They know how to make a story come to life, how to add funny twists and add magic to it. They might not know the bells and whistles of writing, but they have a sense of pace and drama.
Many kids can act naturally; they have a sense for theatrics. Don't they? Especially when they want something.
Kids have a wild imagination that allows them to have a clear picture of settings, of the way the characters look and the objects that surround them.
They give personality traits to the characters that stick and will comment when your hero does something out of character.
They want to know what will happen to your heroes as if their life depended on it.
They won’t let go of a story easily.
In brief, they are the best resource to test your plot because, if you disappoint them, they will reject your story on the spot, without a second thought.
At least, my kids are that way.
They are the best critique partners around, if you are lucky enough to have them.
So, I’m writing a Middle Grade air pirate story for my son.
Kids from 8-13 want fast-paced, adventure, cool-unusual magic, characters that sound true with quirks and weaknesses, lots of humor. They hate internal thoughts and want to stay away from deep themes.
In brief, they want to be entertained, but in a clever way. Not that easy!
I learned it the hard way.
When I read him my first draft, my son started by telling me that pirates are overdone (yeah, even air pirates) and when he thinks of pirates, he thinks about the Caribbean pirates, not North Africa. “You’ve got to give another name to your pirate,” he said, “and he must look different.”
So, my pirate is now a “privateer” (north African pirates were actually called corsairs. Some were privateers, but really privateers were a joke).
We found a better name for the captain, the name of an actual pirate: Barbarossa (a name that fitted a character from a Berber tribe).
Our captain has to speak in French because he is well rounded.
He is half-mechanical, half-human, because he is from the Victorian era.
And the captain is not allowed to gather gold, but artifacts that gives him magic powers.
He is not allowed to idle and think, less alone take a break.
However, his magic has to fail, because, up to my son, magic that works all the time is boring and we’ve got to give our heroes weaknesses.
So, the giant with a robotic arm, the swearing rugged man with the heart of a bird is gone and replaced by the wannabe indestructible cyborg privateer who loves to collect artifacts but is clueless as to how to use them.
He has a jetpack that fuses to his shoulders and allows him to fly.
He is also multi-lingual and pious.
The makeover sounds radical, but that allowed more depth into the story without actually getting inside the head of the captain.
So now, if he hates being a privateer, he just has to remind himself he does that for the power the artifacts give him, and if he doesn’t succeed in controlling magic, at least we understand he is human and we can relate to him.
He is more of an explorer with big dreams than a merciless bandit with only riches in mind.
Barbarossa has much more to offer now.
He used to be a pawn on a chess game. Now, he is an important piece in a puzzle.
Kids do not like pawns; they like well-rounded characters they can identify with. So, even if Barbarossa is still a secondary character, he needs his own story, his own quirks, his own twists and his ow dreams.
No matter if his sailors are there to do the ugly job of chasing the heroes for him, Barbarossa is the centerpiece of that story and he doesn’t even know it.
In Middle Grade stories, never make any character insignificant, static, stereotypical, or a thinker. Never make a secondary character totally secondary, but makes him a pivot, a part of the scheme. More than a villain or an obstacle, he’ll be humanized and given back his own rights to be in the story.
We might even like him.
Hig five, son.