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Middle Grade "Slush"

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I've done loads of critiquing, too, and here's what I've noticed:

1. No voice. There's just nothing grabby about what the character is doing/saying/thinking. Kids are amazingly quirky so there needs to be some of that in the writing.
2. Starting in the middle of the action with not enough back story to make me care about the character. It's a tough line to walk, though. See number 3.
3. Too much back story and no front story. It's all taking place in the character's head and I have no idea if said character is in their room, in their treehouse or on the moon.
4. No established internal arc. After reading the first chapter, I want to know what the story will be about, but I have no idea. I might know it's going to be a story about a character on a quest or somesuch. But I have no idea what is driving the character to the quest, what their internal motivation might be. The wound they need to heal.
5. Self-conscious writing. When the writing is so concerned with the above and/or other people's pet peeves, it strangles the life out of it.

I think good writing comes from letting yourself play. Even if it's a tough subject. And so much of what I read is just, so, ADULT. Rational, reasonable and well thought out. There's nothing spontaneous or joyful. I LOVE that Kurtis's boy discovers the runaway because he's taking care of someone's PIG. Sorry for all the capitals.

PLAY! Let's PLAY. If that means the kid is uber quirky and grandma rides a skateboard - GO FOR IT. It would be eight million times better than reading about the kid who eats eggs and toast for breakfast and then goes to school. You could and probably should take the skateboard out of following drafts, but going overboard in the first draft, I think, makes the writing more flexible and flexibility is where the gold is. Writing about grandmas on skateboards and kids named Alcatraz can warm up the muscles and make the writing fun. Then you can revise out the overboard stuff, or make sure there are good reasons for the weirdness.

Sorry if that was kind of ranty.
#31 - March 08, 2013, 10:43 AM

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Not ranty at all, Tracy. Very helpful.
I often have to get out of my own way and let the story pour forth ...
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#32 - March 08, 2013, 11:13 AM
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I like your attitude, Tracy. And really -- mixed gender friendships, skateboarding grandmas -- I'm not saying don't do it, just make me believe it.
#33 - March 08, 2013, 11:29 AM

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I'm feeling very ranty today for some reason, but glad it isn't coming off that way. And yes - nothing random in fiction. There should be a solid believable reason for all things. Can't rely on the suspension of disbelief too heavily. So, like, if you're going with a name like Mississippi or Mars Bar, you can't also have a pet squirrel and a teacher who doubles as Superman, but only in his mind (or maybe you can! hmmm).

I'm loving this thread!
#34 - March 08, 2013, 11:59 AM
« Last Edit: March 08, 2013, 12:18 PM by TracyH »

All of us girls who grew up skateboarding in the seventies really could be skateboarding grammies. I am a skateboarding/snowboarding mom in my late forties and several of my childhood friends who once skateboarded are grandmas.
My daughter's favorite time spent with my Mom is gardening. There is a sense of real magic in gardening.

A good story can trump all rules. Does imagination have rules? Write what you love to write and find the magic within your own writing. At the same time, having a critique can be what takes any story to the next level.

Great thread. It makes me want to write about Popcorn Snowcone III who was conceived at the county fair, just like his Dad and his Grand Daddy before him.  :rollercoaster
#35 - March 08, 2013, 12:02 PM

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Sully - I am in love with Popcorn Snowcone III already. Just sayin'.
#36 - March 08, 2013, 12:20 PM

I'm just trying to figure out where you'd conceive a ch--oh, nevermind. 

Popcorn Snowcone makes me hungry.  I'm hoping his middle name isn't Funnel Cake.
#37 - March 08, 2013, 12:44 PM

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Thank you all so much for this great thread. Not only did I smile, but for no apparent reason I was inspired with a new way to rewrite my opening scene (which I've already done six times this week and still dissatisfied). Sadly, my rewrite does not involve any food-named characters or skateboarding anythings, so maybe it won't stick -- but thank you very much for the great thread anyway :).
#38 - March 08, 2013, 12:53 PM

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I have nothing to add either, but wanted to say ... this thread is a blast! :haha
#39 - March 08, 2013, 02:27 PM
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Haha this thread cracks me up. And thanks for your thoughts, Tracy. You're right about the no voice thing, and personally I love quirky (tho I know what people mean about it sometimes being overdone.)

I remembered something else I've seen quite often - a voice that's just all wrong for MG. Sometimes it sounds too adult, but more often it sounds too young and cutesy, which paradoxically makes it really sound like an adult writing for kids. Another thing (having read Miss Snark's a lot) is a first sentence that has no punch. A first sentence really needs to do a lot of heavy lifting. If it reads like the middle of a paragraph from the middle of a chapter, it's such a wasted opportunity to grab your reader. (Though that's not MG-specific.)

Oh yes and when I was a little kid, my two best friends were the male twins who live next door. We were inseperable. So it does happen, even if it's rarer.
#40 - March 08, 2013, 03:31 PM
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 :giggle This thread's been fun to follow.

Girl Friday, I agree that the first sentence needs to do a lot. Unfortunately, I really struggle with getting mine to do so. But it's oh, so important.
#41 - April 22, 2013, 03:51 PM
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Everything Tracy said!
Love the advice to be spontaneous and joyful.
So freeing!
And yes, this thread is fun! :)
#42 - April 22, 2013, 06:19 PM

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One thing I see a lot of is a framing story of an adult looking back on his/her childhood. My usual comment is: unless there's a darn good reason for us to meet the adult and see that framing story, leave it out and go straight to the kid's story. It's usually easier for an MG reader to bond with an MG character than to bond with an adult who's saying, "Back in my day, it was like this ..."

Also, my favorite name from this whole thread is Taxi Rene Salamander.
#43 - April 24, 2013, 06:43 PM
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I have nothing really to add except that this thread reminded me that because of the quirky name cliche, for the longest time one of my friends thought the lead character in John Green's Paper Towns was named... Paper Towns. Which cracks me up to this day.

And then there's the joke about Kindle Paperwhite sounding like a name from The Hunger Games  ;D
#44 - April 25, 2013, 01:21 AM
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Quote
I like your attitude, Tracy. And really -- mixed gender friendships, skateboarding grandmas -- I'm not saying don't do it, just make me believe it.

I think this is the key. If you can make me believe something, it builds my fictional world. If, on the other hand, the element feels contrived, the world collapses.
#45 - April 25, 2013, 08:08 AM

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Hi - New member here. I wanted to chime in and say that growing up two of my best friends were the boys who lived on either side of my house - one was the bus stop before me and the other was the bus stop after. I've spent my whole career in male-dominated industries (perfectly comfortable BTW), partly due to those two I think! We still stay in touch.

My contemporary MG mystery segues from two BFFs into a boy-girl pair (think Bruce Willis and Cybill Shepard, i.e., Moonlighting in middle grade). They're figuring out the whole first-crush thing while they try to work together.
#46 - May 13, 2013, 07:01 PM

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Sounds funn, hh!
#47 - May 13, 2013, 08:15 PM

i think my pet peeve in doing critiques is to read about a main character that never really has anything bad happen.  they don't fall on their face with everyone laughing, they just trip and catch themselves before they fall.  the author is too close to the character and doesn't want anything bad to happen to them, but that is very unbelievable to kids, who do fall on their face with everyone laughing.
#48 - December 29, 2013, 09:28 AM

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My pet peeve is when a writer adds details just to show they know the info. Give me what I, the reader, need to know in that moment. I don't want any more or less. Too much will pull me out of the story (and slow the pacing), too little will leave me confused.
#49 - December 30, 2013, 06:33 PM
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