled when I wasn’t standing right next to you,” Hope said. 

When you are reading aloud, even if you don’t do different voices for each character, you still kind of do. If you have to wait this long for a dialogue attribution, you might be getting the wrong “voice.” Let's look at another way of doing it.

“Nah,” Hope said. “I was just enjoying how fresh the air smelled when I wasn’t standing right next to you.” 

That’s an example where we introduce the attribution asap. If your sentence contains more than one clause, you can break it between clauses.

Or you can start with a beat that let’s us know who’s speaking before they even start:

Hope looked up at the ledge she’d stood on moments before that now seemed so teeny. “Nah. I was just enjoying how fresh the air smelled when I wasn’t standing right next to you.” 

Both of these last two ways work.
  • In late, out early is extra important in MG. 
Take a look at each of your scenes. See if you can start it later or end it earlier, and see if the scene still makes sense. Don't ease into the scene-- jump in the middle. Keep it interesting.
  • Awesome names are a huge plus. 
If they're fun to say, have meaning, interesting, outlandish. You can play around a lot while still staying within the tone of the book.
  • Your viewpoint protagonist is generally 2 years older than your intended audience.
But not always. If your intended audience is 10-12, for example, don't make your protag 13. Kids change a LOT between the ages of 12 and 13. Thirteen is an age where characters act outside of MG issues, but aren't quite old enough for most YA issues. If your book is a solid MG book (which generally means ages 8-12, or grades 3-7), then keep the top age at twelve.

And lastly:
  • Kids don’t want to see the forest, they want to meet the bear.
photo credit: Dave Toussaint ( via photopin cc
So take them to meet it.

Miss any previous Writing Middle Grade posts? They can all be found here: MG Needs.

Friday, July 26, 2013

Quotes and Cookies: Time

Holy busy summer, Batman! Are you guys having tons of problems finding time to write, too? It can get a little frustrating, that's for sure.

Which is kind of why this quote is so awesome.

You don’t need that much time. You just have to do it consistently. You could probably write a story in ten minutes a day if you did it for enough days.

~Susan Breen

Lovely, isn't it? Lack of time doesn't matter-- consistency does. Eventually, of course, we need to spend more time if we want to finish this decade, but at times when everything else takes precedence, it's fine to just shoot for consistency.

Now to celebrate summer and all its busyness with some summer-themed cookies! Man. Some people's preferred methods of expending creative energy makes me happy.

photo credit: Flying Pig Party Productions via photopin cc

Nom nom. Have a fantastic week!

Monday, July 22, 2013

Writing Middle Grade: What your main character needs for readers to root for them

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In general, there are two things you need to have your readers root for your main character, regardless of the age group you write for. The first is sympathy. The second we'll get to in just a minute.

If your main character is sympathetic to the reader, they'll invest in them. If the main character isn’t sympathetic to the reader, then it really doesn't matter how unbelievably awesome your plot is or how interesting/unique/rich your setting is, because then the reader really couldn’t care less if bad things happened to your main character. So making a sympathetic character is hugely important.

Ways to make a sympathetic character:

  • Make them good at something. (Even if it’s just something like making them be extra loyal. Make the reader wish they were them, if only so they can be good at that, too)
  • Give them friends. (When they have friends, the friends can say how awesome they are. When a friend says they’re awesome, the reader believes it.)
  • Make them rational. (Readers don’t want the main characters to be stupid. Occassionally, they can make stupid decisions based on their flaws, but usually not before the reader is invested in them, and not the bulk of the time.)
  • Make the conflict personal to the main character. (Example: When my daughter was nine, she wrote a story about a girl whose parents had died and she had to go live in an orphanage. One day when she was alone at the orphanage, she answered a knock at the door. It was a pack of zombies, and a fight for her life ensued. As she was trying to escape the clutches of two of them, she realized that the zombies were her parents. Wondering if she had some kind of unresolved issues with me, I asked her why she made the choice to make the zombies be the girl’s parents. Her answer: "Because then it matters more to the girl. It’s not nearly so personal if it was just random zombies that she’d have no problem fighting." And she was so right. If it’s a story about a mean teacher, she just can’t be mean to some kids in the class-- she needs to be mean to the main character. It has to be personal to them.)
  • Make them proactive. (Not reactive. They need to make choices-- not just wait for others to make the decisions.)
  • Put them in jeopardy. (This seems logical, but it’s easy to miss when you’re in the middle of conflict. You can easily have everyone else / the plan be in danger, without your main character being in jeopardy themselves. Make sure they are.)
  • Make them have hardships, unfairness, and make sacrifices.
  • Make them love others and/or be loved. (This kind of goes along with giving them a friend--make them be a friend.
  • Make them active, interesting, vulnerable, have things to lose, be in danger, be the underdog.

We like characters because we want to be like them
or because we are like them.

To make the most sympathetic character, find a balance between
superhuman characteristics and everyday characteristics.

But don’t stop once you have sympathetic characters! 

Rooting is more than just sympathy. Your characters can’t just be likeable and have hardships and danger. The second thing they need is to have a chance at winning.

photo credit: Loren Javier via photopin cc

Like in the TV show Phineas and Ferb. We like Candace— she’s a sympathetic character— but we aren’t rooting for her, because she doesn’t have a chance at winning. (Even though she did succeed in catching her brothers in that one episode, she definitely didn't win in the end.)(And of course, she's NOT the main character, so it's good we're not rooting for her more than the titular characters. For secondary characters, it's good they doesn't have a chance at winning on their own.) It's important to have your readers root for your main character, so it's important to give them a chance at winning. Make sense?

Characters are cool because of their strengths.
They are interesting because of their weaknesses.

The best characters have flaws (they make wrong choices because of themselves) and handicaps (something that limits, but not their fault), both which allow growth. Plant a lot, so you can continue to have them work on them if it becomes a series. There's not much more difficult than having their flaws overcome in the first book, then having nowhere to go for subsequent books.

And possibly most important:

Have your characters fail spectacularly, but not stupidly. 

You want the reader to still respect the character. To feel like they’re still smart, even after things go massively wrong. And yeah. We pretty much want things to go massively wrong. :)

Next week: A few random MG tips.

Friday, July 19, 2013

Quotes and Cookies: The best you can

Hello from Comic Con! I can't wait to give you guys an update! But for now, an awesome quote.

For a long time now I have tried simply to write the best I can. Sometimes I have good luck and write better than I can.

~Ernest Hemingway

I LOVE when this happens. That feeling when you read back through your stuff and think, "Wow! This rocks!" The way I see it, it's a percentages thing. Like for every X number of words you write, you get the good luck zing, and you write better than you can. The more you write (or rewrite)(or edit), the greater your chances of getting that zing, no?

Here. Have a cookie with zing. Maybe eating this will up our chances for the zing. What? It couldn't hurt, right?

photo credit: avlxyz via photopin cc

Monday, July 15, 2013

Writing Middle Grade: How to have your MG characters respond emotionally

Kids go through a lot of emotions as their world expands and they try to find their place in it. Sometimes it can feel like they’re being pulled between wanting the safe and known of home, and wanting the vastness of the universe.

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(Heehee! Get it? Being pulled between two things?)

So let's talk about the kinds of emotions that middle grade-aged kids face. These are the kinds of things you need to be aware of as far as your readers are concerned, and it's also something you need to be aware of to make your main characters as authentic as possible.

Emotions in Middle Grade Kids
  • They have a strong sense of moral justice. (Which is why they feel so offended if everyone else their age gets a cell phone and they don’t.)
  • They care deeply for things and people. (I've got a theory that says that's why 5th grade begins the age of drama. It's because they care so deeply about their friends, and feel the need to defend them on every. little. thing.)
  • They like to do together activities, like clubs and team sports (and not just organized clubs-- many make up their own).
  • They're not afraid to take a risk. (This doesn't necessarily mean jumping off a cliff or exploring somewhere dangerous / off limits. (Although it totally can. I've mentioned how big of a fan I am of jumping off a cliff, right? ;)). A risk can be things like daring to trust a new step-parent, to make the unpopular choice when  their friends aren't, or defending an unpopular friend.)
  • They are intensely curious, and have a huge thirst for knowledge.
  • They like to take action and get involved in things. They also have believable motives for why they do. They want the characters they read about to have believable motives, too.
  • The why of things is extremely important. (That’s because they have transformed into reasoning explorers. They want things to logically make sense.)
  • And something really important to remember:

Middle grade kids feel life is just so ordinary. What they wish
for MOST is for their life to be extraordinary.

photo credit: Malabooboo via photopin cc
So do what you can to give them that extraordinary-ness in the books you write for them. :)

Next Monday, I'll talk about what your main character needs to have middle grade readers root for them, which is SO. VERY. IMPORTANT.

Have a great week, everyone!

Friday, July 12, 2013

Quotes and Cookies: Dream

Remember when you were a kid and summer meant more time for daydreaming? Yeah. I miss those days, too.

photo credit: Esther17 via photopin cc

Except do you know what? We're writers, which means that it's OUR JOB to daydream. Terry Brooks says so.

Dreaming opens the doors to creativity. Dreaming allows the imagination to invent something wonderful. Don’t cheat yourself out of a chance to discover how well this can work. Don’t shortcut the process. Make dream time the linchpin of your writing experience.

~Terry Brooks

I'm not going to go count how many books Terry Brooks written, but it's a lot. Twenty-three of them have been NYT bestsellers. And he has over 21 million of his books in print. Dude knows what he's talking about. So I say this means we should pretend like we're kids again and spend our summer daydreaming!

Daydreaming, and eating these. (It'll help the feeling like a kid again thing, I'm sure of it. ;))

photo credit: betsyweber via photopin cc


Monday, July 8, 2013

Writing Middle Grade: What's most important to a MG protag

First off, I need to apologize. I said I'd post this last Monday and then..... Remember those edits for book 2 that were trying to kill me? They were due. (And now they're in! Recovery time!) And then came a very unfortunately-timed power outage. Then your basic kids-home-from-school-for-the-summer stuff.

How about we just call this fashionably late? Deal? Okay. Then let's get to what's important to middle grade readers (and therefore, should be important to your MG main characters).

I’ve heard it said that in MG, authority figures are non-existent, whereas in YA, authority figures are the antagonists. And it’s true– MG readers want the kids to be the heroes. The ones to solve the problems. And that’s hard to do when they’re around authority figures who can do the problem solving for them. (Especially when the problem solving involves dangerous things that any sane, responsible parent would never let their kid do.) So it’s important to find a way to get them away from the adults who would fix things for them. To let them shine in the areas that are most important to them.

Some of the things that are most important to them are:
  • Figuring out their own identity and where they fit in their world. (Whereas in YA, they are trying to stand out.)
  • Taking on new responsibilities (in their family, at school, and/or among friends).
  • Friends and school become much more important as kids try to figure out their place outside the home.
  • They can be confusing times, but they also are enthusiastic and eager to learn.
  • Middle grade readers can handle complex plots and issues (so don't hold back!), yet still love fun and over the top and serious (so don't hold back! ;)).
  • They like to daydream about their future.
  • They like planning and organizing events.
  • They like games with more complex rules
  • Some like a romantic element, but it almost always has to stay at puppy love. If you are writing for upper middle grade– we're talking middle school aged, grades 6-8 (which can be a more difficult market to sell in), then you have a little more wiggle room. You can deal with crushes and possibly even first kisses. If you are writing regular middle grade (grades 3-6), it has to stay pretty much the way kids that way are– they like like someone sometimes, but pretty much keep it to themselves. Sometimes they show it by playful punching, stepping on toes, etc., but it stays there. If you are writing a book marketed toward girls, you can get away with a little more crushing going on, but if it’s for boys and girls, it has to stay sparse.
  • And no matter what the setting is, both lower and upper middle grade readers want to read about kids who deal with things as well as adults. Kids like feeling capable.
Younger middle-graders readers (grades 3-4, or ages 8-10) are big fans of books where the main setting is the home. Upper middle-grade readers (grades 5-6 and maybe even 7 or ages 10-13ish) are kind of over home being the main setting (but of course it can still be included in any lesser role). They tend to love school or trips to anywhere as their main setting.

Up next Monday: HOW TO HAVE YOUR MIDDLE GRADE CHARACTERS RESPOND EMOTIONALLY. Miss any previous writing middle grade posts? Or want to get to my PARENTING PROBLEM IN MIDDLE GRADE posts? They can all be found here: MG Needs.