Author Samantha Wheeler said to ‘believe you can do it’ – writing for middle grade fiction. It didn’t matter how long ago you were a kid, you can re-create experiences and situations for your young readers to relate to. As an adult writing for children, you know what it was like to feel embarrassed, or alone, or scared. Re-create and show those feelings in your story. Use your senses, think about a situation you found yourself in. For ‘Mister Cassowary’ Samantha placed herself in front of a wild cassowary. ‘It was not what I expected. It was worse.’ She confirmed it would be something she would never do again.
To familiarise yourself with your genre, Sam advised to read everything and analyse what writers had done in successful books. Pay attention to how many characters and plot lines in the book? What were they saying – dialogue? Was there too much back story boring the reader? What point of view (POV) or voice – first, second or third person, or what tense worked best for your story? There was a lot to consider before your pencil touched the page.
Also knowing your characters inside out was underestimated. Originally, ‘I thought it was a silly idea, so I didn’t do it.’ When Sam realised the value of knowing her characters’ favourite colours, favourite foods, what they looked like, clothing worn, personal flaws, resourcefulness, what they desperately wanted, what was at stake etc., then her characters became 3-dimensional – instead of flat, and more relatable to readers. In her books she has 4-5 really good characters, plus ‘crowd’ characters. Those characters who popped in and out of the story were never named. You could say, ‘the girl who always runs late said, ‘… .’
Also names had to be pronounceable otherwise readers would not connect to your characters. Similar names confused the reader eg. all three characters starting with A, A, A. Consider using diverse characters and ethnic names. Google the top ten for a particular culture eg. Indian. And think about one syllable, two syllable and three syllable names.
The value of the hands-on writing exercises allowed participants to receive direct feedback from Samantha Wheeler. She also shared writing craft books which had helped her, books to read in your genre for analysis, manuscript cue cards for each scene, the value of advice from her editor and how it had helped her grow as a writer. This was a one third snippet of the middle grade workshop. Participants agreed they wanted more from Samantha Wheeler, but such was the calibre of her knowledge they wanted about two topic at each three hour masterclass. Bring on 2019.
Seven years was a long time ago since Samantha Wheeler and Michelle Worthington, co-ordinator of the Share Your Story workshops had their first coffee. Now some five books later Samantha is supporting and inspiring others to achieve their writing goals.