Crafting Characters We Can’t Help But Root For by @megan_shepherd

Have you ever heard the piece of writing advice that goes, “readers come for the plot, but stay for the characters?” This means that often times readers are drawn to a story by a cool premise or promise of a twist, but that by the time they finish reading, they soon forget the plot and are left with the memory of the characters. That’s because our minds love a good twisty, exciting plot, but our hearts love memorable characters.

Crafting strong characters begins with thinking about characters not as stiff creations with a certain height, eye color, or hometown (though it can certainly be a useful exercise to fill out character trait worksheets), but with looking at how they act in certain situations. For example, let’s say your main character is a third grader who sees two bigger boys bullying a stray dog. How he choses to respond to such a difficult situation will be much more informative about who he is as a person than a list of his favorite books or hobbies.

Here are three simple ways to create characters that readers will instantly care about:

1) PUT YOUR CHARACTER IN A DANGEROUS OR UNFAIR SITUATION

It’s human nature to worry about people in danger. If you open a book about the Titanic, you are already hoping the characters survive the shipwreck. If a girl is being bullied in the opening pages of a story, you can’t help but hope she escapes unharmed. Instantly, we are rooting for these characters to thrive.

MS cageLikewise, it can be very effective to put your character in situation that is clearly unfair: a boy punished for his brother’s mistake, or a girl forced to sweep floors of her stepmother’s house. Readers find unfair situations deeply troubling, which makes them automatically root for your character to persevere, in some cases even before we know what your character’s name is.

2) MAKE OTHER CHARACTERS LIKE YOUR CHARACTER

MMD+final+cover+hi-resWe tend to like people with an upbeat, funny, kind-hearted attitude. And giving your character these traits is a great way to make your character likeable. However, not all characters have to be “likeable” in the strictest sense; it’s okay to have pessimistic, angry, complex, or sarcastic characters, as long as they are still relatable and sympathetic. A great way to make any type of character attractive to a reader is to have other characters value him or her. For example, a boy who comes across as gruff, but who has a little sister who adores him, instantly softens our hearts.

Likewise, if there are clearly nasty characters in your book—say, a mean stepsister or cruel teachers—who don’t like your character, it will make readers actually like your character more. Remember: “The enemy of my enemy is my friend.”

3) MAKE YOUR CHARACTER HIGHLY SKILLED OR TALENTED

It’s also human nature to admire people with extraordinary gifts. That could be MS booksupernatural powers like the ability to fly, bend steel, or read minds. Such supernatural powers fascinate us and draw us in instantly. But it can be just as effective—perhaps even more so—when a character is highly skilled not through magic or a twist of fate, but because of the hard work they’ve put into mastering a skill. We can’t help but root for a small boy who studies karate diligently over years and wins a big competition. We want such characters to be rewarded for their hard work.

MSH35FULLsizedMegan Shepherd grew up in her family’s independent bookstore in the Blue Ridge Mountains. A New York Times bestselling author, Megan is the author of several acclaimed young adult series and the middle grade novel The Secret Horses of Briar Hill. She now lives and writes on a 125-year-old farm outside Asheville, North Carolina, with her husband, two cats, and an especially scruffy dog. To learn more about Megan an her books, click on these links to visit her BLOG AND WEBSITE  Follow her on TWITTER and like her FACEBOOK PAGE.

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Megans’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

If you haven’t registered for #KidlitSummerSchool yet click HERE.

Striving for perfect attendance? Don’t forget to leave a comment in the first 24 hrs!

#KidlitSummerSchool Orientation 2016. Class Starts Tomorrow!

Welcome to Kidlit Summer School Orientation 2016!

Today we’re here to tell you what to expect so that you can feel comfortable and confident going forward. Looks like you’re sitting up straight and reading your assignment. Fantastic! You get a star!

smiling-gold-star-thumb

For the most successful school experience, make sure you don’t cut class! Classes are offered Monday through Friday right here on the blog through our fabulous faculty guest bloggers. All you have to do is virtually show up here! If you subscribe to this blog, you can have the school come to you instead. We recommend this, so head to the right sidebar and subscribe if you haven’t already! You want to learn how to add heart and humor like a pro, don’t you? We’ll be covering all manner of strategies for doing just that over the next few weeks.

Weekends are a time to sit back and process what you’ve learned. We’ll have that covered here on the blog too! Along with some pop quizzes. Don’t worry about those. We have confidence you’ll pass with flying colors!

Now, take a look at your class schedule for the week. You’re going to learn a lot!

summer school 16 week 1

Since tomorrow is THE FIRST DAY, we’d like to get #KidlitSummerSchool trending. Please help us share the word by posting about it on Twitter, FB (including in groups of writers), Pinterest, and all other forms of social media. Please use the tag #KidlitSummerSchool wherever you post. If you want, you can copy the ready-made tweet below and paste it into your feed. Super-easy!

Join us for HEART&HUMOR on the 1st day of #KidlitSummerSchool with blog posts, webinars, exercises, and more! http://www.nerdychickswrite.com

Here are some ways you can get the most out of Kidlit Summer School:

  • Make sure you are on the email list! Do this by registering this year. All passwords, webinar links, etc. will be sent out through email ONLY. If you are not getting emails, please click HERE to troubleshoot. Because there are so many of you, we ask that you read this carefully before contacting us about a problem. A regular weekly email will be sent out (usually on Sundays). Look for it to make sure you get it!
  • Join our Facebook Group! If you have registered for Kidlit Summer School 2016, follow this link to ask to be added if you haven’t already.  If you haven’t registered, please register HERE, even if you registered last year
  • Participate in our Twitter #30mdares: This year, Rebecca Petruck will post prompts on Twitter and Facebook twice a week so students have the freedom to arrange group dares that suit their schedules and time zones, or do them on their own. The only “rule” is to set a timer and go without stopping for 30 minutes. You can find her on Twitter at @RebeccaPetruck.   Prompts will be posted Tuesday at 9p ET and Saturday at 10a ET. To get prompts, check the Twitter hashtag #30mdare or visit the Facebook group.Publisher’s Weekly covered Rebecca’s first experience with the #30mdare. You can read about that HERE.
  • FAQ page: Check out the pages for FAQs in the navigation bar for more information on webinars, email, and #30mdares.
  • Cafe Press: Soon our 2016 design will be ready to order from our Cafe Press store. You can have your own Kidlit Summer School uniform. 😉
  • Webinars: Stay tuned — we’re still working on these.
  • New to School? If this is your first time attending Kidlit Summer School, check out our updated ABOUT page for a brief explanation of how things work!

GIVEAWAYS:

  • Perfect Attendance: Remember the blue-star-thumbperfect attendance award? You can get one for attending Kidlit Summer School! We’ll hold a drawing at the end of Summer School for people who commented on every post here on the blog within the first 24 hours of it going up. When Summer School is over, there will be a post explaining how to be entered for the drawing for the Perfect Attendance grand prize.
  • Author Giveaways: Some of our amazing authors will be sponsoring giveaways with their posts. You must comment on their post to qualify for these. Details will be at the end of each post.
  • #30mdare Giveaway: Students who complete at least five of the seven dares will be entered to win a 20-page critique and follow-up phone call from Rebecca. 

ALL PRIZES WILL BE AWARDED AT THE END OF KIDLIT SUMMER SCHOOL 2016!

 

We’re looking forward to a great few weeks! See you in class!

The Kidlit Summer School Board of Education.

Follow us on Twitter: @dawnmyoung @kamikinard @leezaworks @marciecolleen @sudiptabq

Sign up for #KidlitSummerSchool 2016!

badge final 4x4-brighter heartIf you’ve already registered for Kidlit Summer School 2016… Hooray! You don’t need to register again, but you can still take advantage of the GIVEAWAY we are offering at the end of this post.

If you haven’t registered yet in 2016,  Just fill out the form by clicking HERE.  Regular registration is open from now until July 15 and to enjoy the benefits of the 2016 program, you should register this year even if you registered in the past. Note that this year we will not be offering late registration.

For those of you new to Kidlit Summer School – find out more about this awesome free program by checking out our updated ABOUT page. Also, if you missed last week’s great motivational posts, click on the home page and scroll down. You don’t want to miss the excellent advice from some amazing authors.

Our theme this year is Heart & Humor. The blog event will run from July 11, 2016 through August 5, 2016.  Why should you register? Well, as always, we’ve got perks for you if you do. Only registered (and pre-registered) members of Kidlit Summer School are:

  • eligible to win any giveaways or books, critiques, or other swag that we’ll be handing out during the month
  • eligible to participate in special Summer School events like webinars
  • able to access the Kidlit Summer School exercise book
  • invited to join our private Kidlit Summer School Facebook community where you can connect to other children’s book creators and lovers of kidlit

Best of all, you’ll be learning from our amazing faculty! Take a look at who you’ll be hearing from by checking out our FACULTY PAGE.

We hope we’ll see you in class!

GIVEAWAY DETAILS: All you have to do is mention where you shared this link on social media in the comments below, and you are entered in the drawing for a Kidlit Summer School 16 notebook and tote bag, even if you are already registered! One winner will be selected at the end of KLSS. 

John Cusick: Escaping the Awful Middle and GIVEAWAY

Three Ways to Jumpstart Your Draft When the Plot Starts to Sag

I don’t know about you, but I find it’s much easier to start something than finish it. When I begin a new draft it’s all sunshine and rainbows. The ideas just come unbidden, new characters leap onto the page like circus tumblers, and conflicts pop up unbidden.

Cusick_GirlParts_CoverThen I get about halfway through the story and bam: suddenly the fun’s over. I’m not sure where I’m going or what happens next. Maybe the story has begun to feel stale, or the tensions I’ve created aren’t enough to sustain my interest. The middle is where our author-brains begin to fatigue, and as a result, this is where many of us get stuck.

There are a few remedies, I think, for that middle-of-the-novel slog, tricks for jumpstarting your story when your characters are as lost as you are.

TIP 1: FIELDTRIP
In life, if you’re in a funk, you might need a change of scenery. Chances are your characters feel the same way. Try switching up the setting. Have your detective chase a lead to Beliz, or your hero seek the counsel of a distant oracle. In Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, halfway through the novel Elizabeth Bennet leaves home to tour the Derbyshire countryside, a journey which ultimately brings her closer (emotionally and literally) to Mr. Darcy. A new location can keep the story fresh and open up new avenues you’d never have discovered if you’d stayed at home.

Writing Exercise: Drop your hero and a few pals into a new setting. What new conflicts await them there? Does the change of place change the way the hero behaves or thinks?

TIP 2: QUANTUM LEAP
A change in time can be as effective as a change of location. In John Irving’s The World According to Garp, an early scene features a horrific car crash involving most of the major characters. The reader turns the page and…whoa. We’ve jumped ahead in time and the exact outcome of the crash is unknown (until much later). The leap forward creates a terrific cliffhanger, and pulls the reader deeper into the story. The effect is more compelling and exciting than if we were shown the aftermath of the crash immediately.

Writing Exercise: Explore what your characters are doing a week, a month, or a year from now.

JCusick_CMB_CoverTIP 3: PARTY TIME!
Ever run into an ex at a party? Things can get…interesting. If you’re not sure what happens next in your story, try bringing your whole cast together for a big group scene. Nothing stirs up tensions and conflict like getting a bunch of characters with differing agendas into the same room. Dostoevsky is famous for his large, chaotic dinner scenes. In Crime & Punishment Raskolnikov attends a funeral dinner thrown by Katrina, only to have Sonia, Luzhin, and most of the main characters show up. The result is a disastrous series of arguments that propel the story into its next phase.

Writing Exercise: Write a scene in which all of your characters attend the same party. What goes wrong? Who argues with whom? What secrets are revealed?

Keeping your story feeling fresh and vibrant is as much for your readers’ benefit as it is your own. It’s easy to get bogged down halfway through a draft, with all that writing still left to do and possibly no clear end in sight. Fatigue often means boredom, and if you’re not excited by your story, chances are your readers will be bored too. So shake things up, surprise yourself, and you’ll get through it. I promise.

JCusick_HeadshotJohn MCusick is an agent with Folio Jr. / Folio Literary Management, representing picture books, middle-grade, and young adult novels. He is also the author of GIRL PARTS and CHERRY MONEY BABY (Candlewick Press), as well as a regular speaker at writers conferences. His clients include New York Times Bestselling Author Tommy Wallach (WE ALL LOOKED UP, Simon & Schuster), Courtney Alameda (SHUTTER, Feiwel & Friends) and Hannah Moskowitz (A HISTORY OF GLITTER AND BLOOD, Chronicle Books) You can find him online at and on Twitter @johnmcusick.

John is giving away signed copies of GIRL PARTS and CHERRY MONEY BABY. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of John’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

Week 4 #KidlitSummerSchool Schedule, Updates, Cool News and a GIVEAWAY

KLSS 2015 BadgeHello, Summer Schoolers! Week 3 has drawn to a close, and (can you believe it?!) we are about to embark upon Week 4 of Kidlit Summer School 2015. Hope you’re nearing plotting genius Nerdy Chicks!

Just like the first three weeks, we want to give you a preview of what is to come in the week ahead, and offer up reminders for our other great Summer School Events like out #30mdares and Webinars, etc. Here we go!

Pop Quiz: Don’t forget we will post a Pop Quiz on the blog at the end of the day. (Just for fun!)

 

Class Schedule for Week 4:

Great posts heading your way. Check out this awesome guest blogger line-up!

Webinars

This Thursday at 8pm ET we will be hosting a webinar with librarian/educators Matthew Winner and Betsy Bird who will share their expertise on children’s books from their side of the teacher’s desk. Keep an eye on your email for details on registering for this webinar and how to submit your questions for the panel.

Even though Summer School is almost “over,” we have a couple more great webinars lined up in the next few weeks. So keep looking for details on the blog and in your emails! For more information about the Webinars, please refer to the FAQ page in the navigation bar above.

EMAILS:

If you are having email issues, please visit the FAQ page before contacting us with a question. We have found that almost all glitches thus far are user or server error. If you have tried everything else and still cannot get your email to work, contact a member of the Kidlit Summer School Board. We are working hard on this and other aspects of Summer School, so please know that it may be up to five business days before you hear back from us. Look for your next email tonight or tomorrow morning.

The Facebook Group

A quick reminder if you are still trying to get into the Facebook group (and why wouldn’t you? We’re having so much fun there!). If you have registered for Kidlit Summer School, have asked to be added to the FB group, and did not get added within a day, it may be because your FB name did not match up with your registration name. If this is the case, one of us will have sent you a message via FB. Sometimes these messages end up in the OTHER folder. Please check this folder to see if you have heard from one of us and answer any messages there. This will help us sort things out.

organic_nerdy_chicks_tshirtCool News – cool stuff
The Nerdy Chicks Rule Café Press store is now open. Be a chic chick or one cool dude. Check out the awesome Nerdy Chicks gear here…

Nerdy Chicks Rule Cafe Press

Drawing Contest and GIVEAWAY!

Nerdy Chick

Art by Mike Ciccotello

There’s still time to doodle those Nerdy Chicks and send to us. The cotest runs until the end of Kidlit Summer School! Thanks once more to Mike Ciccotello who drew a Nerdy Chick on a coffee cup and tweeted to Kami and Sudipta, for inspiring our contest. The winners will be picked by an industry professional and be added to our cafe press store! Also, they will receive a prize pack with their own design on it. The rules:

1. Draw a Nerdy Chick.

2. Tweet the image to @leezaworks with the hashtag #NerdyChicksDraw AND/OR share on our Facebook Group page with the same hashtag.

3. Do this before the final day of Kidlit Summer School!

How easy is that? We look forward to seeing the chicks all over social media! (Psssst – Mike, you’re already one of the winners!)

crocheted chickGIVEAWAY
Juli Caveny  is giving away this darling crocheted nerdy chick. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win this nerdy chick, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

 

 

 

 

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Thank you for joining us for the third week of Summer School.  Thanks to our awesome bloggers, it was a fantastic week!
The Kidlit Summer School Board of Education

Jennifer Latham: Building a Mystery–Plotting the Perfect Whodunnit for Older Readers and GIVEAWAY

So you’ve read Robin Newman’s great piece on plotting mysteries for younger readers, and you’re good to go on the basics of setting up your mystery—scattering clues and red herrings, wrapping things up with a big, satisfying bang.

But what if you’re aiming for an audience that craves the juicy stuff – you know…sex, drugs, and rock-n-roll (or maybe just first kisses, frappucinos, and Spotify). For older readers, your plot will need substantial complexity, your character development should have a long arc, and your sleuths will need to find themselves in sticky situations where the stakes are intense – maybe even life and death.

So where do you start?

First, you need a solid premise and an intriguing character or two to draw readers in. For Scarlett Undercover, I went with:

  • Wisecracking Muslim girl detective in classic hardboiled mold
  • Vulnerable little girl client presents case that’s not so simple as it seems—a suicide that was actually a murder

Latham book coverOnce I have my primary mystery in place, I decide “whodunnut” and what will need to be revealed for the mystery to come full circle. It’s kind of like doing a Google Maps search, where you have to know the beginning and end points before you can start driving. For the most part, the route in between is going to look like the mountain climber plot chart we all know and love. But here’s the trick: when you’re writing a mystery, your plot chart and your clues are interdependent, but need to be strong enough to stand on their own. In other words, clues aren’t plot, but your plot can’t advance without intriguing clues.

I make up most of my clues as I go. But before I start writing, I settle on 3-4 major pieces of information that my detective will need to discover. For example, in Scarlett, one of my major bits of info was that the boy who died had joined a cult. Scarlett learned this over the course of several scenes, through suspect interviews and texts she retrieved from the dead boy’s phone. In other words, multiple clues revealed the important fact that the dead boy had joined a cult.

Once I decide on my beginning, end, and 3-4 major clues, my pre-writing is basically done. I’m not an outliner; if I try to map out specific chapters ahead of time, I WILL sink into a grumpy puddle of rumination and stagnation. If outlines are your thing, though, bravo! Map out your story, seed in those clues, and figure out exactly how your main characters are going to grow and change over the course of the novel. But be warned: teenage characters are moody little suckers with a tendency to do things you don’t expect. So give yourself permission to stray from the outline as you go, and to make as many new versions as you need.

As for me, once my figurative Google Map is set up (Starting Point + Desitation + A Few Must See Stops Along the Way), I hit the road. That means I build the plot scene by scene, keeping in mind that every chapter and sub-chapter needs a good balance of the following elements to keep things humming along:

  • Action that advances the plot
  • Dialogue that advances the plot
  • Character development shown through my characters’ actions and decisions, not through exposition.
  • Clues or the precursors to clues (e.g., find the key that opens the safe deposit box that contains the map that will lead to the old warehouse with the hidden room where the antique locket with the picture of the murderer’s grandmother is hidden…)

This is the process that works for me. I like it when my characters force me to take detours and back roads instead of doing 75 on a major interstate all the way to my climactic scene. That said, quirky side trips and back roads cannot, cannot, cannot drag down your plot or bore your readers. So to be sure I’m keeping things moving, I like to stop every once in a while and re-read what I’ve written, rating each chapter on a 1-10 scale for “excitement.” And by “excitement” I mean that a big clue is revealed, an action sequence takes place, a character faces a major psychological challenge, etc. It’s subjective, but I know excitement it when I see it. And so long as slower chapters (ones I rate a 4 to a 5) are interspersed with more exciting ones (6s-8s), and so long as I have a 9 or 10 in the middle of the book and a 10+ at the climax, I figure things are on track. If I find 1s, 2s, or 3s, I re-work them until they’re at least a 4.

Finally, I can’t stress enough how important it is to be willing to revise as you go. Mysteries are tricky. A clue that seemed subtle when you wrote it into chapter 3 might seem ham-handed and obvious when you get to your climax. Clues you thought you’d practically written in neon might not be obvious to your readers at all. So when you think you’ve got your first draft done (or when you get stuck halfway through and need to recharge), I suggest re-reading what you’ve written and building a new outline based on what’s actually there. Even if you pre-outlined, this can be a really eye-opening exercise.

So to sum up, when you’re building your own MG or YA mystery, try the following:

  1. Set up the basic mystery and decide on what you think it’s resolution will be.
  2. Establish 3-4 major pieces of information your detective will need to learn. How you reveal this information (i.e., through actual clues) can be decided ahead of time, or you can decide as your story and characters develop.
  3. Allow some clues and plot elements to emerge as you write. Your work will feel more spontaneous and organic this way.
  4. Revise as you go. Clues and plot points may need to be moved around as your manuscript progresses.
  5. Be flexible. A particular scene or clue you were POSITIVE you had to include may end up being a dud. Re-write, re-organize, re-think when you need to.

Rest assured that to build a good mystery for teens, you’ll have to tie your brain up in knots of your own devising. But if you can created a story complicated enough to keep readers guessing but not so gnarled that they get lost in the details, you’ll have pulled off something pretty great. And when you do, let me know…I love a good whodunnit.

Recommended Activity
This isn’t so much an exercise as a homework assignment. Pick three mysteries that you’ve enjoyed and/or think are particularly well done. These can be adult, MG, or YA, your choice. I suggest a traditional detective story for teens (Nancy Drew, Trixie Belden, The Hardy Boys), a traditional adult mystery (Raymond Chandler, Dashiell Hammett, Agatha Christie) and a more contemporary MG or YA mystery. For this, I highly recommend The Westing Game.

Take your time reading each book, creating an outline of the story as you go. List clues as they’re revealed (you may even have to re-read to find them all). Highlight clues in one color on your outline, major plot points in another. See how the author has distributed clues and balanced them with major plot elements. You’ll likely find a fairly tight, well-constructed underlying structure, even though the reader experiences the story as a flowing, organic thing.

 

Latham

Jennifer Latham is an army brat who moved so much as a kid that books were always her best friends. She’s worked as a school psychologist, yoga teacher, Montessori guide, autopsy assistant, and plenty of other things, too. Her debut mystery, Scarlett Undercover, was published by Little, Brown Books for Young Readers in 2015. Her second, Dreamland Burning, is scheduled for Winter 2017. To learn more about her, you can visit her blog or find her on Facebook or Twitter (@jenandapen)

Jennifer is giving away a signed copy of Scarlett Undercover. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Jennifer’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.

Maryrose Wood—Plot Problem: The Boring Hero and GIVEAWAY

One of the most common plot flaws I run into is one I’ve dubbed the “boring hero problem.”

But wait, you say: “boring hero” sounds like a character problem, not a plot problem, right? Not so! Consider how character and plot are two sides of the same storytelling coin.

Mwood_BooCovers

Your main character (or protagonist, or hero, choose your terminology) is the entity whose actions and experiences comprise the plot of your book. Without a dynamic central figure with a high-stakes goal, who is willing to act, choose, fight, risk, fail, rebound, suffer, sacrifice and transform in pursuit of that goal, you have no plot. This is true no matter how many unexpected incidents, bad guys, fight scenes and so on you cram onto the page.

Put simply: A passive hero swept up in a string of random events does not a plot make.
Ask yourself:

  • If your hero is more often than not morose, depressed, sleeping, dreaming, inebriated, numb, lost, frozen (with fear, grief, indecision, etc.) waiting, confused, unsure….
  • If your hero is often clueless about what’s happening around her, and is being led around the story by a more interesting “sidekick” who has all the information about where they’re going and why…
  • If your hero aimlessly wanders through the tale without a clear, high-stakes goal, and is swept along by coincidence after coincidence ….
  • If your hero is part of a group of co-adventurers, any one of whom are equally or more able to solve the central problem of the tale than your bland, just-an-ordinary-guy hero…

…you may have a case of Boring Hero problem. How to fix?
Try this instead:

  • Your hero should make the big choices, risks, discoveries and sacrifices that drive the story forward. That means ultimate credit for any big turning point in the tale should be directly or indirectly traceable back to your hero. Example: in The Hobbit, Bard shoots the fatal arrow that kills Smaug, but only because Bilbo’s prior bravery in facing the dragon led to the discovery of the one vulnerable spot in Smaug’s armor.
  • Make your hero uniquely qualified to address the central problem of your tale. Only Harry Potter can defeat Voldemort. Only Rikki (of “Rikki-Tikki-Tavi,” by Rudyard Kipling) can rid the garden of murderous cobras, because killing cobras is a mongoose’s job and Rikki is the only mongoose around.
  • A rich cast of unforgettable secondary characters is a great asset to any story (think of Gandalf, Aunt Beast, Snape, etc.), but it’s no substitute for making your protagonist the most interesting, compelling and indispensable character in your tale.

Remember, plot is the line of cause-and-effect dominoes that connects who your protagonist is at the beginning of the tale to the irrevocably changed figure he or she is at the end. Keep your hero at the center of the action and let your plot rise organically and powerfully from the actions prompted by his or her deepest need for transformation. You might be surprised where it takes you!

Suggested reading about plot: The Writer’s Journey, by Christopher Vogler

Hero Plus Verb Writing Prompt

  • Set a two-minute timer and make a list of dynamic, active verbs. For example, chooses, runs, escapes, battles, discovers, loves, outwits—think of as many as you can!
  • Set the timer again. This time, give yourself two minutes per verb. Write your hero’s name, then add a verb from your list. That’s your prompt. For example, Hero chooses , Hero escapes, Hero outwits… etc. Keep writing until the timer stops! Repeat until you run out of verbs.
  • Brainstorm freely, and don’t be afraid to go wild! You’ll end up with a list of scene ideas that show your main character driving the story forward.

 

MaryroseWood_72dpiMaryrose Wood is the author of The Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place books, the acclaimed middle-grade series from HarperCollins. The most recent installment is book five, The Unmapped Sea. She teaches fiction writing at NYU’s Gallatin School and in Stony Brook Southampton Children’s Literature Fellows program. You can read more about Maryrose Wood at  www.maryrosewood.com or find her on Twitter @maryrose_wood

(Photo credit: Stacey Natal / Total City Girl, L.L.C.)

Maryrose is giving away a signed copy of one of her Incorrigible Children of Ashton Place books. If you are a registered Summer School student and would like a chance to win, please leave a comment on this post to be entered into the drawing. Good luck!

If you are registered for Kidlit Summer School, you can download a worksheet of Maryrose’s writing exercise at our Exercise Book. This is a password-protected area — only members allowed! Please check your email for the password.