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When you write middle grade chapters, do you typically think of it as one long story that goes through the whole book? Or do you think of it as a collection of story arcs that connect to larger coming of age themes?

I'm still struggling to figure out how to edit my own novella, as it has that sort of structure yet it doesn't. (It started out episodically, but sort of transitioned into a bigger thing, as one conflict expanded into a full conflict.)

Has this happened to anyone else?
#1 - June 27, 2014, 12:55 PM
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Hello SarahW:


I personally think it could be either a long story or collection of stories.  It just depends on the story and how you tell it. The middle grade novel that I am working on is very episodic, but does have an underlying theme/conflict.  As long as there is a theme/conflict I think you should be okay no matter what way you choose.  These are just my opinions.  I hope what I said makes sense and helps.  :)
#2 - June 27, 2014, 06:22 PM

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Although there is a place for episodic books, I prefer a book with an overall story arc that ties all the major elements together. It makes a more powerful story and more unified experience.


I am a little confused about your book, though. I'm not sure if it's a chapter book, or a short MG novel, or a story that started out to be one thing and then kind of morphed into something else.
#3 - June 27, 2014, 08:26 PM

Well it started out as a chapter book, then it just sort of expanded when I simply wouldn't stop at 16,000 words. So now I'm having about 3 chapters I'm having to trim.

I'm going to set it aside for a bit, and then plot another one. See what I learn from this one, and apply it to that. I'm trying to refine the concept of having the whole novella be able something like: the trails and tribulations of growing up. Then each mini-story would encompass one aspect of this theme.

Or some other general theme that could involve several stories.
#4 - June 28, 2014, 08:07 AM
« Last Edit: June 28, 2014, 11:44 AM by SarahW »
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I know that stories sometimes take on a life of their own and insist on going a different way than we had anticipated, but I think you need to decide what kind of book you are writing. A chapter book has different sentence length and vocabulary tolerances than an MG and is generally written for a younger age group.


Sometimes boundaries can be our friends. Once you decide what genre you are writing, many of your questions will be answered.


Good luck.  :flower


Laurel
#5 - June 28, 2014, 11:56 AM

What I meant to convey, is its meant to be an upper middle grade. I just have a tendency to underwrite, and so it turns out the length of a chapter book. Maybe its due to lack of subplots, I don't know.
#6 - June 28, 2014, 01:24 PM
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It could be that you'll add length in the revision because you'll need to make those earlier chapters lead up to that bigger thing you mentioned it becoming.

Do you have a critique group? There is a place on the boards to ask for a critique. This is often the best way to determine what your book needs. We all need another set of eyes to look stuff over occasionally. Good luck.
#7 - June 30, 2014, 08:44 AM
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I second Debbie's suggestion. A critique group could be just what you need. It's hard to be helpful when your eyes aren't on the WIP.
#8 - June 30, 2014, 10:23 AM

Yea I'll do that. Is 20,000 words to long for a group?


Also its like my only real fantasy project, I'm just so used to cyberpunk and dark science fiction. Then after that my science fiction writing was never really quite the same. (Now I have a hard time even writing science fiction.)
#9 - June 30, 2014, 02:01 PM
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Different critique groups work in different ways. Some limit the number of words you can exchange each time they meet (online or off). Others exchange full manuscripts.
#10 - July 02, 2014, 11:35 PM

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When you write middle grade chapters, do you typically think of it as one long story that goes through the whole book? Or do you think of it as a collection of story arcs that connect to larger coming of age themes?

Hi Sarah,

In case it's helpful, here are story arc structures I've come across in middle grade chapter books, in order from most to least common, with examples (some examples are drawn from YA):

One predominant book-length story arc - Eliza Bing is Not a Big Fat Quitter by Carmella Van Vleet; The Castle in the Attic by Elizabeth Winthrop

Interconnected stories or viewpoints that form one predominant book-length story arc - Wonder by R.J. Palacio; The Art of Secrets by James Klise; Chasing Vermeer by Blue Balliet

Small story arcs connected to one character, theme, or place that together compose a subtler book-length story arc - Any Laura Ingalls Wilder or Winnie-the-Pooh book; Betsy-Tacy by Maud Hart Lovelace; Anne of Green Gables by Lucy Maud Montgomery; and, more recently, Bo at Ballard Creek by Kirkpatrick Hill (I am only about halfway through this lovely book, so I can't swear that the structure won't change towards the end). It's been a while since I've read them, but I think Everything on a Waffle by Polly Horvath and The Year of the Dog by Grace Lin might fit into this category as well. This structure, to me, tends to convey a more meditative or historical feel, and I find that with this structure the book-length story arc tends to be more thematic (coming of age, strengthening friendship, etc.) than plot-based (solving a mystery, winning the state track meet, etc.).

Multiple main characters with separate story arcs - The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants by Ann Brashares

One main character with smaller, sequential story arcs - The Year of Billy Miller by Kevin Henkes

I imagine other people may have identified different categories or examples in their own reading and have varying ideas about the categories and examples that I have listed here. There's certainly a subjective component to classifying book structures and discerning what counts as a separate story arc, so this is only my own interpretation.

Best of luck with your writing!
#11 - July 03, 2014, 03:44 AM
« Last Edit: July 03, 2014, 03:46 AM by lisa-swanson »

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