Notes on a Middle Grade Novel – Mistake #1

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As I’m working through the first handful of chapters on my new middle grade project (tentatively titled The Tales of the Bryndlholt), I’m trying to take note of things that will help me as I continue to find this new, younger voice I need for a project such as this. I’ve been very steeped in an adult tone with largely adult characters with broad, adult concerns for so long, that it’s been hard breaking out of that shell. I did a lot of study by way of talking with other authors and reading various middle grade and YA books just to try to note the differences I wanted to shoot for, and even examining my own tendencies and an adult fantasist. And I’d come up with a very loose intent for the new voice, but really, thinking about it will only get you so far.

So after working on the world late last year and early this year, then toying with the characters and plot and magic system while I finished up the first draft of Twelve Kings in Sharakhai, I decided I wanted to dive in and start figuring this thing out.

It’s going well so far. I noticed myself consciously having to slip into a younger frame of mind as I was writing. This is fine. At least I’m doing it instead of blindly forging ahead with my normal, ingrained tone and voice. Over time, that will (I suspect) start to fall away, and I’ll become more and more accustomed to this voice. We’ll see.

As I was returning to the writing tonight, however, I realized something. I was struggling with how to get the young protagonist—a boy named Hadrian who wakes up in a strange forest before a great, burning tree, with no recollection of how he got there—into the company other kids as soon as possible. He’s discovered by an axemaiden named Sigrid (similar to a shield-maiden, a la Lagertha from Vikings) who brings him to the King for questioning. Initially I had Sigrid as the King’s wife, then his sister. As I started to worry that Hadrian was simply too far removed (page-wise) from children his age, I started to envision bringing various kids into the picture, but the more I thought about it, the more I realized the answer was staring me in the face.

I had planned on Hadrian having a crush on a girl in the village he’s eventually moved to in order to recuperate and regain his memory. But then I thought, why not make Sigrid that girl? It would give Hadrian the connection I was looking for. It would begin building the bond between them right from the first chapter. It would tie these two together, which is really what I needed to anchor the story and get it moving.

So today, I recast Sigrid as a girl a few years older than Hadrian. She’s a very capable young royal, not afraid to get her hands dirty (like many of those of royal birth in the Bryndlholt) and she’s someone Hadrian can easily fall for. On a more mercenary level, she acts as the perfect bridge for Hadrian. She will tie him to the people who hold power in the Bryndlholt, she’ll act as a love interest (a crush), and she’ll even act as a foil to the other children Hadrian will learn and grow with, younger kids who might either look up to or detest (or both) Sigrid.

In any case, I’m pleased with the progress so far. I want to get at least as far as a major turning point in the book, maybe a few chapters out, before stopping and taking stock. Rewriting and trying to get some feedback from alpha readers.

And I’ll share more lessons learned along the way.

Wish me luck!

6 Comments

  1. Greg

    October 25, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    Luck… Wish me nanowrimo luck,.. I know its something no one will ever read since I’ll chuck it in the bin like all my others but I’d like to do it this year…..

    • Brad

      October 25, 2013 at 7:41 pm

      Best of luck. I’m not much of a fan of Nano myself (I prefer the steady Eddie approach), but I know that some others have great success with it.

  2. Robert L. Slater

    October 25, 2013 at 10:30 pm

    Brad,
    So glad you got that flash of inspiration. I love it when the story suggests the answer.
    Rob

    • Brad

      October 26, 2013 at 8:53 am

      Thanks, Rob. Yeah, it’s great when the hindbrain helps us along.

  3. Paul Weimer (@PrinceJvstin)

    October 26, 2013 at 6:49 am

    And it simplifies the story to have Sigrid be that girl. You can’t overcomplicate a middle grade novel. No, its an excellent “discovery” on your part.

    • Brad

      October 26, 2013 at 8:54 am

      Yeah, agreed, Paul. With this novel, I’m more conscious of the need to combine characters than I’ve ever been before. Believe it or not, there were times where I streamlined The Lays of Anuskaya, but the need is a lot more critical here.

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