Wednesday, November 11, 2015

Guest Post: Sarah Beth Durst

I am pleased to welcome Sarah Beth Durst to my blog today. She's talking about writing and especially writing for middle graders.

The Perils of Writing a Middle-Grade Novel

There's a hidden danger that awaits writers who choose to write a middle-grade novel:

You might rediscover your own sense of wonder.

This can be perilous to a writer's finely honed sense of ironic detachment.

I write fantasy for kids, teens, and adults, and one of the things I love about fantasy literature is that is has (or can have) the power to restore a sense of wonder in the world.  You close a fantasy book, and suddenly the world feels larger and more magical than it was before.

In a middle-grade book, you are journeying with someone who is often seeing that larger, more magical world for the first time.  Middle-grade stories are filled with firsts: first friend, first secret, first mistake, first adventure...  And you, as the writer, have the opportunity to experience all of that anew.

You see, I believe that in order to write a story well, you have to see the world through your character's eyes.  And to write a MG story well, that means seeing it through young eyes.  Fresh, not-yet-jaded eyes.

(Unless you're writing about a really jaded twelve-year-old.  In that case, ignore this post.  Actually, just consider every generality to have a footnote that says, "There are exceptions," and every bit of advice to also say, "Your mileage may vary," okay?)

As a writer, if you want to bring a reader on your story's journey, the best way I know to do it is to take that journey yourself.  See, hear, taste, and feel the world the way your character does.  See it full of wonder.  See it full of monsters.  See it full of joy, sorrow, silliness, loneliness, even pain, if that's what your character feels.

In my new book THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM, Sophie is lonely.  She carries a huge secret: her family owns a secret dream shop where they buy, bottle, and sell dreams.  Her best friend is a monster, born from a classic monster-in-the-closet dream.  This story is her first adventure -- she and Monster must save her parents and her classmates, when someone starts kidnapping dreamers.

Writing her story involved seeing her world through her eyes.

I am often asked about how I write for different age audiences, and this is my answer: I try very hard not to worry about the target market, and instead I try to stay as true to the character's worldview as possible.  If my character is a sixteen-year-old sarcastic, evil vampire girl who is stabbed through the
heart by a were-unicorn, then the story will come out as YA (e.g., my novel DRINK, SLAY, LOVE).  If my character is an innocent, lonely twelve-year-old girl who doesn't dream and has a cupcake-loving monster for a best friend (like in THE GIRL WHO COULD NOT DREAM), then the story will come out as a middle-grade novel.

So beware, when you set out to write a middle-grade novel... you might find yourself viewing the world anew.  And you might find yourself happier because of it.

Thanks, Sarah. Stop back to see my review of The Girl Who Could Not Dream on Saturday.

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