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MIDDLE GRADE

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Middle Grade

Backstory in a Fast-Paced Novel: Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston

Amari and the Night Brothers by B. B. Alston is an excellent mentor text for how to interweave backstory, using multiple techniques, without slowing down the story one bit.

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As writers, we hear all the time that you absolutely have to develop your characters’ backstories. We can spend a lot of time laboring over our characters’ pasts–creating, inventing, discovering–only to have someone read a draft and tell us: “Take out all the backstory!” Too much backstory can drag the pace of a story. Too little, and characters seem unmoored and unmotivated. So what to do?

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“I understand more clearly that an outline need not be a construct that dominates my writing, a rigid form that must be adhered to, but it can be a tool to help manage what I write, to help me not get distracted or sidetracked, and instead work toward my goal–even if that goal isn’t completely clear to me as I shuffle, twist, and rearrange things on the page, the way I am prone to do.”

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To find good mentor text for “tension till the bitter end,” I went directly to one of my most beloved authors—Agatha Christie. Yes, I know. She’s not a middle grade author. However, when I was in my middle grade years, I devoured her books. Surely, that counts. Plus, for a mentor text, why not go straight to the Queen of Mystery?

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Jewell Parker Rhodes uses five different types of opening lines in her novel Towers Falling. Great mentor text for how to hook a reader in the beginning of a scene.

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“This isn’t specific to PB writers, but I would just say to any writer: Be kind to yourself and your drafts. Many writers, myself included, struggle with self-criticism or perfectionism, so I try to give myself this advice daily. First drafts can and should be messy. Second and third and seventh drafts, too. There is beauty in the mess. Writing is mostly re-writing. When you’re feeling discouraged, reach out to some writer friends for support. Seek community.”

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Verse happily sacrifices parts of the story to the reader’s imagination in an effort to draw a more immediate emotional response.

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Erin Entrada Kelly masterfully sets up a series of relationships that require her introverted main character, Virgil, to take a stand or forever feel like a failure.

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By identifying archetypes in my story, I figure out how to strengthen the conflicts as I revise. In researching this blog post, I realized that I’d chosen the wrong character to be the Shadow in the novel I’m currently writing. Understanding the role of the Shadow archetype, and selecting a more appropriate character to play it, made my book’s external plot and main character’s growth path stronger.

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I first heard Emma read from a chapter-book-in-progress, and her voice blew me away. Emma’s writing as such attention to detail, such personality, such emotional resonance. She can write funny and serious–sometimes in the same sentence. Emma’s debut YA novel, DANGEROUS PLAY comes out August 3, and I’m so glad we get a peek into Emma’s brain and writing process. I highly recommend both DANGEROUS PLAY and Emma herself.

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