Crafting the Middle Grade Novel


These notes are from Joyce Magnin’s class at the 2012 ACFW. Notes were taken and shared by Lara Van Hulzen.

1.  We write WITH character and action not ABOUT character and action. Flannery O’Connor

2.  Write Tight – Kids won’t read a lot of narrative.  Substitute ‘damn’ every time you’re inclined to write ‘very’ and your editor will delete it and the writing will be just as it should be. Mark Twain

3.  Setting – Don’t say where they are. Make the setting a part of the character’s experience.

4.  Dialogue – Don’t use a lot of tags. SAID is fine, but retorted, replied, and exclaimed are not necessary. Use “John said,” instead of “Said John.” Listen to how kids really talk.

5. Concrete Images – The best route to the universal is through the details, but don’t get bogged down in those. You’re dealing with kids who stare at video game. They want to get in and get out of the story. The kids need to be able to see the world that you are building.

6. Concrete Emotions – These are tougher than images. Show emotions kids can related to and don’t say the main character’s hear pounded six times. Those things can happen, just not every third page. Show emotion through flashbacks. Through memory.

7. Voice – This is your personality, who you are, on the page along with your character’s voice. It’s a marriage of the two. It can be an attitude that you bring to the story. Stick with that one voice and make it as authentic and unique as you can. Draw from the angst in your own life. In what you remember from that age, that time. Don’t flinch!

8. Humor – This age group loves to laugh. Boys will die laughing over potty humor. A bird in a car versus a duck in a Miata. Which is funnier and more concrete? Exaggeration is funny. Make it better than real, but not absurd. Use metaphors and similes. It’s all in the surprise and in the way you say it. Be careful with sarcasm. It might not always work. For the most part kids read it as snark.

9. Originality – Brain storm ideas, look at things with a slant. KIDS LOVE SERIES. Put a symbol in your story. Make it something that carries throughout the story. A recurring thing in the book. It helps kids think in the abstract. A whale, a bird, anything. In Joyce’s book, CAKE, wings are recurring through the book, and the character wants hollow wings so she can fly. At one point someone gives her a bird bone that’s hollow. That’s a symbol throughout the story. A light motif can be used for foreshadowing. Like in JAWS it’s the music. When it’s played we knew what was coming. It sets the reader up for knowing something important is coming up.

10. Song“If I read a book (and) it makes my whole body so cold no fire ever can warm me, I know that is poetry. If I feel physically as if the top of my head were taken off, I know that is poetry. These are the only way I know it. Is there any other way?” Emily Dickinson

What Mid-Grade novel have you read and loved?

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