Tips for Creating Subplots in Middle Grade Novels

by Suzanne Lieurance


 If you’re writing a middle grade novel, you want to include at least one or two subplots.

Subplots in fiction are secondary storylines that run alongside the main plot, adding depth, complexity, and interest to the narrative. 

 

They enhance the main storyline by providing additional layers of conflict, character development, or thematic exploration. 

 

Subplots often intersect with the main plot at certain points, influencing or being influenced by the actions and events of the primary storyline.

 

For middle-grade novels targeted at kids aged 8-12, subplots can be a fantastic tool to engage young readers and keep them invested in the story. 

 

Here are some different types of subplots in middle-grade novels and some examples of published novels that contain these types of subplots:

 

Friendship Dynamics Subplot

 

Explore the dynamics of friendships among the main characters. 

 

Introduce conflicts, misunderstandings, or new friendships that challenge the established relationships. 

 

Subplots could revolve around resolving conflicts between friends, navigating peer pressure, or discovering the importance of loyalty and trust.

 

Example of a MG novel with this kind of subplot

 

Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney

 

Throughout the series, protagonist Greg Heffley navigates various friendships and social dynamics, including conflicts with his best friend Rowley and attempts to fit in with different cliques at school.

 

Personal Growth Subplot

 

Develop subplots that focus on the personal growth and development of individual characters. 

 

Each character could have their own arc, facing challenges or overcoming obstacles that help them grow and mature throughout the story. 

 

These subplots could involve facing fears, overcoming insecurities, or discovering hidden talents. 

 

Example of a MG novel with this kind of subplot

 

Wonder by R.J. Palacio

 

While the main plot focuses on Auggie Pullman's journey as he enters fifth grade, there are subplots involving the personal growth of supporting characters like Auggie's sister, Via, as she learns to assert her identity and navigate her own challenges.

 

Mystery or Puzzle Subplot

 

Introduce a mystery or puzzle that runs parallel to the main storyline. 

 

This could be a treasure hunt, a secret to uncover, or a series of clues leading to a surprising revelation. 

 

Subplots involving mystery and intrigue can add excitement and suspense to the narrative, keeping readers eagerly turning pages to unravel the mystery.

 

Example of a MG novel with this kind of subplot

 

The Westing Game by Ellen Raskin: 

 

This classic mystery novel follows a group of heirs as they compete to solve the puzzle of Samuel W. Westing's will and claim his inheritance. 

 

The subplot involves the characters unraveling clues and uncovering secrets about each other while trying to solve the mystery.

 

Family Dynamics Subplot

 

Explore the family dynamics of the main characters. 

 

Subplots could involve family secrets, sibling rivalries, or conflicts between generations. 

 

These subplots provide opportunities to delve into themes of family, identity, and belonging, while also deepening the characterization of the main protagonists. 

 

Example of a MG novel with this kind of subplot

 

Bridge to Terabithia by Katherine Paterson

 

While the main storyline focuses on the friendship between Jess and Leslie, there are subplots that delve into Jess's complex family dynamics, including his strained relationship with his father and his evolving understanding of his role within his family.

 

Community or School Events Subplot

 

Incorporate subplots centered around community or school events. 

 

This could include a school play, a sports competition, or a town festival. 

 

Subplots involving these events can bring the setting to life and provide opportunities for characters to interact with a wider range of supporting characters, adding richness and diversity to the story world. 

 

Example of a MG novel with this kind of subplot

 

Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone by J.K. Rowling

 

Alongside the main plot of Harry's first year at Hogwarts and his quest to stop Voldemort, there are subplots involving various school events such as Quidditch matches, the annual Halloween feast, and the end-of-year House Cup ceremony.

 

Parallel Adventures Subplot

 

Introduce parallel adventures or quests that run alongside the main journey of the protagonists. 

 

These subplots could involve secondary characters on their own quests or facing their own challenges, which intersect with the main storyline at key moments. 

 

Parallel adventures add depth and complexity to the narrative, while also highlighting different perspectives and experiences within the story world.

 

Example of a MG novel with this kind of subplot

 

Percy Jackson & the Olympians: The Lightning Thief by Rick Riordan

 

While Percy's quest to retrieve Zeus's stolen lightning bolt is the central focus of the novel, there are subplots involving other characters on their own quests, such as Annabeth's quest to find and retrieve the stolen Helm of Darkness.

 

Themes and Lessons Subplot

 

Develop subplots that explore specific themes or lessons relevant to the target age group. 

 

These could include themes such as courage, empathy, or environmental awareness. 

 

Subplots focused on thematic exploration allow for deeper engagement with the material and provide opportunities for readers to reflect on important values and ideas. 

 

Example of a MG novel with this kind of subplot

 

Matilda by Roald Dahl

 

In addition to Matilda's extraordinary abilities and her quest for acceptance and understanding, there are subplots that explore themes of friendship, courage, and the power of standing up to injustice, particularly through the character of Miss Honey.

 

By incorporating well-crafted subplots into your middle-grade novels, you can create rich and immersive storytelling experiences that captivate young readers and keep them eagerly engaged with the story from beginning to end.



Suzanne Lieurance is a freelance writer, the author of over 40 published books and a writing coach at writebythesea.com.


Subscribe to her free newsletter, The Morning Nudge, for writing tips and resources delivered to your e-mailbox every weekday morning. 


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Authors Need to be Realistic


By Terry Whalin 
@terrywhalin

Over the years, I’ve met many passionate writers. One brand new writer told me, “My book is going to be a bestseller.” This confident boast intrigued me and I wanted to know more details such as the focus of the book and the publisher. 

When the author said, “Balboa Press” I knew this author was headed for a rude awakening. Balboa Press is a self-publishing company and a part of Author Solutions. From my years in publishing, I knew this company was going to publish close to 50,000 titles this year. For this author to break out with a bestseller would be nearly impossible. To become a bestseller, the book needs broad distribution to online plus brick-and-mortar bookstores who report their sales to a bestseller list. Balboa Press is online, and their books are not sold in brick and mortar bookstores. Also with the large volume of titles each year, it is common publishing knowledge that the bulk of Author Solutions (and Balboa Press) employees are in the Philippines. I’ve seen a number of books from these publishers and their covers are poor (And good covers sell books) and the overall production is not good quality. I hoped this author didn’t spend a lot of money to produce her book. I’ve met authors who have a garage full of books from these companies and have spent $20,000 to produce them (no exaggeration). It is heart breaking to witness such scams and authors need to be careful. 

Here’s three steps to avoid the wrong publisher:

Use Google to see what is online. Type: Publisher name + complaint then read a page or two of the entries. Are the complaints new or old? Are there many entries or a few? 

1. A reality of the internet is every publisher has complaints and anyone can write anything about anyone with it online forever. 

2. Speak with some of the publishers’ authors and ask about their experiences.

3. Read and get professional help on the contract. Make sure you understand it.

These actions will help you avoid many publishing pitfalls. The publisher you select has a lot to do with getting your book into the right places online and in physical bookstores. Some authors believe they can make money if their book is on Amazon. While Amazon is a large part of the book selling market, there are many ways and places that people buy books: bookstores, airports, grocery stores and much more. You want your book to be in the broadest possible number of places to succeed, sell and make money. The publisher controls much of this distribution. 

Because many of these financial details are outside of your control as an author, what steps can you take? From my 30+ years in publishing, it does not happen without the author taking action. No matter whether a major publisher releases our book, or you self-publish, as the author you will bear the bulk of the responsibility to market your book. If they are honest, every author would like to delegate this book marketing responsibility to someone else. 

One of my favorite books is The Success Principles by Jack Canfield. I’ve read this book several times and I’ve also listened to this entire book on audio. Canfield has spent a lifetime studying the principles that people follow to be successful, and I want you to be successful as an author. The first principle in the book says, “Take 100% Responsibility for Your Life.” 

This principle applies to the constant wish for every author to have someone else market your book. Are you reaching out to your target audience? Have you identified your target audience for your book? Where are they and how are you reaching out to touch them on a consistent basis? It does not have to be daily but it does have to be regular. Give them great content on your topic and in that process point them to more information inside your book.

One of the best ways for you to take responsibility is to create your own marketing plans. Whether you self-publish or have a traditional publisher to get your book into the bookstore, these plans are important. Whether your book is launching soon or has been out for a while, you need to be creating and executing your own marketing plans. Every author needs a dose of realism combined with consistent action to reach readers.

Tweetable: 

Authors need to be realistic and combine this realism with consistent action. Get insights from this prolific writer and editor. Get the details here. (ClickToTweet)


W. Terry Whalin, a writer and acquisitions editor lives in California. A former magazine editor and former literary agent, Terry is an acquisitions editor at Morgan James Publishing. He has written more than 60 nonfiction books including Jumpstart Your Publishing Dreams and Billy Graham. Get Terry’s recent book, 10 Publishing Myths for only $10, free shipping and bonuses worth over $200. To help writers catch the attention of editors and agents, Terry wrote his bestselling Book Proposals That $ell, 21 Secrets To Speed Your Success. Check out his free Ebook, Platform Building Ideas for Every Author. His website is located at: www.terrywhalin.com. Connect with Terry on TwitterFacebook and LinkedIn.

Using Personality Typologies to Build Your Characters

 

Contributed by Margot Conor

People often have asked me how I build such varied and interesting character profiles. I’m fond of going into deep POV and to do that, I need to know who they are, what they care about, what they seek, and what they avoid. At the heart of those questions is… why?

I build each character with a back history, which may or may not be exposed in the body of the story. They just need to live in my mind, fully formed. I need to feel their pain and touch the private tender things they want to keep secret. I want to know what drives them to do foolish things, what makes them brave or reckless.

I give them complex personalities. To find their hang-ups, and fears, and decide what sort of baggage they’ve brought with them. I need to know what they went through before they entered my story. I have to find the trauma that tarnished them and the promises that gave them hope.

So, you might have a clue by reading the title of this article. I use personality typologies. I don’t use the same system all the time. They are all useful and they vary in complexity. It depends if I am building a profile for a main character or someone who has a brief appearance in the story. No matter how insignificant the role they play I still don’t want them to be a simple archetypical villain or hero.

I also don’t want the villains to be all bad, if there are aspects of their personalities you can sympathize with it makes them more interesting. And of course, if the protagonist doesn’t have flaws, it’s hard to relate to them. They need a journey of discovery. A way to grow with the challenges they face.

Below is a quick look at the systems I draw from:

The oldest typology I know of is Hippocrates’ Four Temperaments. (460–370 BC). A system based on the four humors. A fifth was later added when published in 1958.

FIVE TEMPERAMENTS:
Your temperament is considered innate, influenced by genetics. They are often like a parent or grandparent. External factors such as negative and positive childhood experiences also factor in. Temperament is a little different or more basic than personality. It deals with how you move through your life and engage with people and challenges.

Sanguine: quick, impulsive, and relatively short-lived reactions.
Phlegmatic: a longer response-delay, but short-lived response.
Choleric: short response time-delay, but response sustained for a relatively long time.
Melancholic: (Also called “Melancholy”) long response time-delay, a response sustained at length, if not, seemingly, permanently.
Supine: (added later) Describes a person who is a servant and feels that he or she has little or no value.

MYERS BRIGGS:
16 personality types. To use these properly you need to read the full profile for each one, but here is a brief overview: the following descriptions are copied from: https://www.16personalities.com/personality-types

The Analysts:
Architect: Imaginative and strategic thinkers, with a plan for everything.
Logician: Innovative inventors with an unquenchable thirst for knowledge.
Commander: Bold and imaginative, strong-willed leaders.
Debater: Smart and curious thinkers who can’t resist an intellectual challenge.

The Diplomats:
Advocate: Quiet and mystical, inspiring, and tireless idealists.
Mediator: Poetic, kind, and altruistic, always eager to help a good cause.
Protagonist: Charismatic and inspiring leaders, able to mesmerize their listeners.
Campaigner: Enthusiastic, creative, and sociable free spirits.

The Sentinels:
Logistician: Practical and fact-minded, their reliability cannot be doubted.
Defender: Very dedicated and warm protectors, always ready to defend their loved ones.
Executive: Excellent administrators, unsurpassed at managing things or people.
Consul: Extraordinarily caring, social, and popular. Always eager to help.

Explorers:
Virtuoso: Bold and practical experimenters, masters of tools.
Adventurer: Flexible and charming artists, always ready to explore something new.
Entrepreneur: Smart, energetic, and very perceptive. They enjoy living on the edge.
Entertainer: Spontaneous, energetic, and enthusiastic. Life is never boring around them.

ENNEAGRAM:
To fully take advantage of this system you need to read the full bio for each type. But here is an overview (the following is copied from this site: https://www.enneagraminstitute.com/type-descriptions/)

1 THE REFORMER
The Rational, Idealistic Type: Principled, Purposeful, Self-Controlled, and Perfectionistic
2 THE HELPER
The Caring, Interpersonal Type: Demonstrative, Generous, People-Pleasing, and Possessive
3 THE ACHIEVER
The Success-Oriented, Pragmatic Type: Adaptive, Excelling, Driven, and Image-Conscious
4 THE INDIVIDUALIST
The Sensitive, Withdrawn Type: Expressive, Dramatic, Self-Absorbed, and Temperamental
5 THE INVESTIGATOR
The Intense, Cerebral Type: Perceptive, Innovative, Secretive, and Isolated
6 THE LOYALIST
The Committed, Security-Oriented Type: Engaging, Responsible, Anxious, and Suspicious
7 THE ENTHUSIAST
The Busy, Fun-Loving Type: Spontaneous, Versatile, Distractible, and Scattered
8 THE CHALLENGER
The Powerful, Dominating Type: Self-Confident, Decisive, Willful, and Confrontational
9 THE PEACEMAKER
The Easygoing, Self-Effacing Type: Receptive, Reassuring, Agreeable, and Complacent

FOUR PERSONALITY TYPES:
Robert S. Hartman, an American philosopher and psychologist, developed the four-type personality system. This system categorizes people into four different types based on their natural tendencies.

A: ANALYTIC: ambitious, workaholic, organized, goal-oriented, perfectionist, impatient, competitive
B: BEHAVIORAL: Easy going, non-competitive, less prone to stress, stable, adaptable non-confrontational, work steadily toward their goals, adapt to changes in plans, flexible.
C: COMMUNICATIVE: Collaborative, calm, rational and logical, thoughtful, and caring, introverted
D: DEDUCTIVE: Sensitive, shy, prone to anxiety and depression, avoidant.

EIGHT PSYCHOANALYTIC PERSONALITIES by Nancy Williams:
I do a deep dive into these for troubled characters and villains.
Used in modern psychoanalytic diagnosis you can read about it here for an overview: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Nancy_McWilliams

Psychopathic: (Antisocial), Narcissistic, Schizoid, Paranoid, Depressive, Manic, Masochistic: (self-defeating), Obsessive, Compulsive, Hysterical (histrionic), Dissociative.

JUNG – FOUR FUNCTIONS OF CONSCIOUSNESS:
https://www.thesap.org.uk/articles-on-jungian-psychology-2/carl-gustav-jung/jungs-model-psyche/

Sensation: perception using immediate apprehension of the visible relationship between subject and object.
Intuition: perception of processes in the background, unconscious drives, or motivations of other people
Thinking: function of intellectual cognition, the forming of logical conclusions.
Feeling: Function of subjective estimation, value-oriented thinking
Attitudes:
Extraverts: seek greater stimulation, energized around people, think out loud, large social networks, thrive in teams, and crowds, enjoys being the center of attention, values broad experience.
Introverts: Seek less stimulation, recharges with quiet reflection, think before speaking, values one-on-one friendships, favors independence, avoids being the center of attention, values deep experience.

I hope this list helps you find characteristics to build multidimensional characters.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Margot Conor has been writing for as long as she can remember, but it wasn't until the COVID lock-down that she had enough time to dedicate to the craft and bring something to completion. Having finished her first novel, she went through the grueling two-year process of editing. Now she has jumped into the author's world with both feet. She's preparing to debut her first novel, which means learning how to promote it. The last year has been spent attending many writing retreats, seminars, and writers' events. She also listened to presentations specifically on the topic of publishing and book marketing. She will be sharing what she learns with the reader.
Learn more about Margot at https://margotconor.com/




Social Media Goals


Social media is an essential part of doing business, whether you are a writer, marketer, consultant, entrepreneur, or all of the above. They key to successful social media is being social ... and setting social media goals.

On a recent GoalChatLive, I discussed social media with Holly Homer, Troy Sandidge, and May King Tsang. Holly is co-founder of Pagewheel; Troy is a growth strategist and podcaster, and May King is the original FOMO creator. The panel talked about the evolution and challenges of social media, along with ways to be more authentic, personal, and engaged.

Making Social Media More Social

  • Troy: Remember, social media is connecting minds, energy, and vision 
  • Holly: We tend to over-complicate everything. Embrace who you actually are and act the same, personal way online as you would interact with people in real life. 
  • May King: Being social is about being you, sharing the upsides and the downsides to your life, engaging with your community, and developing relationships

Watch Our Conversation:

Goals

  • Troy: Look at your platform of choice, find someone you haven’t talked to in a while. Share one of their posts, along with your thoughts. Amazing conversations will happen
  • May King: Brag; shout about your achievements, and include the backstory 
  • Holly: Grow your email list 
  • Bonus Goal: Message friends, just to say, “Hi, How are you?” They will be as happy to hear from you as you are to reconnect with them
No matter your favorite social media platform, when online, treat people with the same respect and kindness as you would when interacting in person. A little bit of genuine social interaction goes a long way.

* * * 

For more inspiration and motivation, follow @TheDEBMethod on Facebook, Instagram, and Linkedin! 

* * *

How do you show up authentically on social media? Please share in the comments. 

* * *
Debra Eckerling is the award-winning author of Your Goal Guide: A Roadmap for Setting, Planning and Achieving Your Goals and founder of the D*E*B METHOD, which is her system for goal-setting simplified. A goal-strategist, corporate consultant, and project catalyst, Debra offers personal and professional planning, event strategy, and team building for individuals, businesses, and teams. She is also the author of Write On Blogging and Purple Pencil Adventures; founder of Write On Online; host of  #GoalChatLive aka The DEB Show podcast and Taste Buds with Deb. She speaks on the subjects of writing, networking, goal-setting, and social media.


How to Assure Getting a Book Cover That Sells

 

Book Cover Tips Your Publish Might Not Know

 

How to Partner with Your Cover Designer

 

By Carolyn Howard-Johnson

Award-winning writer of fiction and poetry and
author of the multi award-winning 
#HowToDoItFrugally Series of books for writers

 

 

 If you have a traditional publisher, or a publisher who does your book cover for you, do you really need to read this article on what makes a great book cover and the booboos too many authors and publishers make with their covers? All I can tell you is, I wish I had seen it before my first book was released!

 

And you should know that the wonderful graphic designer who did all my #HowToDoItFrugally books before I found my much-loved publisher for the series, was also one of the “sharingest” friends one could ask for. He was creative and knew his book cover business. But he had another talent more seldom seen among his ilk—he knew marketing. More specifically, he knew book marketing.

 

So you needed to know that though I learned many of these great book cover tips after falling into a few big puddles on my own (failure is the best of teachers!), many of them came straight from him. I’m so glad he was in my life. But for a short time. Last year he died too young so this “sharing” celebrates him and his best of qualities. I have included a link to one of his covers in this article. Even the font is his, inspired by Times New Roman but combined with some others—some even more ancient--to subliminally appeal to an even broader audience of readers and writers.

 

So, these are “our” basic tenets, Charles DeSimone and mine, for a book cover that sells:

 

1. Use a subtitle. It is your second chance to publicize your book right up front. Even books of fiction can benefit from a subtitle.


2. Use another subtitle on the back—not the same one as on the front. How many times in life do you get a third chance? This one helps sell your book to browsers who turn it over in bookstores to read the endorsements. But if it is filled with keywords it also works miracles with those mysterious beasts known as algorithms.


3. Use enticing blurbs on the back, with lots of space between and around them. Use bold typeface, a frame or some other graphic trick to make them stand out.


4. Don't use borders on the books covers. Sometimes the spine doesn't align well in production and it will look like Mondrian painting gone awry.


5. Having said that, use a bright color or one dark enough for your cover to stand out online. White gets lost or looks ghostly on an all-white B&N.com or Amazon sales page.


6. Use big letters on the spine. Make them read up and down if the title isn't too long. 

When it is displayed on a shelf at the bookstore or on a TV host’s bookshelf, the reader won’t have to twist his/her head to see read the words.


7. Author bios needn't go on the back cover of your book. They do equally well in in the backmatter and you'll have more space to convince readers of your expertise or credibility as a writer with those endorsements.


8. An author's picture that tells more of a story than just a head shot is desirable. (If you would like to see an example of this, my picture is with my Great Dane, e-mail me at HoJoNews@aol.com and I'll send it to you. She is spotted and looks like an overgrown Dalmation so she catches everyone's eye!) Your photo should be taken by a professional. There are little things about shadows and the position of your head that an amateur photographer won't get right.


9. On the front cover, make the title and your name BIG. Look at the covers in bookstores. The real standouts are the ones that aren' t squeamish about shouting out these most important marketing tools. The title is at the top. The authors' name at bottom. Nora Roberts wouldn't put up with puny lettering, so why should you? (This is probably the single most important rule and it is most violated by amateur artists and professionals alike.)


10. Discourage your publisher from using a template. Some subsidy-, partner, or independent publishers make their covers as similar as seeds from a thistle.


11. If you are independently published, consider using a real pro for your cover, not your uncle who happens to be a graphic designer but knows nothing about book covers per se. (You might notice that Chaz broke his own white-background rule. Rules are made to be broken for a very good reason. The reason we used it that made his glorious original type face stand out.You know, the one meant to evoke memories for writers.

 

Unfortunately, Chaz’ website no longer exists but you can get an idea of his work by going to Amazon’s buy page for the second edition of my the flagship book in my HowToDoItFrugally series. The Frugal Book Promoter. It’s at http://budurl.com/FrugalBkPromo. Don’t buy it there, though! Use the Amazon widget located under the title to take you to the more complete and updated third edition designed by Doug West after Charles’ demise.


PS: I bet you want to know the biggest secret to get a great cover design.  Hire a great graphic/artist with book marketing chops, of course, but insist on being part of the process. Feel free to reprint this credited to Chaz and me with this link: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B0BTXQL27T.

 

MORE ABOUT THIS BLOG’s CONTRIBUTOR


Carolyn Howard-Johnson tries to share something she hopes might save some author from embarrassment (or make the task of writing more fun or creative) with the subscribers and visitors to Karen Cioffi’s Writers on the Move blog each month.

She is the author of the multi award-winning #HowToDoItFrugally. Series of books for writers including the third edition of its flagship book The Frugal Book Promoter and, more recently, the third edition of The Frugal Editor from Modern History Press. Find both (among her others in that series) on the new Amazon Series page. The new edition of The Frugal Editor book was recently updated including a new chapter on how backmatter can be extended to help readers and nudge book sales.

Just How Important are Character Descriptions?

 

Contributed by Karen Cioffi, Children's Writer

To answer the title question, character descriptions are essential.

It’s these descriptions that give the reader insight into the character and let the reader know:

-What type of person she is
-What his family is like
-What his education status is
-What her hobbies are
-What she’s passionate about
-What she’s afraid of
-What his physical details are
-What his social standing is
-Where she lives

The list can go on to include talents, sports, beliefs, and so much more if the story calls for it.

Just a simple description of a character drawing tells the reader about him. Maybe he’s artistic. Whether he’s talented at it or not will give another element of his personality.

Suppose he’s terrible at drawing but does it anyway. What can that tell the reader about him? Possibly he’s determined. He may march to his own drum, or he just likes it and doesn’t care about excelling in it.

Maybe another character studies all the time and gets all As. Maybe the character studies all the time and barely passes. This gives a big clue as to the ‘character’ of these characters. The one who gets all As is driven. The one who barely passes may not be driven but knows that without struggling, she’ll fail. Possibly, character isn’t as intelligent as the first.

What if a character is always yelled at and put down by his father? Might that help the reader understand the character’s behavioral issues?

EXAMPLES

-In the first couple of pages of middle-grade Walking Through Walls, the main character Wang, is described as being disgruntled. He doesn’t like hard work. He’s impatient, and he fights with his sister.

Right off the bat, the reader knows a lot about this character. The reader may even be able to see himself in the character. This makes a connection.

-What if a description shows that a character is disabled and in a wheelchair but strives to do everything she physically can, even playing sports? What does this tell you about the character?

-How about a description of a teen character lifting weights? This simple activity, combined with a couple of other details, can tell you a lot about his physical and emotional state.

Maybe he wants to be strong and look good. Maybe he’s physically weak and is being bullied. He may want to be able to protect himself, take care of himself. It could even be the emotional side of it; he doesn’t want to appear weak.

-How about a cross-country runner or competitive swimmer? The first thing the reader may think of is that the character has physical stamina.

Another layer of the character could be the reason why he does such strenuous activity. Does he simply love it? Or does he have ADHD or a depressive personality, and the rigorous routine helps him?

Providing character descriptions will help the reader connect to the character. Hopefully, it will help create a strong connection. It will help the reader form a vested interest in what happens to the character. It will make the reader root for the character and keep turning the pages.

So, the next time you’re creating your character, be sure to think about how you can add descriptions to create a multi-dimensional character that will bring that character to life.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR


 

 

 

Karen Cioffi is an award-winning children’s author, ghostwriter, rewriter, and coach. If you need help with your story, visit Writing for Children with Karen Cioffi.
https://karencioffiwritingforchildren.com

Karen also offers authors:

HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN'S FICTION BOOK
A DIY book to help you write your own children’s book.

WRITERS ON THE MOVE PRESS
Self-publishing help for children’s authors.



How to Overcome Pitfalls in Critiques of Your Work

Never give up!


Sharing your work-in-progress, WIP, takes courage. Our work is so personal. We’ve invested our heart and soul into it. It can be stressful to allow someone else to read what’s so personal to us, let alone have them critique it. The fear is that a critique could so easily become a criticism, not only of our work, but we may perceive that a critique could even be something negative about us, personally. 

Since I began writing to publish in 1989, I’ve participated in quite a few different types of critique groups. In that time, most critiques have gone smoothly. But I’ve known writers who have taken great offense to certain critiques of their work. It’s happened to me, and perhaps it’s happened to you.

Certainly, writers must know not to take critiques personally. But in some cases that’s easier said than done. The two most, shall I say, challenging critiques happened to one of my writing friends. And to me. 

My Friend’s Critiquing Stumbling Block 

She’d been a business woman, an executive with many employees working for her, had written reports, instructional materials, and letters and emails and more, for many years. She decided to try her hand at writing picture books. She read hundreds of picture books, took courses, and studied hard to learn how to write picture books. 

Her stories have the funniest, wackiest ideas that she has shaped into many picture book manuscripts that sparkle with wit, original characters, and are just plain fun. The members of her critique group, many of whom I know personally, genuinely have critiqued her work to the best of their ability. They have helped her shape many of her stories with structure, essential elements, word length, and all that goes into writing a picture book. 

But their critiques became very painful for my friend. I’m afraid she felt that they were too hard on her. My thoughts? Her stories are wonderfully inventive and original. She simply needs to stick with it.

My Own Critiquing Difficulty

I came from an elementary teaching background. When I began substitute teaching rather than working full-time, I taught myself how to write non-fiction by reading books and taking courses; and wrote articles for newspapers and magazines for adults and children. That experience helped a great deal when I turned to writing fiction for children. My first few years (more than a few, truth be told) of learning to write children's fiction were replete with setbacks. My stories needed all kinds of work. Understanding what goes into writing fiction for children is not easy to learn. It takes years of trying. It was mind boggling how much I still had to learn. 

A few years ago, I received what I perceived as a harsh critique for the pages I submitted, about a humorous middle grade story, for 8-12-year-olds. It's a story that one day I want to write based on funny experiences I had during my childhood. I brought a few episodes of the funniest stories, written in third person point of view, with action, dialogue, and a close inner dialogue showing my character's thoughts, feelings, and motivations. I thought my group would love it! I thought they’d laugh their heads off! I certainly had fun writing it! 

Instead, at the meeting one of the critiquers told me point blank that kids today wouldn’t like my story. That I was old-fashioned and out of touch. I was stung and went home and cried. I spent a few days obsessing on what the critiquer had said, ready to give up writing for children, thinking I didn't have what it takes. But I didn't give up just yet. I dropped that project and moved on. 

Later, I presented the same episodes, edited now, to another critique group. I told them what the critiquer had said and honestly didn't know how I would be able to succeed with this story. Together they helped me come up with a solution: make my story historical fiction. I went home and read comparable books, such as Dead End in Norvelt, winner of the Newbery Medal, by Jack Gantos, and the multiple Eisner award-winning graphic memoir, Guts, by Raina Telgemeier, both based on the authors’ childhoods.

In the end, the “harsh” critique wound up being the best advice I could have gotten. It opened my eyes. It made me realize what to shoot for. For me, not stories with current language kids get. I believe that kind of writing needs to be left to writers intimately involved with today’s children. I am not. I'm retired. My grandchildren live across the country. I realized that I need to stick to stories I know. Stories I want to tell. Stories that might even include bits of history if I sneak them in just right. 

By now, you’ve probably guessed what I’m driving at. As is true for all writers, I’ve had many disappointments through the years. But I never gave up. I stuck with it.  An editor once told a class I took that it’s not so much the talented of us who become successful writers; it's the writers who persevere. I hope my friend is one of those writers. I know I am. 

Reader, please don’t let experiences such as what happened to my friend and me stop you. You might get hurt. You might suffer like we did. But if you stick with it, keep reading and studying, and keep writing, I believe you will come up with a plan that will fit you just right. As long as you stick with it.

Photo by Linda Wilson: On a bitter cold and windy day in Albuquerque, New Mexico, these pygmy nuthatches clung to a twig in the giant pine tree in my backyard. They were shaking, I couldn't tell from being cold or from the wind blowing the branch they were perched on. They'd come for the bird seed in my feeder. One by one they would swoop down, eat what they could, then fly back to the branch. They never gave up!

Remember: You are already a
success if you listen to your
inner voice and keep trying. It's
amazing how many creative ways
you will discover to do most anything!

Linda Wilson is the author of the Abi Wunder Mystery series and other books for children. Her two new releases are Waddles the Duck: Hey, Wait for Me! (2022) and Cradle in the Wild: A Book for Nature Lovers Everywhere (2023). You’ll find Linda on her Amazon author page, on her website at LindaWilsonAuthor.com, and on Facebook.



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