- Before you submit your manuscript to an editor or agent, print it out and read it aloud. You’ll catch any typos or missed words this way.
- Today’s computer systems have a feature in them to alert you to grammar issues and spelling errors. Use it.
- Does your character have a clear want that moves the plot along?
- Have you made it clear what your protagonist’s desires and fears are?
- Do your characters have distinct speech patterns or details that the reader knows who is speaking without a dialogue tag?
- Have you included obstacles in your story to play on your character’s fears and weaknesses? Have the obstacles increased and become more difficult over time?
- Does every plot event challenge, reveal, and shape your main character?
- Does the plot contain any twists or surprises?
- Does the ending of your story resolve the conflict? Is it inevitable?
- Does each chapter end with a hook for the reader to want to turn the page?
- Does your story start with a great hook?
- Ask a fellow writer or critique group to analyze your writing before turning it in. Unless your spouse is a fellow writer, don’t bother asking their opinion.
Gray was the note she tucked inside.
Gray was the blanket she bundled tight.
Gray was the cold floor that night.
Gray was the shadow that flickered outside.
Gray was the fear she left behind.
A Middle Grade novel are for elementary and middle school themed. They have less darkness and sweeter endings than YA. They are more open to curriculum tie-ins and educational content. The view of the story is through the eyes of the MG character. It starts with the character. Ask yourself these questions about your character before you write the story:
- What are their hopes & dreams?
- What do they want?
- What obstacle is standing in their way?
- What problem must they solve?
- What specific action must they take to overcome obstacle?
- What is their flaw?
- What are they afraid of?
- What does the character need to learn & evolve over the course of the story?
The protagonist needs to be someone the reader cares about and wants to know better. They should be active in their own story. They should have believable motives and care deeply for things and people. The character should not be afraid to take risks and have strong opinions and believes about the world and themselves. Kids are real people with real problems, yet use humor whenever you can. It can be situational funny, instead of comedy. Don’t preach or talk down. Kids hear enough in real life. Balance actions and feelings. Read a lot of MG to get a handle on it. Sit at a mall or other places where kids hang out and just listen to their speech and the things they talk about.
Here is a contest some of you writers out there might want to chance. It’s run by Owl Canyon Press. There isn’t any cost to enter. The stories must be in English. The catch is to use only 50 paragraphs total and each paragraph must have at least 40 words. There isn’t a maximum word count. Owl Canyon Press also provides the first sentence and the 25th sentence. Interested? Go to www.owlcanyonpress.com to enter and further instructions.
Let’s see how clever and wise you are.
I listened to Craig English, a teacher and author at the PNWA conference about how he creates urban fantasy. He said urban fantasy is something freakish or a personal moment of otherness that happens to a character. The character might not embrace the strangeness at first, depending on their background, turmoil, and religious preference. Then up the stakes after the odd episode and see how the character deals with it. It could be a flexibility of reality. Establish the mundane world, then the fantasy, and balance the two. Decide on a theme and the rules of the weird. The character realizes the world is not quite what it seems.
Capturing that vision in mind, the story unfolds from the tips of the writer’s fingers into printed word. It dances in front of the reader and dazzles him until the story ends. This thought came to mind after listening to various speakers at a writers conference.
For those of you that like to write mysteries or are thinking of writing one, you might like this information. A panel of agents and editors broached the subject, what is the difference between a mystery, thriller, and a horror novel.
Mystery has a puzzle and clues to follow. It’s usually not terrifying, has a broad crime or a murder.
A thriller or suspense: existence of hope, heightening of suspense, the unknowing, doesn’t need to be a murder to justify action, revelations through the story. specific pacing involved. Serial killers in a story are expected to be a thriller.
Horror: something awful happened, worst feeling, exploits fear, darkness within.
Thrillers are plot driven. They kick start with conflict and the stakes are raised frequently. In a horror, something about the story sticks with you.
Editor, Jenny Chen recommends mysteries should be written in third person, instead of first person, so the story doesn’t drag. It gives a window for the reader to understand the mystery.
I hope this helped some of you. Happy writing.
The moon shone down upon the campsite like a giant eye. A gust of wind rustled the dry, summer leaves of the maples. The fire crackled and popped. The counselor gazed at each boy’s face. His eyes gleamed in the fire light.
“Some of you heard these tales before. Please don’t spoil it for the new recruits. Tonight’s story is about the green man of the woods. It’s said that he snatched young boys that wandered off and lost their way. I was skeptical once, same as you, but as I live and breathe, this story is true.” He looked at the younger boys and rubbed his hands together.
Now Bobby looked up to his best bud. Eddie was older by a couple of years. He had long legs and fast on his feet. He climbed a rope with ease, excelled in sports, and beat most of the others in a race. Bobby was short for his age, chubby, and picked on at school. He didn’t have any brothers and was left alone more times than any ten year old. His mother worked long hours as a nurse. She felt guilty and decided Bobby needed companionship. She sent him off to Camp Crockett. At first, Bobby felt all alone, until Eddie stepped in to show him around. With Eddie as his friend and on the same team, Bobby felt proud and knew they’d win most of the games.
Some of the older boys told of a camp across the lake that had a swimming pool and a bowling alley. Eddie talked Bobby into stealing one of the rowboats. Bobby had never stolen anything and was nervous, but he’d do anything for Eddie. He scanned the area, before he shoved the boat out. Bobby ran and jumped in. Eddie waded out and climbed inside. They paddled, with all their might, to the other side of the lake. Their arms ached, by the time they reached Camp Boone. It had been further away than they had anticipated. They set the oars inside and hauled the boat to shore.
A thin girl, around twelve, with white-blond hair and dressed in a white tennis dress, emerged from the bushes. “What are you doing here?”
Eddie licked his fingers and smoothed his cowlick down. “Hi, we’re curious. Is it true your camp has a swimming pool and a bowling alley?”
“Yes, and other things. My name is Diana and you are?”
“I’m Eddie and this is Bobby.” Eddie pulled Bobby over.
“Do you want to peek inside?” she asked.
“Yes!” the boys chorused.
Diana unlocked the padlock on the gate. She pushed it open and the hinges squealed. The boys entered the campsite. As they wandered the grounds, they noticed garbage littered the area. Cabin porches looked damaged and the windows broken. The swimming pool smelled foul and green slime floated on top of the water. The boys gazed at each other. Eddie walked over to a cabin. He waved Bobby over. He lifted Bobby up to look inside. Bobby paled.
“What do you see?” Eddie asked.
“Put me down!” Bobby cried. He raced to the gate with Eddie behind him.
The gate slammed shut before them. They looked behind them and couldn’t believe it. Diana’s arms and legs changed into vines that rolled and entwined over each other in their effort to claim the boys. They scaled the gate, but Diana caught Bobby by his leg and dragged him back.
“Don’t leave me, Eddie!” Bobby yelled.
Eddie’s eyes widened as the vines slithered up the fence. His jacket sleeve snagged on a wire and he couldn’t budge. He yanked his arm free and jumped over the fence. The ground rumbled under his feet. He leapt for the boat. The vines tunneled under the rowboat and lifted Eddie and the boat as one. Eddie grabbed an oar and smacked it across the vines. A shrill rent the air. Eddie covered his ears. The vine shrunk back. Eddie took the opportunity rowed to the middle of the lake.
Eddie drifted on the water for hours. He started to row back to their camp when Bobby called his name. Eddie rowed back to Camp Boone and saw Bobby standing by the gate.
“Diana’s sleeping. Please take me back with you,” Bobby said. “Can you carry me? My legs hurt.”
Eddie climbed out of the boat and strode over to Bobby. He carried his friend to the rowboat and sat him down on the seat. Eddie pushed the boat out and jumped inside. “You look a little green. Did Diana poison you?”
Bobby’s arms and legs turned into vines. Eddie screamed and the vines entered his mouth. Only hollows were left of Eddie’s eyes and slime covered his skin. The camp leaders found the rowboat circling the lake. Bobby wasn’t anywhere in sight. And so the tale of the watcher in the woods continues to this day.
“What a bunch of hogwash!” one of the new boys exclaimed.
“My name is Bobby. Now do you believe?” The counselor changed into an alien of mossy vines and snatched the boy’s tongue.
Here is a poem for when you’re feeling angry.
Hope ground into garnet glass, washing love’s hair gray,
As heartbreak flooded the blood-stained street.
Her nostrils flared, her palate full of lust,
Desire not quenched or rinsed,
Rage hurtled from the cracks.
Anger her shield and revenge her sword,
She charged toward her enemy.
Revenge raked her sword across the demon’s face,
Ripping away his cloak of deceit,
His wounds raw and peeled open to truth,
he begged for mercy,
But the lioness licked the crimson from her blade,
And watched with unforgiving eyes.
The daisy is said to spring from the tears of Mary Magdalene. The flower opens and closes with the sun’s rays. The daisy has been called God’s smile or Day’s eye because of this. Medieval knights wore daisy chains made by their ladies as a sign of affection, before they went into battle or on tournament. And who hasn’t pulled the petals off a daisy as a child and played, he loves me, he loves me not? Such a delicate flower is the daisy.
Here is a ghost story I wrote. Hope you enjoy it.
I couldn’t see a thing, but the illuminated face of the clock, in the ink-dark room. The bleak, Autumn wind moaned at first, then rose to a shrill. Branches raked their nails across the windows and a chill frosted the air. I’m normally a sober man, but the storm cast its gloom, and I felt the need for a brandy. My hands groped for the decanter on the buffet and I poured myself a drink. My hands shook as I raised my glass to my lips. The brandy tasted of sweet blackberries and plums. It warmed my throat as the liquid trickled down.
I considered myself lucky that I had found the inn, before the storm hit. Most places were booked with a convention in downtown Seattle. My friend, David apologized for the lack of room at his place. I had traveled from Utah, yet I was set aside for David’s in-laws. The brandy took its toil and soon my eyes drifted to sleep. The glass fell from my hand and woke me. I climbed inside my bed and pulled the covers over my head.
The first sensation of consciousness was an icy feeling rippling down my spine. I reached for my blankets, but they were gone. I scanned the floor and a movement grabbed my attention. Did my eyes deceive me? It looked like a woman’s leg. I sat up and screamed. A woman, with flaxen hair, gray eyes, a droopy lip, and skin paler than milk, stood over me with a carving knife in her hand.
“What do you want?” I asked.
Silence. My heart pounded in my chest. She leaned closer. I rolled out of the way as she stabbed the bed over and over. Blood pooled in the spot where she had driven the knife. I crawled across the room. The door was locked! How did she get in? My fingers trembled as I released the lock. I flung open the door and raced down the hall.
I hammered on the office door, but no one answered. The management must live on the premises though, right? I rushed down the hall and struck every door. At the last room, an elderly man opened his door a crack. He put on his spectacles over his hooked nose and peered up at me.
“Sir, there is a strange woman in my room,” I said.
“Count your lucky stars, sonny. It’s a might cold out. I’m going back to bed.” The man started to close his door.
“Wait!” I stuck my foot in the door. “She has a knife.”
“Then call the police.”
“The power is out and I forgot to charge my phone. Please, can you come, if only to be a witness?” I begged.
The man pulled a red plaid jacket over his thermal shirt and grabbed a rifle that leaned against a wall. “In case.”
He walked behind me as I jogged back to my room. My door stood ajar. I pushed it further open. The old man shone his flashlight inside the room. I couldn’t believe it. The woman was gone and so was the blood stain. The man sniffed the glass on the floor.
“Perhaps you were seeing things, sonny. Get some sleep. Things will look better in the morning.” He left my side.
How could I sleep? The beat of the clock amplified in the room. I crawled under the covers.
The alarm startled me awake. Two in the morning. That’s odd. I hadn’t set the alarm. When had I fallen asleep? The door banged open and the woman, from earlier, stood in the doorway.
“I know you’ve been sleeping with that doe-eyed floozy! She won’t service your needs anymore.” The woman tore across the room.
I flipped off the bed in time. She stabbed the mattress several times. A large pool of blood appeared on the sheets again. The woman disappeared before my eyes. Am I hallucinating or did I just witness a ghost? Enough of this! I yanked the blanket off the bed and wrapped it over my shoulders. I stormed out of my room and headed to the lobby. A light from the kitchen caught my eye. I turned in that direction. An angel-faced young woman, with big eyes, set a tea kettle on the burner.
“Oh, did the power come back on?” I asked.
“I’ll have your tea ready in a jiffy, sir.” She bobbed a curtsy.
To my surprise, she crumbled to the floor and her apron soaked with blood. The ghostly woman appeared and yanked the bloody, carving knife from the cook’s side. She walked over to the stove and turned up the flame.
“No!” I screeched.
They both disappeared and the flame extinguished. I stalked over to the stove and felt it. It was stone cold. How was this possible? I strolled into the lobby and curled up in a leather recliner. I tucked the blanket around me and closed my eyes.
The grandfather clock bonged and I jumped. Would I ever get a good night’s sleep? It was four in the morning. I heard shuffling and peered behind me. A small figure hobbled down the hallway. She entered my room. Hadn’t I locked it? I hurried down the hallway. My door stood open. The ghostly woman leaned over my bed. The small figure of a woman plunged a fork into the ghostly woman’s neck. The woman fell backwards and the fork sunk deeper. The younger woman I recognized as the cook. She collapsed to the floor and blood surrounded the two women, before they disappeared from my sight. I ran out of the room and into the lobby.
At six o’clock, I woke to a tall man, in flannel pajamas, lighting his pipe. The aroma of cherry tobacco lingered in the lobby. The man picked up a newspaper and folded it under his arm. He strolled down the hall and into my room. I rushed down the hall and burst into my room, but it was empty. That’s it! I got dressed, then packed my suitcase. I trekked down the hall. The lights shone bright. A plump woman stood behind the front desk. She smiled at my approach. Something about her looked familiar.
“Did you have a nice stay, Mr. Jones?”
“No, I didn’t sleep well. Excuse me, but do I know you?”
“I don’t believe we’ve met. Perhaps you knew my mother? People say we look alike. You can judge for yourself. The painting over the mantel is of her.”
I gazed up at the painting. My suitcase fell from my hand. It was the young cook. Her large, walnut eyes and warm smile shone down on me. Did she just wink? I had to get out of here before I went bonkers. I tossed enough cash on the desk to cover the bill and rushed outside. Curiosity called me back.
“Did you forget something, sir?”
“What happened here?” I asked.
“I’m sorry if they kept you awake. Some people are more sensitive than others. I’ve never seen any ghost myself, but other guests complained. My mother ran the inn years ago. She charmed the guests with her smile and tasty desserts. Mr. Brooks had a sweet tooth. His wife had a stroke and was put on a strict diet. She tried to keep her husband on the same diet, but Mr. Brooks visited my mother in the wee hours when she baked. He sampled her wares. His wife thought he was having an affair. She killed him and set the kitchen on fire. I remodeled with the insurance money. Will that be all?”
“Can you call me a cab?” I sat in the lobby and waited for my ride. A horn beeped and I hastened outside. A rim of sunlight appeared behind the clouds. I smiled at the change of weather. I hopped in the cab and gave the driver David’s address. I’d sleep on his floor, rather than spend another night at the inn. Oh, the story I had for him though!