Tips on Writing Middle Grade: What Kids Love

Use a familiar setting with a fantastic twist. The new student turns out to be a ghost, a rainstorm sucks the class into the bottom of the sea, or Santa Claus gets stranded outside their class portable. Introduce a mystery. How did a dead lizard get out of its aquarium? Who threw an eraser at the next-door teacher? Add a dragon, if at all possible. Dragons come in handy when a fourth grade class needs to fly somewhere quickly. And kids always perk up at the word “dragon.”
Author:
Publish date:

Once a month, I write a page-long adventure for my youngest daughter’s class that features the kids, a feisty teacher, a goofy principal, a silly dragon and a resurrected lizard. I read my story, then the kids come up with their own ending. If you want to sharpen your storytelling skills, I discovered there's no better laboratory than a live reading in a fourth grade class. Here are some things I've learned about effective storytelling from fourth graders.

Image placeholder title

Jewel Allendivides her time between being
a wife, mom, a freelance journalist, a musician,
and a novelist aspiring to be published someday
soon. She runs the Pink Ink blog.



Use a familiar setting
with a fantastic twist. The new student turns out to be a ghost, a rainstorm sucks the class into the bottom of the sea, or Santa Claus gets stranded outside their class portable.

Introduce a mystery. How did a dead lizard get out of its aquarium? Who threw an eraser at the next-door teacher?

Add a dragon, if at all possible. Dragons come in handy when a fourth grade class needs to fly somewhere quickly. And kids always perk up at the word “dragon.”

Feature memorable, quirky characters. Denny the dragon usually gets in trouble. Mr. Brunsdale, the principal, reluctantly grants them permission to go on outlandish field trips. Mrs. Walker, the teacher, isn’t scared of bopping sharks on the nose. These characters stick out to kids and are easily remembered.

Get the characters in lots of trouble. Sensory details—like how dragon wings feel and look—are important, but nothing engages a fourth grader quicker than a problem that turns from bad to worse. The rain storm turns into a flood … the class gets washed out of their portable … they get sucked into a hole in the soccer field.

Slapstick comedy works. The kids have laughed loudest over an octopus plastered over a teacher’s head, the principal swimming the backstroke in a flood, and the new dragon-student’s wings whopping his seatmate on the head. (This probably explains why, as a fourth grader, I laughed like crazy over The Three Stooges.)

Don’t kill off a sweet character or you won’t hear the end of it. The kids really, really didn’t like the plot twist about the class lizard dying. I had to bring her back to life somehow!


Plot Twist Story Prompts: Set a Trap

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Set a Trap

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, it's time to set a trap.

5 Ways to Add a Refrain to Your Picture Books (and Why You Should)

5 Ways to Add a Refrain to Your Picture Books (and Why You Should)

Children's author Christine Evans shares how repetition is good for growing readers and gives you the tools to write your story's perfect refrain.

From Our Readers

Describe the First Time a Book Transported You to Another/Magical World: From Our Readers (Comment for a Chance at Publication)

This post announces our latest From Our Readers ask: Describe the First Time a Book Transported You to Another/Magical World. Comment for a chance at publication in a future issue of Writer's Digest.

About Us: How to Handle Your Story That Involves Other People

About Us: How to Handle Your Story That Involves Other People

Your story belongs to you but will involve other people. Where do your rights end and theirs begin?

Identifying Your Book's Target Audience

Identifying Your Book's Target Audience

Editor-in-chief Amy Jones navigates how to know your target audience, and how knowing will make your writing stronger.

Poetry Prompt

Wednesday Poetry Prompts: 575

Every Wednesday, Robert Lee Brewer shares a prompt and an example poem to get things started on the Poetic Asides blog. This week, write a safe poem.

ryoji-iwata-QKHmi6ENAmk-unsplash

I Spy

Every writer needs a little inspiration once and a while. For today's prompt, someone is watching your narrator ... but there's a twist.

Brian Freeman: On "Rebooting" Another Writer's Legacy

Brian Freeman: On "Rebooting" Another Writer's Legacy

In this article, Brian Freeman, author of Robert Ludlum’s The Bourne Treachery, discusses how he took up the mantle of a great series and made it his own.

Sole vs. Soul (Grammar Rules)

Sole vs. Soul (Grammar Rules)

Learn how to distinguish the sole from the soul with Grammar Rules from the Writer's Digest editors, including a few examples of correct usages.