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Middle Grade

Crafting Characters: Getting to Know Your Character Through Freewriting

Welcome to our first post of our April 2022 series, Crafting Character. Character is the driving force of the story, but actually letting character drive our stories can be tricky. That’s where KidLit Craft comes in. We’ve asked authors and our contributors to share their favorite ways to develop their characters–by getting to know them, exploring character desire, and focusing on core relationships.

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Title image: KidLit Craft's Comprehensive Guide to Character

Looking at voice, interiority, internal arc, character relationships, and more, our writers have analyzed mentor texts in all categories to discover strategies for creating characters that leap off the page and into readers’ hearts. This list is one you can return to over and over to find just the post you need in the moment.

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Title Card: The Heroine's Journey in The Beast Player by Nahoko Uehashi

The Heroine’s Journey celebrates the gifts of the matriarch. It explores themes of family, community, collaboration, cooperation, and love. As an author, and as a person, it’s important to me to write books that support those values, so everyone who reads them can be inspired to evolve toward a more feminine, collaborative, resilient society. To illustrate the points I make in this post, I’ll be examining the Heroine’s Journey of Elin in The Beast Player, a Japanese YA fantasy by Nahoko Uehashi. Elin’s story is an excellent example of the Heroine’s Journey.

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Title Card: Heroine Super Powers in CeCe Rios and the Desert of Souls by Kaela Rivera

In order to understand how a heroine grows into her superpowers, I followed the heroine’s journey closely in three movies: Elsa in Frozen, Rey in Star Wars: The Force Awakens, and Meg in A Wrinkle in Time. I identified a common pattern for a superheroine’s recognition of and acceptance of her superpowers. Then I applied what I learned to analyze CeCe Rios and the Desert of Souls, a middle grade novel by Kaela Rivera to translate what I found in films to what might work in a novel.

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Fortunately, weather is something people of all ages intuitively understand when it comes to a metaphor for someone’s emotional state. Sunshine is happy, rain is sad, and stormy weather is, well, stormy. Readers easily connect the dots between weather and emotions. That makes it a great extended metaphor for a middle grade novel.

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A lot of people want to be allies, or seen as friendly and open to the idea of friendship across races, cultures and social strata. This idea of “just talk to each other” may seem like it’s wildly oversimplified, but it turns out that if you want to know someone, it really is that simple. You may be nothing like a diehard gardener or wide-eyed tween, but if you’re willing to see a potential connection between the two of you, it will be there.

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KidLit Craft Goes to the Movies! The Emotional Antagonist in Eddie the Eagle

Some great stories make use of what Melanie Jacobson calls the emotional antagonist. The emotional antagonist is on the protagonist’s side, but the protagonist doesn’t have their approval or support.Jacobson believes emotional antagonist can be a powerful addition to a book because it gives a story an extra satisfying ending–a resolution with the emotional antagonist. We can see the emotional antagonist in action in Eddie the Eagle (2015).

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Title: Finding Your Book--in the Bookstore overlayed on an image of books on a bookstore shelf

Knowing where my book would sit on a shelf and what books it would be friends with helped me think more clearly about my revision. When I’m faced with a choice, I can consider what would sit well in the spot I found for it.

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You’re reading this blog post because you want something different. You can bond with friends over not working later. Right here, right now, you’d like to work. So let’s go. Get to work!

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This blog grew out of a middle grade book group for writers, held in Menlo Park, California, and we’re still going strong. Each month, we discuss a middle grade book with an eye to craft. (Last year, I wrote about strategies for starting your own craft book group.) Here’s our list of books from 2021, with a sneak peek at our first few books of 2022. We hope they inspire your reading!

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