Monday, December 2, 2013

Have Fun With the Story

Middle grade, in most cases, is all about fun. So it seems silly to say, but I think one of the trickiest things about writing middle grade is learning how to have fun with the story. In a lot of ways, as an adult we've forgotten what it's like to be a kid and how to just let loose. We are expected day in and day out to be mature upstanding citizens - to act like adults, so we do (most of the time). But in a way we need to reprogram how we think when writing middle grade. We have to channel that child from all those years prior. For some it's easier than others, but there are things you can do to harness that inner middle grade child.
Let Go
The first thing you have to do is let go of everything you think you know. The adult sense of right and wrong is very different from a child's. Where adults see complex issues children often see things as more of this or that, right or wrong. A one or the other type of situation. In the same respect, where adults see ordinary objects, children see numerous possibilities that often seem downright silly to an adult. As adults we often lose our sense of imagination in favor of a more complex world view. We ignore the trivial things in life like everyday objects and focus on life's issues and relationships. But for kids even everyday objects can be fun and have purpose beyond their intended use. This is what you have to channel as a middle grade writer. That sense of carefree imagination where nothing is too out there.

Find the silly
What’s the silliest, most ridiculous thing that could happen at that very moment in the story? Good, now make it happen. Even if it doesn't fit with the story, it's a good exercise in opening up your brain and revisiting those childhood years. Kids often see things beyond what is actually there. So use that to your advantage as a writer.
 Perfect the dialogue
What's the most ridiculous thing a kid could say? Kids often interpret things differently than adults. This is why they respond in different and often unexpected ways. Their wiring is quite unique from adults. Things are often matter of fact and don't always go very deep beneath the surface like adults. Kids often say what they mean. That's not to say they don't have an understanding of complex situations. They often even surprise adults in how well they comprehend difficult things. But think about the kids you see on shows like 'kids say the darndest things', or the silly posts people write about their kids on Facebook or twitter. That in essence is the basis for middle grade conversation and interaction. Study those posts and how kids perceive certain situations. It can help you not only understand how kids speak, but also how they view the world. 

Watch and learn 
Observe. When you are out in public, pay attention to how kids interact with other adults, kids, and their surroundings. Listen to how they speak. A lot of times kid interactions seem ordinary but if you watch for long enough (don't be a creeper) you'll start to pick up on unique personality traits and world views. Each kid has a unique interpretation and approach to life. Try to channel that into your characters and have fun with them.
What better way to get into touch with the mind of a middle grade reader than to read things that middle grade readers enjoy. Find the popular middle grade books and read them. Study the language, dialogue, plot, pacing, flow, and character development. Get a feel for what makes it different from other age groups and then apply it to your own writing.


Lastly, if you aren't sure, ask. Find a parent, teacher, librarian, writer with good middle grade voice, or do some research. If something feels off in your writing, it probably is. You don't have to have a kid read your work to find that middle grade voice. But have someone else who knows the age group well take a look for authenticity. Do realize that middle grade voice can be highly subjective but if multiple people are telling you the same thing it's probably time to re-evaluate.

But above all, don't forget to have fun with the story. Nothing is too silly or out there. And even if it is, you can always reel it back in. So don’t be afraid to go over the top. Middle grade at its heart is for kids, so find that childhood version of you that's been locked inside for so long and let him or her out. You might find you enjoy it!

What do you do to channel middle grade storytelling and how do you insert fun into it?


Liane said...

Ooh this is such a great thing you are doing, you guys. In answer to your question at the end of the blog, I am a kid. I haven't grown up. I still get at least one birthday card a year saying, 'Happy 3rd Birthday'. I love interacting with kids. Doing writing workshops in 50 schools with my last book was one of the best bits. Kids are soooooo great, smart and a real inspiration. I love humour and laughing and making people laugh - I do it a lot even when I'm not aware of it, which I try not to ponder too long over! - so inserting fun comes easily too me. Writing one book at the moment had me spitting over the computer as I was typing because the laugh just burst out of me. (Sorry if that's too much information). My UK editors - Cornerstones said my next book is so full of humour and a School Governor sent me a photo she took secretly of her daughter reading an amusing bit with just the most delicious expression that I could so relate to when I get that from a book. My US editor who did my line edit is crazy and fun like me so she really gets me so she pushes me to new heights. I am so blessed.

Jamie Krakover said...

That's so much fun! I wish I got to interact with kids more often. And you book sounds like it's absolutely gut busting!

Thanks for stopping by and leaving your thoughts! :)

Liane said...

Bless you, Jamie. It's action, action and tense with funny bits because two of the characters make you giggle, so sorry if I've over-hyped it as gut busting.

Jamie Krakover said...

haha sounds perfect to me! I do love action and laughter :)

Liane said...

Me too, Jamie! Yep. You may well love it then. :)