Please welcome this week’s guest, the last of 2019.
Creating Awe in Two Middle Grade Genres
Within the broad range of children’s literature, writing middle grade claims my heart. The writers digest definition of middle grade includes age of characters and readers, novel length, and a voice that resonates with innocence, hopeful, happy endings, and a character surrounded by family and friends. Another element of middle grade that I adore is a sense of wonder from the characters, their circumstances, and the people closest to them. It permeates every middle grade novel, no matter the genre.
One of my favorite beta readers Russell Pike taught me this important factor with Word comments like “this seems too mature” and “where’s her sense of awe here?” By asking these questions, I came to understand how middle grade readers view the world around them. My eight-year-old daughter reiterates this to me daily. As a result, when I edit each novel, I do a sweep in which I look for ways to add that sense of excitement and adventure into each page.
This awe looks different in each genre. My 2019 debut novel Rowdy Days of Dom Sanders took Tom Sawyer and modernized it. The twelve-year-old main character finds his sense of joy in nature, ingenuity, and in the close relationship with his brother Reed. Moments also occur where he sees the good that comes from difficult, but morally correct, choices. All this adds up to a main character secure in his place within his family and friends and in awe of his life.
“‘Let’s see if we can get inside,’ I stepped beyond the fence and paused, expecting boobie traps. When none sprang, I stole up the soggy steps to the porch and waited for Reed to follow.”
Blurb: Twelve-year-old Taylor gets arrested for murdering a cop. His bloody pocketknife and boot print were found at the crime scene.
He didn’t do it.
Only the victim of Taylor’s bullying knows the truth.
Dom wears the exact same boots.
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My second novel, Moon Daughter Rising (releasing January 2020) takes the form of a fantasy adventure. Structuring the wonder within its setting and diverse character list came naturally. What eleven-year-old protagonist wouldn’t gape in giddy shock at crawling into a colorful, strange world and meeting unique, magical creatures?
The trick with this story sat within the context of my character. Some darker themes and screwball family members made the character more unsure of what made her special. In this case, I utilized the character arc, the journey of change the character must go through to succeed on her quest, to grow Annalee into a place of pride and excitement of who she is and her place in her world.
“Skirting around the boulders, they approached the birch stubs they had spied from a distance. Annalee stared in awe at the width of them. From the far side of the clearing, they looked average-sized, but up close, the stumps were nearly five feet in diameter and so old that the edges had worn smooth and round. The age rings in the wood were several inches thick and rippled out in more colors than the largest marker kit Annalee had ever seen.” Moon Daughter Rising, Chapter 20
Blurb: All twelve-year-old Annalee wants is to find her missing dad. When she’s whisked from danger to her tribe’s spirit world, she is shocked to learn that her dad is also trapped in World Above the Sky.
Annalee discovers that a pair of soul-eating ice giants intend to abduct her, just as they did her dad. Armed with her dad’s crescent talisman and aided by spirits from unfamiliar tribal legends, Annalee battles the growing evil in World Above the Sky on her way to a hidden fortress. The ancient Grandmother living there will know how to rescue her dad and get them home. Somehow the giants pass magical wards, confirming a traitor among Annalee’s new friends.
If the ice giants capture Annalee, they’ll use her talisman to rule both Earth and World Above the Sky. But if Annalee or the world’s warriors kills them, her dad will die too. To outwit the monsters, Annalee will need to use every ounce of courage and honesty she has, and she’ll need to embrace the spirit of the moon daughter rising within
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Ideas on Adding Wonderment to your Middle Grade Fiction
- Diction: Select words the character would use to explain what’s happening around them with wonder. This could also mean using them subtly in dialog tags or internal thoughts of your characters.
- Write scenes that lend themselves to wonder. Simple examinations of their settings or the important people in their life work great for this.
- Give your characters the chance to create wonder. In those heroic moments big and small, show the respect of minor characters. The audience will follow their lead.
- Live your author life in awe of things surrounding you. The best way to write good fiction is to live a life in which you experience similar internal circumstances to your characters. Often authors hear advice about listening to real life members of the age group of their book’s audience and use that information to write better dialog or more realistic plots. This is also true of wonder n middle grade. Take moments in your life to enjoy sparks of excitement or quiet moments in awe of the world around you, and your middle grade fiction will be better for it.
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