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MIDDLE GRADE

YOUNG ADULT

Middle Grade, Young Adult

It Starts with a Daydream: A Q&A with Rita Williams-Garcia

I fully transport myself from my reality into the world that I seek to create. In a word, I daydream. Deeply. I put myself with the character, close to the character, sometimes in the character, to taste the dirt when they’re in the dust storm or feel the scratchy bristles of cane stalk whip my face. Then I write it. Later, I make adjustments, because what I have to understand is different from what the reader should feel. Sometimes I have to rein it in or pull back. It’s not always the point that the reader should feel each and everything—but the writer must!  

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Good mysteries are fun because they keep the reader guessing. One of the most important keys of writing a mystery is writing the story so the reader can try to solve it. Nothing’s more annoying than not being given clues to solve the mystery unless those clues are so obvious that there is no real mystery to be solved. The best way to achieve both goals is to give quality clues but constantly keep the reader guessing so they don’t recognize the clues for what they are.

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A compelling mystery must engage the reader in solving the mystery, and the best ways to do so are to 1) start the mystery off quick, 2) capture attention with consequential stakes, 3) increase tension, 4) keep the reader guessing, and 5) finish strong.

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If you’d like a lesson in the unexpected you’d be hard-pressed to find a better model than Losers. Instead, we’re going to look at how despite (or with the assistance of) all the silly, Heider is able to put an ache and a depth into the stories of Winston and Louise.

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“The biggest leap for me in my writing life happened when I got comfortable with failure. I wrote some disastrous things in grad school. But before that, my writing had gotten stagnant because I was too anxious about getting it right all the time. Allowing myself to fail gave me the freedom to take risks and make mistakes. Those mistakes, in turn, taught me how to write the way I want to write.”

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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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