Clif and Carol attended the Michigan Writing Workshop on March 25'th.
This event is a Business of Writing event geared toward the current and
soon-go-be professional writers. The focus is on finding an agent,
constructing an author platform and providing editors with what they
want, rather than how to construct a story or tricks to make characters
The session on Writing Great Young Adult and Middle Grade was
presented by Madeline Smoot of CBAY Books
She discussed what makes a kid's book salable:
- Kid's books usually either appeal to kids (Captain Underpants) or to
grownups who buy for kids (Newberry award winners. The big winners are books
like Harry Potter that can appeal to both. Harry Potter is a light action-adventure
novel kids can get their teeth into, and there's the clever wordplay, political
intrigue and literary references that adults can savor.
- Don't talk down to the kids. Obvious moralizing will probably fit into
this big time.
- You need compelling characters. Like, doesn't all literature need a good
character? Well, one trick is that kids between the ages of 5 and 8 want to
read about a kid their age, not a year younger and not a year older.
Kids between 9 and 13 want to read about older kids. Kids who can do stuff that
they aren't quite ready to do, but are certain they could do if they had
the need. Your main characters in these stories can be between 13 and 16 years
old. She joked (I think) that the audience for these books is 11 year old girls
and soccer moms.
She says that actual teenagers don't have time to read. That's not the life
I had as a teen, but I'll concede that I read about 50 times as many books as
anyone else in my grade except the other Sci-Fi nerd, and I read a few more than him.
- Make the main character a kid of the appropriate age. Do not focus on Mom or
Dad or even the older brother or favorite Uncle. This is from the kid's point of
view, a kid's view of the world, not a grownup's view of the kid.
- The main character shouldn't just grow, but should grow up. They should be
more mature by the end of the novel than they were at the beginning.
- And do something interesting. A day in the boring life of a boring kid
is not going to interest anyone.
- Tight point of view is most popular with kids. Either first person or a
tight third. Head-hopping is a big no-no. That said, I remember some really
good books that I read in 4'th and 5'th grade where each chapter was a different
person's PoV. The PoV character's name was the chapter title. And Smoot pointed
out that it's not uncommon for a YA Romance to have two PoV characters - perhaps
the male and female lead, or the main character and The Rival.
The other exception to this rule is something with a multimedia format: Letters,
newspaper clippings, diary entries, etc tell the story.
- She stressed to present kid's dialog like kids. No 1930's style
"Hello, Chums! Let us embark upon an adventure." Go to a park or coffee
shop and eavesdrop, borrow some kids of the right age from some
friends. Even watch TV. TV isn't how real kids talk, but at least it's
a style of speech the kids are familiar with.
- Use the standard plots for your genre, but fewer subplots for the
younger readers. Danny vs the Dragon is enough for an 8 year old, while
Danny and Debbie vs the Dragon: Love and Gore is what the teenager's will
And, of course, every scene needs to do double duty, just like in an adult
novel. It should do at least two of:
- Advance the plot.
- Advance the character arc.
- Establish the setting.
- Finally, as with any writing, avoid hyper-realism. The reader doesn't need
to know your character's dental hygene (unless it becomes important to the plot),
how many times they brush their hair, how many brussel sprouts were in their lunch,