Friday, May 29, 2015

Revisions...OH....REVISIONS...How do I handle thee?

We all know this image....all to's how we feel when we are knee deep in the process of revisions. It drives us absolutely...IN.....SANE.

Here's the deal. We all get to the point where we think what we write initially is absolute gold. We're sort of blinded by these headlights of writing prowess where we think to ourselves "Holy hell. I am a crafting genius." Until you let someone else read it, and they say to you, "Hey,'ve got some issues."

It's there, that the revision process truly begins.

So what do I do to handle this revision scenario? Well, a few things --

1) Hand your MS over to other readers.

Beta Readers, Friends, Colleagues, Agents, Editors, ANYONE and EVERYONE. The more feedback you can get on your writing the better. In fact, I want to give a special shout out and props to the beta readers of my latest MS for my new MG novel because they have helped transform it into something truly special. The key is, these people will be able to see things that you otherwise can't. They can point out repetitious words or phrases, plot inconsistencies, poor prose, etc. It all comes down to the "blinders" or "high beams" of writing that we suffer through during the first run of MS writing. We need that extra set of eyes. SO..BADLY. If you haven't gotten yourself one, two or three uber-awesome beta readers, get on that now.


You've just handed your MS over to some beta readers, so what do you do while you wait for them to rip it to shreds? Why, you READ THEIR MS! I can't tell you how helpful it is to read other people's writings. Not only can you recognize common mistakes that you may be making as well, but you can also recognize key strengths that the other author is capable of doing that you can try to learn from. What better way to learn from each others strengths and weaknesses than by reading each others work?

3) Take a break

Going back to the fresh eyes bit. Your eyes need a break too. Once you finish your first draft..take a break. Then once you finish your first round of edits...take another break. Second round? Another break...THIRD ROUND...another break. Keep taking breaks away from your MS to keep your eyes and mind fresh. You want to go into it each time with a new outlook. Constantly ripping your manuscript to shreds will drive you nuts, and you'll end up most likely hurting it rather than helping it. Sure, it may take longer, but it is worth it in the end.

4) Knowing when revision are done

They are really never done. Sorry. LOL. I could say they are done when your book is published, but even then I know I will look at my own writing and say "God Dammit...I should have changed that." Revisions are done, when you can't stand to look at it anymore. Beyond that point, you will just end up hating your MS. Keep that love strong. It's your baby!

5) You don't have to listen to everyone's advice, but handle criticism well

The industry is subjective. We all know that. Everyone has a different opinion on writing and a proper way of doing things, but nothing is concrete. Well, certain things are, but you get what I'm saying. Ultimately, when you get notes back from an editor, or a beta reader, or whoever, you don't have to listen to every word they say. But take their criticism, and put it in your back pocket and think about it. Let it stew a bit before jumping to conclusions. Remember, they are only trying to help. And they can't help you by being all fluffy and nice about your writing and saying you are the greatest thing since JK Rowling. It's a constant work in process, and we all screw up and need improvements.

I know my other MG Minder bloggers are going to be writing similar entries so I don't want to write EVERYTHING about my process. Hell, I need to get back to my revisions for my latest book because I wan't that bad boy on submission..oh yeah, which reminds me...DON'T RUSH. The last thing I WANT to do is send a book on submission that isn't 100% ready.

Good luck everyone, and remember, BREATHE.


Monday, May 25, 2015

Dear MG Minded — On MG and Profanity

Dear MG Minded,

I would like to use the idiom 'shot to hell.' The question: Is the mild curse 'hell' appropriate for a MG contemporary fantasy? Thanks!

This week's question is one I've seen come up in discussions many times. And it's a tough one to answer, because both sides offer up equally good points. Since that's the case, I could just give the same advice my dad did when I came to him with a question he didn't know the answer to:

Go ask your mom.

But I won't do that to you all. Not today anyway. No, today I'm going to pitch in my own two cents on the subject. I've had this discussion with many writers, my agent, and my editor, so I've got several people who are much smarter than me to guide me. 

*clears throat, pushes up glasses, looks all professorly*

There have been many successful MG books which have shows us that mild profanity in kidlit can work. But that doesn't mean every MG book needs it. If you're faced with a word or phrase you're on the fence about in your kidlit story, there are some things you have to consider.
  1. Character
  2. Story
  3. Gatekeepers
Let's take a closer look at each one.


I guess the first thing you need to think about is whether or not the character would need to use mild profanity. If you're writing for a lower MG crowd, then I'd say no. Never. Nuh-uh. There is no need. But if you're writing a character who's thirteen, then there might be a chance he or she might. And when I say need, I'm talking about the need for authenticity. And that encompasses a lot of things like where the character's from, what time period the character lives in, what the character's family is like. That kind of stuff. However, there's a lot to be said for made-up profanity. Words that'll get the point across without stepping over that line. Again, that comes down to your characters, their age, their lives, and their experiences.


Our job as writers is to tell a compelling story. And if our compelling MG story can survive without the use of profanity, no matter how mild, then why not go that route? But sometimes, a story won't be light and fluffy. Sometimes a story is going to be heavy and dark. And sometimes the characters caught up in the situations within those types of stories are going to express themselves accordingly. However, as a writer, I edit heavily while I write my first drafts. And if there's ever a line or a word that I can take out and still keep the scene as good as I want it, I'll remove it. So that might be a good way to think about mild profanity in MG stories. If the scene can survive just fine without it, maybe it's not needed after all.


Kids buy books, sure. But I'd say the majority of books kids end up reading are ones offered up by parents, teachers, or librarians. Not to say they're the ones who are choosing what our future leaders and novelists are reading, but they're certainly helping. That being said, it's a good idea to keep in mind that many adults won't want their children or students reading a book with profanity. We're writing for our target audience, but we've got a sort of filter we have to go through before our books ever reach the their eyes. 

All right, so . . . did I answer the question? Not really. Because it's not one for me to answer. It's up to the writer. Once a kid reaches a certain age, swearing becomes a part of the exploration of identity. That identity may end up being a non-swearing one, but that developmental stage is still there. We want authentic characters. We want compelling stories. And we want our audience to read them, which means we have to make it past the gatekeepers, so to speak. 

So I'd say write your story and decide for yourself. Just keep in mind that once it's out there, it's not yours anymore. It's theirs. So make sure it's going to be one they'll want (and get) to read.

For an awesome #MGLitChat Twitter discussion on this subject, click here.

If you have a question you'd like MG Minded to answer please email

Happy writing!

Friday, May 22, 2015

The Writing and Revision Process of a Complete Moron

That's me, complete moron. If you don't believe me, ask my wife.

I love hearing about the processes of other writers. When I first started writing, I thought I would learn a magical way for me to do my work.

I didn't find it.

In the end, every writer has her own process and what works for me will probably not work for you. But it's still fun to learn.

I usually get an idea. Maybe it's the title of a book. Maybe it's a character. Or maybe it's a "what if" question. It's happened each way with me. And I kind of noodle on that idea. I think- what about this idea, character, or question interests me?

At that point, one of two things might happen.

Some times, I just start writing. Stephen King talked about novelists being like archaeologists and our idea is to dig and uncover dirt until we 'find' the story. That's what I often do. I just write. I discover things about my character, the idea, the setting.

Then, after I've written anywhere between 1/6 and 1/4 of the book, I stop. I stop and I take a cold hard look at what I've got.

I started with a flash, and now I've written words. But this is my timeout, my opportunity to ask myself the all important question: I've got a whole bunch of words, but do I have the makings of a story?

Sometimes yes. Sometimes no.

Regardless of the answer, I ALWAYS do the SAME thing next. I pull out a piece of paper and I plot. I don't outline nor would I ever outline. Not because I'm fundamentally against it but because I'm fundamentally disorganized and, as I mentioned before, a complete moron. So, instead, I plot. I write down opening, inciting incident, break into act 2 (crossing the threshold), halfway point decision, dark night of the soul, climax, resolution.

And I start brainstorming what the plot points of this story would really need to be in order to look like a real story. Sometimes I can do this in a day, sometimes in takes me a couple weeks of just letting my brain roll the thing around in order to find the right solution.

If I don't find it, I don't keep writing. If I find my plot points, I go back into full drafting mode. Sometimes I start back at square one, sometimes I just pick up where I left off. But my job at this point is to bust out a first draft. And I do mean bust out.

I'm not precious with words. I'm under no delusion that I'm the H.P. Lovecraft of Middle Grade fiction. A wordsmith, I am not. I'm not poetic. What I am is a complete moron, with a decent sense of story and a desire to write funny stuff. So that's what I do. I write the first draft as fast as I can. And my goal at the end of the first draft is the following: I want to finally know what this story is. My job during the first draft is to tell myself the story.

I almost always move on to one of my other projects after I finish my first draft. Sometimes I return to it the following week but in most cases, I bet I wait 2-4 weeks before I start the second draft. My job during the second draft is very simple. I want to make the story I told myself in draft one DOES NOT SUCK AFTER DRAFT TWO.

That's it. Make it NOT SUCK.

Draft two usually takes me longer than the first draft. My job isn't to bust this draft out. It's to pay more attention to the words, to the characters, to the flow, to reversals in plot, things like this. And hopefully, at the end of the second draft, I have something I'm reasonably happy with. I read the whole thing and think about what I need to do to start making this a good story. Doesn't usually take me long and I'm ready to proceed into draft three fairly quickly.

And when I start draft three, my job is very clear. I want the story to be good enough to send to an editor.

That's it. I have to really make the words count, I have to make this damn thing funny, I have to make the climax work, I have to have my character grow, I have to get something done. Third drafts have gone quickly for me and sometimes they have taken F-O-R-E-V-E-R.  But at the end of that third draft, I need to do something with this baby.

Now, in case you didn't know, I self-publish. And my business model is to publish a lot of good books. I'm not writing best sellers. Remember, I'm a complete moron. My job, as I see it, is to write good stories, fun stories, funny stories...and to write and publish lots of them. So after the third draft, I send it to a freelance copy editor. I make those copy edit changes, then I read the entire story again and make any last minute changes that I think need to happen.

Then I send it to a proofreader.

Then I publish.

That's how I do it and if someday, you want to be a complete moron like myself, you might just copy my process exactly. But I think, much more important, is to find the process that works for you.

Last thing, I also draw pictures. My latest book is for 7 and 8 year-olds and has tons of pictures. It's called The Big Life of Remi Muldoon and you can buy the ebook now by following this link.

Best of luck and happy writing! Daniel Kenney

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Dear MG Minded

Dear MG Minded Readers,
You've got questions?

We've got answers.

Send us your questions about Middle Grade. Whether it's reading, writing, recommendations, you name it! We're here to help. Send them our way and one of our awesome bloggers might answer them in an upcoming post.

So what are you waiting for? Send your deep burning questions to and then check back on the blog for all those questions and answers!

Looking forward to seeing them.
The MG Minded Team

Monday, May 18, 2015

Dear MG Minded - On MG and Romance

Middle Grade Minded received a really interesting question in our inbox last week about middle grade and romance. It's a great topic to address for middle grade writers, so I decided to share the question and my response with all of you.

Dear MG Minded,
I'm really glad I found this group because I write MG and YA novels myself. Can you guys help me with a pressing question? My character is a fifteen year old girl. I made her fifteen because the story has a strong romantic subplot where she meets her first real boyfriend and gets a first kiss. I thought twelve was too young for that experience and thirteen and fourteen are in the dreaded tween range, which I'm told is hard to market. Still, a lot of people who read my novel think the MC comes across a lot younger, in the tween years. If I move her age down to twelve, can she still have romantic experiences and would any middle graders be interested in that?

I’m glad you found us too! We always love to see more MG/YA writers in this community. As for your question, there’s no 100% straight forward answer, but there’s a couple of things you should consider.

The first thing is the age of your main character. Fifteen can sometimes also fall in the no man’s land in terms of age and fitting in to MG vs YA. Kids usually read up so the characters they read about are usually, but not always, older than they are. That said fifteen typically falls in lower YA territory. If your character is presenting as young, you could consider reworking her to sound more age appropriate at fifteen.

On the flip side, the other consideration is the appropriateness of romance in MG. Middle Grade is very much about discovery and figuring out where one fits into a group. It also has a lot of firsts, especially when you hit the upper middle grade where the main characters are typically twelve and yes, also thirteen. Upper middle grade often deals with those tween/middle school years, where kids are learning to navigate their lockers, their classes, their friends, and their first crushes. In upper middle grade crushes and innocent first kisses can happen.

So if your character does in fact present as a tween and is experiencing her first crush and first kiss, but not much beyond that I would say you are squarely falling in that upper middle grade range. Making her twelve or even thirteen shouldn’t make your book unmarketable. In fact, I had an agent once recommend that I make my main character thirteen and pitch it as upper middle grade. So the market is there for that.

That said, I’d be hesitant to go as far as calling it a full blown relationship even in upper middle grade. A little innocent romance is typically fine because kids are starting to feel that interest and those crushes. Do keep in mind, if the romantic subplot goes much beyond that point of the first crush/kiss stuff, you’re probably heading into YA territory. Romance beyond those innocent first couple of steps is fairly rare in middle grade. As long as you are sticking to that sense of innocence and firsts you should be okay in the upper middle grade realm.

Hopefully that helps as this can be a tough call.

MG Minded

What do you guys think about MG and romance? How much is too much? Where is the line between romance in MG and romance in YA?

Thanks to Chuck for the question and allowing me to post it on the blog!

If you have a question you'd like MG Minded to answer please email

Friday, May 15, 2015

Cover Reveal! SOME KIND OF COURAGE by Dan Gemeinhart (that's me)

I'm so excited for this blog post.
We all know how important covers are. They are a reader's - or, a possible reader's, rather - first introduction to a book. Despite precautionary cliches to the contrary, most readers decide as soon as they look at a book's cover whether or not it's something they want to read. As an elementary teacher-librarian, I can assure you that middle grade readers are even more guilty of this than most. If a book's cover doesn't resonate with a kid, doesn't hook them or intrigue them or speak to them, it's almost a dead certainty that they will not check it out, regardless of how persuasively I try to sell them on the story. In some ways it's like shopping for a house; kids are looking for a story to move into for awhile, and they're pretty unwilling to look past a crumbling front porch, a broken window, or garish pink paint. Curb appeal matters.

Beyond selling a book, though, covers also really become a part of a book's identity. Permanently, more or less. I bet if you closed your eyes and thought of a few of your very favorite, most beloved books, you could probably picture their covers pretty darn clearly. Those covers are tied and tangled up with the stories now; the story is a book's heart, but the cover is it's face.

So, as a writer, covers feel pretty high stakes. It's the face of your baby. It's the visual identity of something you spent years of your life and gallons of your passion on. Seeing your book's cover - with oh my goodness YOUR NAME on it - is a beautiful, breathless moment. You can only hope it's a good one. A cover that readers will love. A cover that you will fall in love with.

I've been so lucky. My debut novel, THE HONEST TRUTH, came out from Scholastic Press this past January. The cover was designed by Nina Goffi, and from day one I absolutely loved it. I felt - and still feel - that she really "got" the book and managed to put it's very essence right there in the simple, stark images of the cover. A year in, and I'm still madly in love with it.

So I was thrilled when I heard that Scholastic was having Nina Goffi do the cover for my second book, SOME KIND OF COURAGE, which will come out January 26th, 2016. It's historical fiction, set in Washington state in the year 1890. It's about Joseph, a boy orphaned on the journey west. All that he has left of his life and his family and his past - of himself, really - is his horse, Sarah. When she gets sold away to a traveling horse trader, Joseph vows to follow her through all the perils of the wild frontier as far and as long as it takes to get her back.

It is not a sequel to THE HONEST TRUTH, but like that book it's an adventure story with heart and emotion. It's about family, and friendship, and home, and loss, and belonging. It's about doing whatever it takes to be with the one you love. I love this story...I love its characters, I love its setting, I love its beating heart and its racing pulse. So I really wanted to love its cover.
And I do. Boy, do I.
Here it is:
Oh, man. I love how it has enough in common with THE HONEST TRUTH - the font, the style, the simple color scheme - to clearly be connected to it, but is also different and distinct enough to clearly be its own book, its own story. I love the colors. I love the boy, alone but with his eyes on the horse that he loves. I love the presence of the setting, made clear without getting in the way or taking over. I love how she included the stars and the river - both thematic elements of the story that will mean more to a reader once they've finished reading and close the book to look back at this beautiful cover. 

I could not be happier with this cover. I feel so lucky to be with Scholastic, and so lucky that both of my books have been so beautifully handled by Nina Goffi. I can't wait for it to be out there in the world. 

I'm so happy that this cover will be readers' first introduction to my book, so grateful that this cover will be tied and tangled up with my story in their hearts.

Monday, May 11, 2015

MG Minded Talks - Main Charaters and Gender

Welcome to a new blog segment MG Minded Talks! We will ask each of the bloggers a series of questions and they will share their responses. This month we are talking genders. Here's the questions:

1) What gender are you writing right now?
2) What gender do you usually write?
3) Do you prefer to write in one gender over another why or why not?

Tom T.
1) Male
2) Male

3) Actually, no preference...but it's fun writing in the opposite gender because I get to put on my "new perspective" shoes. Always have to reach out for other-gender advice though lol

Jamie K.
1) I'm currently working on three things, all with female protagonists 

2) I tend to write more female point of view then male.

3) Female point of view tends to come more naturally to me, esp in YA, but I've written in male point of view before too. I don't have a preference one way or the other because I tend to let the characters dictate their gender and personalities. It just seems like most of my main characters are female because I enjoy writing strong women. That said if I have a female MC the main secondary character tends to be male or vice versa if the MC is male the main secondary character tends to be female. That way I get a good balance.

Stacey T.
1) My current MG WIP has TWO boy main character's! Simply because that's what those characters were in my head.

2) this is my first time writing through the point of view of a boy. I usually write girl protagonists. But admittedly my girl characters
tend to be more on the "Tom boy" side of things.

3) I don't think I have a real preference other than it feels more natural to write from a girl's perspective. Though I do like being able to show that girls can be just as cool as boys.

Jason R. 
1) Female
2) Both

3) No. A lot depends on what I think fits best with the story I want to tell at the time, but I do admittedly make a conscious effort to write strong females whenever possible (knowing that my daughter, 9, will read it).

Dan K.
1) boy 

2) boy 

3) I've gravitated towards writing boys as my main characters but I have the most fun writing girls as my MC 

Tom M. 
1) Current main character is a girl. 

2) I'd say the gender I choose to write is mostly determined by what best serves the story. 

3) I find writing female characters forces me to push deeper into creating more fully-realized characters since there is so much about them I won't personally relate to.

Brooks B.
1) Transgender female 
2) Both

3) TIGHTS has a boy MC and the one I just finished has a girl MC and I've loved writing both. After I finish this YA I'm going to start on another MG that'll have a girl MC. I ALWAYS begin by creating a character and then a story to fit him or her. Most of my MCs are inspired by people I know or meet so a lot of times that'll dictate the gender. But not always.

How about all of you?
1) What gender are you writing right now?
2) What gender do you usually write?
3) Do you prefer to write in one gender over another why or why not?

Friday, May 8, 2015

More than just's CO-EVERYTHING!

Welcome to Part Three of Jen and Gail's Amazing Adventures in Co-Writing! We’re walking you step-by-step through our experiences co-authoring the new middle grade series You’re Invited, which launches later this month with Simon & Schuster/Aladdin M!X.

Last week, Part One, which covered the concept and sale of the series, went up on Amy Trueblood's blog. Part Two, which covered the drafting process, ran on Kidliterari and now I’ll (hey, it’s Jen this time. *waves*) wrap things up by chatting co-authoring revision and promotion.


So far we’ve been a happy twosome, but here’s where we add in a third person--our editor. Luckily, we have a great one who earnestly uses words like awesomesauce, which is very endearing! When we get our edit letter, we typically read through it a few times together and identify areas we’ll each tackle. It’s a no-brainer if the note pertains to a specific character because whoever wrote that character will handle that revision. It gets trickier when the comments are broader and relate to an overarching storyline. We generally try to divvy those up as fairly as possible, discuss possible solutions together on the phone or via text, and then retreat to handle our own assigned edits. We work in GoogleDocs so that we can easily see what changes each person has made and can even work simultaneously in one document.  I won’t lie though, from my perspective, this is one of the more difficult aspects because it’s hard enough for me to keep a story straight and remember what I did and didn’t cut during revisions when there’s only one hand in the cookie jar. I find that I do full rereads more frequently than I do when working on my solo manuscripts, just to keep the thread of it all. Copyedits and first pass pages also take a bit longer than they do on single-author projects (at least for us) because we do them together on the phone. Copy editor queries that one person working alone would “okay” pretty quickly often get discussed and debated. But that’s okay. Because where this might take more work, the trade-off is more than worth it, especially when it comes to the next part, which is promotion.


It can be pretty “icky” to promote your own book, shouting out into the great wilderness about something that feels so intimate. BUT with two of us, it somehow seems more organic. I worry less about coming across as arrogant (which, trust me, I’m an author so… no) because I can praise all of Gail’s contributions to the story while glossing right over mine. Plus, I don’t want to let her down by not doing my fair share of promotion and publicity so that spurs me on during periods when I feel shy or (worse) “overpromote-y”, as I’ve so eloquently named it. Also, I should note, it’s exceedingly nice to share the cost of swag. Although we have a lot of the same friends in our online writing communities, because we live in different parts of the country (Kentucky and Massachusetts) we can cover a lot of geographic area between the two of us taking to the road separately in support of one book.  Also, if you thought one proud mama was a force to be reckoned with, just add in another. The whole world probably has a You’re Invited bookmark by now. Thanks, Mom(s).

In all, the experience of co-writing has been so positive I now understand firsthand why so many authors are embracing it. I hope I get to write a million more books with Gail and one day I may even cheat on her with another co-writer. Though she may have spoiled me…

Hey, so speaking of promotion, Gail and I are running a pre-order contest through May 25th. Order a copy of You’re Invited in any format (paperback, hardcover, or ebook) and let us know. In exchange, we’ll give you your choice of fun stuff (an MP3 of a song one of our characters wrote, a query critique, or a Behind the Scenes annotation which lets you in on more secrets that went into the writing of our book) plus you’ll be entered into a grand prize for even more swag and cool things—like naming a character in You’re Invited Too (out in February) after you or the child of your choice. *crosses fingers said child isn’t named Snarflegus. More details are my website and Gail's website.

Thanks for joining us and feel free to leave any questions on co-writing below!

You're Invited cover high res
You’re Invited

Four best friends start a party-planning business in this fresh, funny tween novel from the authors of At Your Service and Breaking the Ice.

Twelve-year-old Sadie loves helping her mom with her wedding planning business, and with Sadie’s mad organizational skills, she’s a natural! That’s why it’s so devastating when her mother “fires” her after a Little Mermaid–themed wedding goes awry.

Enter Sadie’s best friends: sporty Vi, ace student Lauren, and boy-crazy Becca. The girls decide that in order to get Sadie’s mom to reconsider, they have to make her see how amazing Sadie is at party planning. Except no one’s gonna hire a twelve-year-old to plan a wedding. A birthday party, though? Definite possibility.

Before long, RSVP—your one-stop shop for the most creative parties in town—is born. Of course, Sadie can’t wait to prove herself to her mom, but the other girls also have their reasons for enlisting: Vi has her eye on the perfect gift for her hardworking dad, and Becca’s all aflush at the thought of connecting with Ryan, the new Irish cutie in town. And though Lauren thinks she’s too busy with summer studies to “officially” join, she’s willing to help out in any way she can.

But in this particular party-planning business, nothing goes according to plan! Sadie’s mom is a perpetual no-show, Vi’s archrival is dead set on ruining her summer, Becca can’t seem to get Ryan to glance in her direction, and Lauren keeps choosing studying over her friends. Is the girls’ friendship strong enough to survive a business? Or does RSVP spell the end of these BFFs?

Monday, May 4, 2015

Overthinking out of the Stereotypes

If you scan over the past few Middle Grade Minded posts, you’ll probably notice our recently recurring theme of gender in middle grade literature. When the topic first came up, Tom T. pitched an idea about what it was like being a male writer and writing female characters. I had the same idea since that’s what I’ve been doing for the past few years, but he beat me to it by just a couple of comments in the discussion thread. Still, it was agreed that I could take on the same topic as long as I didn’t cover the same territory. After reading his post, I realized I saw things differently enough to allow me to write something of a counterpoint.

Summarizing, his main points about writing opposite gender characters were “Don’t overthink it. Ignore all the stereotypes and let the story determine who your characters are.” To clarify, I’m certainly not coming out in favor of perpetuating gender stereotypes in books being written for young and impressionable minds. However, I believe a lot of thought and planning needs to go into developing a character, and that can mean overthinking isn’t always such a bad thing.

Sure, there’s a point when planning ahead can be too much and I know I’ve been guilty of that before, but I’d rather go into a story knowing more about my characters than I really need to instead of leaving a lot of room for discovery. If you’re in the writing world you’ve probably heard of the terms “plotters” (the people who meticulously outline every detail of character development and plot and world-building ahead of time) and “pantsers” (the people who write by the seat of their pants and let things unfold along the way as they will). I am unquestionably a plotter. I suspect Tom T. might be more of a pantser. Neither of these methods is any better than the other since it all comes back to the individual writer and what works best for her or him. While a pantser would be more okay with discovering the story along the way and having that dictate how the character responds and grows, a plotter would map out their character to know exactly how they would react in any situation that came along before the drafting gets serious. Of course things are still going to evolve and fine-tune along the way, but rarely to a degree that would redefine who the character was meant to be at the start.

For me, this tendency is even more pronounced when I write female characters. I honestly prefer writing female characters to male. I find it all too easy to fall back on my own perceptions and experiences when writing boys, and I have to go out of my way to make those characters come across as distinct individuals instead of just slightly different facets of my own personality. With girls, I don’t have any of that personal perspective to borrow from. To have a complete and realistic character, I need to create everything about her from the ground up, which I feel is the best kind of challenge. In fact, since the story of my current manuscript was something very personal for me, the biggest reason I made my main character a girl and had her tell the story in the first person was to make it that much harder for me to relate to her. Thinking in lazy terms about what girls are like (and this is the part where I agree with Tom T.) can lead into generalizing stereotypes. My first job was to create a believable person, but then, to make sure she came across as believable, to also provide her with multidimensional characteristics. Part of that is her gender.

I think it’s fair to say my agent is pretty editorial (and, HOORAY for that, by the way). When we were brainstorming through different revision passes, I’d send her ideas I was considering and she’d occasionally caution me to make sure I didn’t fall into any kind of stereotype traps: “Just because they need to stop at a mall, make sure the scene doesn’t become about how girls like to shop” or something along those lines. She had faith that I knew better than to do that intentionally, but would still point out moments where it would have been too easy to just slip a little and rely on a stereotype instead of advancing the character and the story in meaningful and authentic ways. Since she knows a lot more about what it was like to be a thirteen-year-old girl than I ever will, I listened, and would tread very deliberately around those moments.

Because of that, I wound up with a character that I hope readers, both male and female, will relate to and see as someone who could be real. Whether it works better for a writer to plot or pants their way through the work, that should always be one of their biggest goals.