Highlights from Past #mglitchat Sessions

If you’re on Twitter (and interested in writing middle-grade fiction), check out the weekly chats under the hashtag #mglitchat. Below, I’ve compiled some of the highlights of past chats:

Tips from the Pros (Author Night) (Feb. 2, 2012)

** with guest authors: Kate Messner (@KateMessner), Kate Milford (@KateMilford), Jenn Reese (@jennreese), Kurtis Scaletta (@kurtisscaletta), and Laurel Snyder (@LaurelSnyder).



MG kids want to, and believe, that they can save the world. It’s a feeling I dearly wish I still had.

Since I write adventure stories, I often focus on sense of wonder. And friendships.


For me, tapping into that MG voice means remembering what it felt like to be 10, 11, 12 yrs old. You’re figuring out so much.

I write middle grade because I believe those books are important. The books I read when I was 10-11-12 shaped the person I became.


I’m big on sibling rivalry, kids being misunderstood — despite the magical realism realistic kid challenges.

I’m really focused on how the character changes more than the outer story. MG is a coming of age genre.


I believe there’s an adventure in everything, and that MG readers/characters want to find it.



I love world-building and do a lot of it, but only use a tiny fraction in the actual book.

The “sprint” concept doesn’t work for me at all, ever. I wish it did.


I write an outline on Scrivener. Then characters sneak in and change it while I’m asleep. Story grows as I write.

I’ll write 10-20 pages in antagonist’s voice – his/her life story & world views. Won’t end up in book but it helps.

For each book, I do a LOT of writing that never sees light of day. (32 pages of world building descriptions for EYE OF THE STORM)

One thing I’m finding fascinating now is how characters, as they develop, send a carefully plotted outline in new directions.

When I’m working to make secondary characters (esp. villains) seem 3-dimensional, I write in their points of view for a while.


…. not having preconceived ideas about the stories I’m working on–letting them skew younger or older as the stories require.

Plus the worlds of most of them are related, so I might meet a character in one project that I find the perfect place for in a different book. Sometimes I bring them back younger or older.

I’ve had 7k word days doing sprints like that. Painlessly. I was shocked.

If I’m working on a draft, I’ve begun to do 3-4 hour-long writing sprints a day. I shoot for 3k daily.

I start projects and proposals all the time. I’ll write the first 100 pages or so and see how I feel about it. That’s how long it takes me to figure out whether I want to commit to it. But that’s why I shoot for 3000 words most days.

If it’s a story I’m just messing with to see where it goes, 1-2k words is a light day’s quota.

If I’m doing a sprint, I shoot for 1000 words/hour.

If I come up against something I need to look up, I will type BLANK or COME BACK TO THIS and move on.

I’m a research hound, but I don’t let it interfere with getting words on the page.


I rarely include info that isn’t needed in the story.


Moving the plot is the single hardest thing for me. I came to novels as a poet. I like tinkering, wordplay…The climax always feels like melodrama to me.

I do this, mark places with XXX or TK, so I can search them later. Also, I keep running “notes” at end of doc.

One thing I’ve been working on is not assuming that MG means simple, in terms of language, image. I find reading adult poetry helps

One thing I find myself doing lately is letting an outline sit for a month. SO that I can just think about it, fill in blanks.



I have a “perfect reader” read [edited] each chapter as I go, but she only gives positive feedback. I save crits for later.


I fall in mad love with ideas but never see the “home run” until the revision process is well underway.

I actually make a chapter by chapter plot chart after 1st draft so I can visually see high/low, fast/slow sections.

I’m generally not ready to share a novel w/ crit group until it’s done & I’ve revised once on my own already.

There’s a huge temptation to put ALL research in a book (“This is so cool!”) I cut what isn’t essential to story.

I type 1st drafts start to finish w/out looking back, keep a big list of “known issues” on the side. That’s how I start revision.


There’s so much hurry-up-and-wait stuff. I’ve had relaxing revisions and panicked ones.

I have never had anyone ask me to tone down the language in my writing, unless some weird thing confuses the editor

[on giving material to crit members] Big chunks, or the whole thing. I don’t want to get hung up trying to perfect the early chapters & not move on. But I usually don’t send stuff to any of them until I have a fairly solid draft.

I have an awesome crit group & 4 kid beta-readers (they are 9, 9, 11, and 11) &the 9 year olds read with their dad.

if it’s not either moving story forward or setting up something critical, it prob needs to go

Somebody (usually a crit group member) says something like, “cool story, bro. And I care…why?”

With apologies to my crit group, I find it’s best that I don’t show them much until I get through to the end.


[on revision by crit groups] Usually 3 chapters or so


I think the characters become louder with each pass, and that’s what I care most about. –

I don’t have a group. I have a few trusted friends who read a finished early draft.

I think rewriting a bit in first can be a good way to find voice, tone, even if the book gets written in third.



Don’t be afraid to use “touchstone” movies, tv shows, or songs to help you anchor the mood or tone of your book…


Best advice I give myself every day? Yes, you can. Now sit down and write.


Success is the growth of a tree and not the flight of a goose.

I think “character-centered” is a better way to put it than “character-driven.”


I follow the outline loosely, but for me character has to be the golden thread. I defer to character.

I think you have to do this, have to “get out of the way of the book.” Trying to control too much is death.

I feel this way. Like I lost something as a kid, that I’m working at returning to

“Your language becomes clear and strong not when you can no longer add, but when you can no longer take away.”


Don’t let the young audience keep you from writing gorgeous prose if that’s what you want to write.

[Revising] Confusing prose, yes, but surprising, elegant, poetic prose? No. That gets to stay. 🙂


Tips from the Pros (Agent Night) (Feb. 9, 2012)

** with guest agents: Jennifer Laughran (@literaticat) of the Andrea Brown Literary Agency, Inc.,Joanna Volpe (@JoSVolpe) from Nancy Coffey Literary & Media Representation,Tina Wexler (@Tina_Wexler), agent with International Creative Management (ICM)


Joanna Volpe

Kids experience the real world just like we do-you can go as far as it takes to be real to the story and characters

Jennifer Laughran

Audience for MG may be 3rd-5th graders even tho characters may be 7th graders. So, I’d just be mindful of that.

Tina Wexler

That’s when kids turn: your BFF who wasn’t into boys is suddenly gah, and how obnoxious–until it hits you.

They would have to have their parents drive them there (groan) [movies], but maybe there’d be some sweaty handholding.

I think kids are still looking out at the world, to define it, and teens are looking in


Joanna Volpe

I think a lot of MG is pretty timeless.

The heart, the quest, the soul of it. Personally…I connect with it more in MG.

Jennifer Laughran

diff houses have different feelings about that – but, I’d say, er… no sex or major cursing for a start.

I actually have a harder time thinking of MG books that ARE snarky than ones that aren’t. That is more YA, no?

Tina Wexler

if outlook is teen and the voice is teen, its YA. Sex, drugs and rock n roll arent what make a ms YA.


Joanna Volpe

I look for the writing, the voice and a good story. Trends come and go. Good stories…they last.

The “almost, but not quite” issue I say is usually that the concept is GREAT, but the voice is off. I’ve been seeing MG voice that sounds like how adults WANT kids to sound, not how they really think, sound and feel.

What I see lacking most in my MG submissions is the right voice. Lots of great ideas and even good writing, but the voice is off

In a query, I do NOT want to see someone just compare it to Harry Potter. If that’s the only book they can think of then chances are they don’t really know the genre

Jennifer Laughran

It’s all about that elusive MG voice, to me. Very hard to nail. People who do? @KateMessner for ex

Tina Wexler

I don’t think in terms of content but in terms of how its handled, how its presented, if it fits with a mg voice

I see a lot of MG that is big on plot but small on character dev’t. Characters coddled. Let them fall down.


Joanna Volpe

I’ve seen snark in both boy and girl books, and I’m okay with it! It just has to feel natural, not put on.

I only suggest that an author change the age of the character if it better fits the tone and sensibility of the book UNLESS it’s really a matter of hitting the genre, and a year would make a difference or something

To create a successful series, have a plan for the FULL series ahead of time.

Tina Wexler

Writers who remember being that age, not just writers who have kids that age.

I think of voice as the words you use and how you use them. As simple and as complicated as that. I should say it’s the words your NARRATOR uses/doesn’t use, the words that make up their heart.

the story will be as long or as short as it needs to be to be told and told well.


Joanna Volpe

Both fantasy and contemporary still sells in MG, I don’t see one trend stronger than the other, personally.

Every editor I know that acquires MG is looking for well-written, meaningful stories

There’s definitely a market for MG scifi!

It actually depends on the publisher…sometimes the terms “tween” and “MG” are interchangeable. Not always tho

Tina Wexler

I want to like the term tween, but it always seems so…Limited Too to me.

I think MG is only going to grow and grow.

Jennifer Laughran

YOU GUYS. Lots of questions about “is there a market for quiet middle grade.” YES, IF IT IS BEAUTIFULLY WRITTEN.


Joanna Volpe

Bridge to Terabithia (so painful!) or the first Alanna book. <3

The Higher Power of Lucky, Coraline, & The View from Saturday are all genre-defining books in their own right imho

Adam Gidwitz, Brian Selznick, Andrew Clements, Jeff Kinney, Grace Lin, Richard Peck – none of them really snark

Neil Gaiman, Beth Wolitzer, Jonathan Stroud, Kate Messner…the list goes on of non-snark!

I’m reading The Fingertips of Duncan Dorfman right now and LOVING it

Jennifer Laughran

Anne = the original bad girl of tween lit. #drunk #disorderly #dyedhair #bigsleeves #gangster

I think everyone should read WHEN YOU REACH ME if you haven’t already. Go on. Now. I’ll wait.

I think ‘s beautiful BIGGER THAN A BREAD BOX is an example of MG Magical Realism.

Also, if you want to know about phenomenal voice & characterization, please read all Casson Family books by Hilary McKay.


Joanna Volpe

I guess my biggest tip for authors writing MG is to not hold back. Share the fun parts, the painful parts. Don’t be worried about “scarring” kids with reality. They can handle it better than you think. Better than most adults I know, actually 🙂

Voice is much more than vivid characterization–it’s the essence of the entire narrative.

Jennifer Laughran

There are NINE HUNDRED BACTRILLION middle grade boy books. Honestly. Look at the NYT Bestseller list.

the best MG books are not “dumbed down” or “babyish”. Don’t dumb it down!

Successful author/agent relationship is based (imo) on good communication, transparency, trust.

I think lots and lots of kids do not have access to e-readers, and won’t. P-books are affordable, they don’t break.. Sure, lots of kids will get e-readers. But access to paper books is still VITAL, or you are cutting poor kids out of the picture.

Tina Wexler

When searching for agents, PLEASE note when an interview was given; dated info can be as ineffective as doing no research.

Research, research, research. Read, read, read. Revise, revise, revise. Oh, and you know, write.


Tips from the Pros (Editor Night) (Feb. 17, 2012)

** guest editors: Jordan Brown (@thisjordanbrown), editor at Walden Pond Press and Balzer + Bray, Nancy Mercado (@nanmercado), executive editor at Roaring Brook Press, Harold Underdown (@HUnderdown), editorial consultant and the writing guru at The Purple Crayon


Harold Underdown (@HUnderdown)

READ LOTS. And read current stuff.

Here’s a tip: Telling a story is far more important than filling in backstory. Example: opening of Wild Magic, Tamora Pierce.

Sidestep: Don’t worry about genre in MG–those boxes matter less here than they do in YA. (Or is that an opinion?)

If your MG ms. goes over 250, even 200 pp., ask yourself: does it HAVE to?

Re age of MG protag–yes, 15 and older seems old to me. You need reasons to go over 13/14, I think.

Re word count, a lot of the manuscripts I see suffer from bloat. Just because JK Rowling ran long doesn’t mean you should. Cut!

Jordan Brown (@thisjordanbrown)

you can’t write to trends. Authentic characters will always be “in.”

Following a character ensures your book is unpredictable. Which is one of the most important things for this editor

If you give us a character we can relate to, we’ll follow that character.

Voice is the hardest needle to thread in MG, I think. Too old is objectionable, but talking down is as well.

On the nonfiction tip: I love hearing about little-known stories related to big historical events.

The thing to remember is that, even in 3rd person, readers will apply the voice to main character.

Can’t stray too far from the language of your character, or you’ll lose relatability.

Nancy Mercado (@nanmercado)

An interesting writing challenge to include more facts/non-fiction in fiction.

I love when books have tough vocab if it feels relevant and true to the voice.


Jordan Brown (@thisjordanbrown)

poor stories will always be out, regardless of trends.

knowing what’s out there already is important – so you know that you’re breaking new ground.

That’s why I love MG. Historical, sic-fi, humor, boy, girl – there’s room for it all.

(on type of fantasy mg that is popular) Just an opinion, but I don’t think it’s high fantasy. MG that straddles fantasy and real world has appeal.

I always acquire what appeals to me personally. Only way to get through multiple edits is if I love a story now, as an adult.

Commercialism definitely doesn’t trump artistry. BUT – I’d like to think the two aren’t mutually exclusive

Typically 12-14 year olds are already reading true YA, in many cases. so you’re really only going for 10 & 11 yr olds. So it’s a smaller market.

With few exceptions, all the main characters in the MG I work on are 12 or 13 years old.

We are definitely looking for more multi-cultural – especially if readers of all cultures can relate to it.

Harold Underdown (@HUnderdown)

I’m not too concerned about what’s “in,” personally. The story has to speak to me.

There has always been a category betw. MG and YA. Called “transitional” or “older MG” for 10-14 y-olds. 10-14 is difficult BECAUSE it is transitional. Kids are no longer kids, not quite teens. Who is your reader?

What matters if it is speaks to me. THEN if it does, I’ll ask about age range, genre, market.

There is plenty of multicultural MG. And it does well, particularly in the library market.

Nancy Mercado (@nanmercado)

(on acquiring MG adventure) Haven’t gotten too many adventure-y type MG submissions actually. I think if it’s character-driven, then yes.

Hmm, perhaps I get mostly humorous MG submissions and “literary” ones because that’s what I like & that’s what I publish.

Yes, quite a bit of Dork Diaries-style books, but I’d be willing to see more humorous girl MG, ala @lauratofflercor

The close calls are usually the 1s where writing is terrific, but I don’t feel like I have a vision for editing.

I feel like most of the MG subs I get these days are boy humor (going for Wimpy Kid model) or literary novels.

I won’t necc. pass b/c I have that topic, but if the tone/audience is similar, then yes, I will pass.

When I’m acquiring, I tend to listen to my taste. It’s when I’m deep in editing that I want to hear from the end readers.

Nah, just write what you love to write and write unforgettable characters. I’m def. looking for multicultural MG.

I would say my agented submissions pile is about 75% YA and 25% MG. I wish it were more MG as well.


Harold Underdown (@HUnderdown)

A big limit on kids and ebooks is that so far, it’s mostly the ADULTS that own the readers!

ebooks for MG lag YA, which lag adult. If adult is 10-15%, YA 5%, MG is even less. These are guesses.

Jordan Brown

At least for us, the market is growing. Slowly, but our promotions for MG e-books are getting some pickup.


Jordan Brown (@thisjordanbrown)

Tom Sawyer? Middle grade, I think. Been a while since I’ve read it. Huck Finn…that would be tough.

Jack Gantos’ LOVE CURSE OF THE RUMBAUGHS. The little-known Civil War stuff is great.

I’m biased, of course, but @anneursu’s BREADCRUMBS and Frank Cottrell Boyce’s COSMIC come to mind.

Applauded for Jack Gantos this year – great to see a funny book take a top prize.

The more I considr Roald Dahl the more of an anomaly he seems. Almost no one can walk the line b/w irreverence and accessibility.

Nancy Mercado (@nanmercado)

Sarah Weeks is another great MG writer, I think. Her Regular Guy series, the Oogie Cooder books=great examples.

I love a good school story, those tend to be my favorite middle grade novels. Andrew Clements, Louis Sachar, etc.

a story set in school. Like Emma Jean Lazarus Fell Out of a Tree or Oogie Cooder.

Harriet the Spy & Skating Shoes are both about class consciousness, From the Mixed Up Files is about desperately wanting change.

Love re-reading some of my faves as a child (Shoes books by Streatfeild, From the Mixed of Files, Harriet), such serious themes! #MGlitchat -9:25 PM Feb 16th, 2012

Fine with sad plots! One of the recent MG books that I edited is Zombie Tag by @hannahmosk about a brother who died.

Harold Underdown (@HUnderdown)

Books like The Summer I Learned to Fly seem to do fine. 10-14 is viable!

A childhood love of mine: Minn of the Mississippi, by Holling C. Holling, nonfiction in a fictional form.


Jordan Brown (@thisjordanbrown)

Reading other MG will ensure you know what’s already out there – how your work fits in, and, more importantly, how it differs.

Harold Underdown (@HUnderdown)

Trust your characters, and listen to them when they tell you what they want to do. If treated as puppets, they’ll stay puppets.

Nancy Mercado (@nanmercado)

I wouldn’t say plot, plot, plot. I would say character, character, character. But that’s just my personal pref.


We were also joined by Alison Weiss (@EgmontUSA) , assistant editor at Egmont USA. She gave us a glimpse of what they’re looking for right  now:


We ARE actively looking for MG. Specifically contemporary, funny and adventure.

I know that Elizabeth would love to see our list be 50% YA/ 50% MG if we had the right projects.

But give us good middle grade and we’ll eat it up.

For the record, I (Alison) am a middle grade fiend, and am always pushing for more MG projects.


Publicist Night (Feb. 23, 2012)

We wrapped up our “Tips from the Pros” series last night, with our guest-publicists taking the stage. As always, #mglitchat was full to bursting with advice and tips from our generous industry insiders:

Kellie Celia (@WaldenPondPress) – Marketing Communications Manager, Publishing at Walden Pond Press, an imprint of HarperCollins Children’s Books

Tracey Daniels (@TrayMMP) – founder and senior partner at Media Masters Publicity

Greg Pincus (@gregpincus) – author and social media consultant at The Happy Accident

Here are some of the highlights from the chat:


Tracey Daniels (@TrayMMP)

MG can be a tough to promote – picture books and YA has a bigger review potential… so think BEYOND just the book.

It’s about the book + it’s also “beyond” the book. 2 promote MG – u need to look for angles. easier 4 nonfiction; but fiction 2.

I often recommend creating cool promo items 4 MG novels. Yes, authors can create these themselves. Just keep publisher in loop.

Always keep a great database of supportive reviewers, authors and librarians. When each bk comes out – let them know.

Database work and upkeep is something you do all along – in between and before your book.

The gr8 Ann Bausum sent me a list of all her local press, all organizations she used 2 research her book, HELPFUL suggestions. It saved me HOURS of time in research targeted list.. which allowed me to spend even more time on gr8 publicity.

school visits (even free school visits) help w finding new reading fans & teacher fans for life.

In regards to school visits, I suggest working closely w most local bookstore. Bkstore sends order sheet home and organizes buy

When promoting mg, we target reviewers, bloggers, librarians, bookstores and supportive tastemakers. Not just one entity.

I think a FB fan page is important, but I find Twitter to be a more useful tool for community building.

Kellie Celia (@WaldenPondPress)

#1) Know your primary audience, for MG we’re generally talking adult gatekeepers librarians, teachers, parents

#2) It’s ALL about relationships – start digging into that audience and reaching out, via social media, via local outreach, etc.

#3) I believe you can never start too early – months out from your book’s release, start getting involved in the kidlit community

I suggest engaging in whatever social media works best for you – it may not be FB/Twitter

Focus on connection and community blding: help promote others and they will be more inclined to promote you

And we do a bit of both here: social media, blog outreach, local events, bookstore/library visits

Blogs have been integral to the success of our books – I’d suggest finding & reaching out to bloggers who are interested in MG

It’s finding the balance between promoting yourself and engaging with the community

Greg Pincus (@gregpincus)

Have a plan. Don’t start a blog cuz someone says “start a blog.” Start one (or join a network) for a reason. YOUR reason.

Don’t focus on “promotion.” Focus on being visible, connecting, and being part of something beyond just your book.gregpincus As @TrayMMP said, think “angles.” Think of communities where folks will be interested in your book. Join before your book is out

Set realistic goals for yourself. You CANNOT do everything everyone else is doing. It’s okay! That way lies madness.

Find lots of ways to continue the conversation about your book without saying “Hey! Buy my book!”

A book trailer is great as something new to blog/tweet/FB about. It’s not talking about yourself. It’s sharing something.

Know that it IS okay to be excited about your book. Let us share that excitement rather than telling us to buy

“Gatekeepers” are important, but word of mouth also spreads among our readers. Think of any ways to reach them, too

A bad example? Trashing folks meanly. Ignoring conversation. Focusing solely on self and not beyond.

I agree with @TrayMMP – keep lists of bloggers, contacts, communities. Build them constantly rather than all at once.


Kellie Celia (@WaldenPondPress)

Work on building a community right now – mostly through social media and your local networks

You want to start more buzz building a month or two after your ARCs come out, I’d say about 4-5 months out

That would be mailing any ARCs you have, posting excerpts, possibly creating a Goodreads giveaway

You want any major promotion – sweepstakes around the book, blog tour, pub hits – to come in just after release

Greg Pincus (@gregpincus)

I think it’s helpful to be visible and active long before you have a book. You build relationships. They matter

Tracey Daniels (@TrayMMP)

We typically reach out 3 months before pub date and closer to pub date for bloggers. not last minute, tho.


Greg Pincus (@gregpincus)

You have to choose who you want to be the readers. Kids are hard to get. Not impossible, but hard in big numbers

But if you were targeting them, you’d offer different content than if you wanted teachers/librarians reading

I think fewer parents read blogs than MG readers. And I don’t think MG readers hit blogs looking for new books.Yet.

Kellie Celia (@WaldenPondPress)

Kidlit blogs are more focused on the adults: parents/teachers, but some MGers have blgs of their own


Tracey Daniels (@TrayMMP)

School visits are a good way to speak directly to MG readers. They are not on twitter.

MG can be hard because there aren’t as many “specialist” reviewers. Tons of picture book coverage and YA coverage.

Find the middle schoolers that blog but there are definitely more options for parents, librarians, etc. Again, database upkeep.

For more pervasive outreach – I still push books to bookstores and librarians and parent reviews. YA world = the opposite.

Kellie Celia (@WaldenPondPress)

There are some middle graders who blog, so you can reach out there: Reading Vacation/Icey Books come to mind

A lot of publishers also get involved in online tween communities as well, but there is cost involved

If we are talking bloggers, reach out, mention review policy, mention the book and see if they are open to a copy. Follow up and invite them to interview author, offer a guest post, offer placement on a blog tour, etc.

I agree with @TracyMMP’s point – MGers still get a lot of book suggestions from their parents/librarians – teens more frm friends

Greg Pincus (@gregpincus)

this also speaks to keeping lists and being active beforehand. Many MG kids have blogs

most kids use the web differently than most of us adults. This age group is a bit hard to reach via blogs.

Oh, they’re on FB. But them being on there doesn’t mean we’ll interact with them.


Multicultural Middle-grade Fiction (Mar 1, 2012)

@AnshaKotyk reading about a different culture and different expectations for the protagonist as a child.

@AniProf Possibke defs: (1) interaction and communication between different cultures. (2) diversity and cultural uniqueness.

@AnshaKotyk Not to thread-jack but I think Sci-fi is one of the seamless ways to introduce multi- cultures to readers.

@PBWorkshop I’m also a believer that vicarious (empathic) reading experiences can take folks from isolated communities into the world.

@maleslie11 Multicultural MG is a must. That is about the age kids begin to notice the cultural differences. Learning through fiction!

@karensandlerYA If you read SF, you’re already looking for a world different than your own. That different “world” can be an unfamiliar culture.

@elissacruz I thought it was interesting to see the multicultural Sci-Fi titles Tu Books is putting out.

@LM_Preston I know at BEA last year many librarians mentioned needing to have muli-cultural books with different cultures on covers

@karensandlerYA Non-Christian could be multi-cultural. Only because there could be a cultural aspect along with the religion.

@karensandlerYA I think kids want to know that other kids in other parts of the world have some of the same problems as them.

@AniProf I think MC is a good thing, but I worry the term, and concept, can be overused … Think burnout.

@jsmlina I also think it has to be honest to the story, and not seem forced. Aka no token characters & etc.

@karensandlerYA MC books don’t have to be “issue” books w/ stereotypical (for the culture) problems for the characters. They can just have a life

Books Mentioned

Secret Keeper and Rickshaw Girl by Mitali Perkins

Inside Out and Back Again by Thanhha Lai

Mighty Miss Malone by Christopher Paul Curtis

Drawing from Memory by Allen Say

The Ear, the Eye, and the Arm by Nancy Farmer

Feathers by Jacqueline Woodson

Planet Middle School by Nikki Grimes

A Place Where Sunflowers Grow by Amy Lee-Tai

Breadcrumbs by Anne Ursu

The House Baba Built: An Artist’s Childhood in China by Ed Young

Vodnik by Bryce Moore

A Long Walk to Water: Based on a True Story by Linda Sue Park

Nasreen’s Secret School: A True Story from Afghanistan by Jeanette Winter

The Shepherd’s Granddaughter by Anne Laurel Carter

Silent Music: A Story of Baghdad by James Rumford

More multicultural MG books at the Mixed-Up Files blog


Story Structure (March 8, 2012)

We had a discussion of what works for each writer, in addition to sharing of some tips. So I thought I’d extend that discussion a little bit. Besides, although I’m a plotter, I realize that it may not work for others. As I said last night, “I am in absolute awe of writers who plunge with just an idea, and come up with awesome sauce at the end.”

As a plotter, I like having a map of my story before I write my first draft. I need to at least have an idea of where I’m going with the story. Otherwise, I feel lost, and fear that my writing is wandering pointlessly in the void. That’s not to say that I rigidly stick to the outline. It’s a tool for me, and it helps me determine whether the story and its twists and turns are working. If the ending seems weak, I change it. If an outlined scene turns out to be illogical, I tweak it (or sometimes ditch it completely).

The outline is just one of the things I use to write my story. It’s a starting point, from which I’m free to wander. It’s also a tether which helps check those wanderings, and ensure that the story will have the necessary structure. The aim, after all, is to have a finished story, not just a collection of words.

Other writers may prefer the free creative flow that goes with pants-ing. And, that’s great! I sometimes wish I could do that. I really think a good book is the result of a combination of plotting (to create structure), and pants-ing (to write something original and exciting). We may  start differently, but the hope is that we all get to the same point (a published book!) eventually.

Now, for the plotters (and the pants-ers who want to learn more about plotting), here are some of the tools that were mentioned last night:

* Save the Cat – book and beat sheet
* Cheryl Klein’s book Second Sight and plotting worksheets
* Scrivener
* Plot Whisperer – books and YouTube videos (I talk about these here in the blog, starting with How to Write a Better Plot in 30 Steps or So)
* Donald Maass – books and workshop
* index cards
* Post-its
* whiteboards


On how to reach readers without preaching to them (April 26, 2012)

@kellybarnhill “Message” is static; it’s a slogan. Theme, conversely, is intellectually vigorous. Very different.

@PBWorkshop Paraphrasing Franny Billingsly: Plot is the track, problem/tension is the engine, theme is the fuel- you don’t see, but necessary

@WaldenPondPress We are always looking for characters whose growth and actions feel organic – no strong overbearing message – just connection.

@stefwass MG authors reach kids with truth. And truth isn’t always pretty.

@RosanneParry I think of the message as something readers bring to the book based on their life experience interacting w/ my characters.

@SympleSymon 1st Rule of Message Club: Have enough faith in your readers to be able to find it themselves.

@KristineAsselin A book has to have a theme…reader must find message him or herself. First rule in fiction writing…show, don’t tell, right?

@TORRESpamela Much or the research I’ve done on Tweens points to an innate desire to be part of a cause. They’re looking for messages.


Family structure in middle-grade books (May 3, 2012)

@RosanneParry Many stories w/ absent parents have a sibling group w/ kids who function as parents. Peter & Susan in Narnia for example.

@AnshaKotyk @Mike_Jung I think there has to be a fine balance between main character with active family in the story

@mikegrinti So many problems, fantastical and not, can’t be solved by parental intervention.

@kingdomofpatria whatever the health of the family is in MG plot, the problem HAS to be solved by the child pro tag(s).

@KristineAsselin Need to be creative to have positive family structure AND interesting book conflict. #mglitchat

@RosanneParry Wrinkle in Time is a good example of a functional family not getting in the way of the action/adventure. Any others come to mind?


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