• From the Mixed-Up Files... > Learning Differences > Brainstorming For the Young (and Young-at-Heart)
  • OhMG! News


    April 11, 2014:
    Fall 2014 Children's Sneak Peek
    A peek at forthcoming middle grade books (as well as picture books and YA books) in a round-up from Publisher's Weekly. First printed in the February 22 issue, but now available online. Time to add to your to-read list. Read more ...

    April 9, 2014:
    How many Newbery winners have you read?
    You could make a traditional list of all the Newbery Medal Award-winning Children's Books you've read, but there's something so satisfying when you check them off and get a final tally on this BuzzFeed quiz. Read more ...

    March 28, 2014:
    Middle Grade fiction is hot at 2014 Bologna Children's Book Fair

    For the second year in a row, publishers are clamoring for middle-grade, reporters Publishers Weekly. "I’ve been coming [to Bologna] for 12 to 15 years, and I’ve never had as many European publishers asking for middle-grade," said Steven Chudney of the Chudney Agency. Read more ...

    February 14, 2014:
    Cybils Awards announced
    Ultra by David Carroll (Scholastic Canada) wins the Cybil for middle grade fiction; Lockwood & Co: The Screaming Staircase by Jonathan Stroud (Disney Hyperion) wins for Speculative Fiction. Read more.

    January 27, 2014: And the Newbery Medal goes to ...
    Kate DiCamillo won the Newbery Medal for "Flora & Ulysses"; Rita Williams-Garcia won the Coretta Scott King Author award for "P.S. Be Eleven." Newbery Honor awards to authors Vince Vawter, Amy Timberlake, Kevin Henkes and Holly Black. For all the exciting ALA Youth Media Award News ... READ MORE

    November 12, 2013:
    Vote in the GoodReads semifinal round

    Readers' votes have narrowed the middle-grade semifinals down to 20 titles. Log in to your GoodReads account and vote for your favorite middle-grade (and in other categories, of course). Read more ...

    November 9, 2013:
    Publishers Weekly Top Children's Books of 2013

    Middle-grade and young adult titles selected by the editors of Publishers Weekly as their top picks of the year. Let the season of "top ten books" begin! Read more ...

    October 14, 2013:
    Middle Shelf: Cool Reads for Kids debuts January 2014

    Shelf Media Group, publisher of Shelf Unbound indie book review magazine, will launch a new free digital-only publication for middle-grade readers. The debut issue features interviews with such notable authors as Margaret Peterson Haddix and Chris Grabenstein as well as reviews, excerpts, and more. Middle Shelf will be published bi-monthly beginning in January 2014.
    Read more ...

    September 19, 2013: Writer-in-Residence program at Thurber House

    Dream of time and space to focus on your own writing project? Applications now being accepted (11/1/2013 deadline) for The Thurber House Residency in Children's Literature, a month-long retreat in the furnished third-floor apartment of Thurber House in Columbus, Ohio. Read more ...

    September 18, 2013: Vermont College of Fine Arts Scholarship opportunity

    Barry Goldblatt Literary launches The Angela Johnson Scholarship, a talent-based grant for writers of color attending the MFA in Writing for Children & Young Adults program at VCFA. Up to two $5,000 grants will be awarded each year. Read more ....

    September 16, 2013:
    National Book Awards longlist for youth literature

    For the first time, the NBA is presenting lists of 10 books/authors on the longlist in each category. The 2013 young adult literature list includes five middle grade novels and five YA. Read more ...

    Sept. 13, 2013: Spring preview
    Check out Publishers Weekly roundup of upcoming children's books to be published in spring 2014. Read more...

    August 21, 2013:
    Want to be a Cybils Award Judge?

    Middle grade categories are fiction, speculative fiction, nonfiction. Applications due August 31! Read more ...

    August 19, 2013:
    S&S and BN reach a deal
    Readers will soon be able to find books from Simon & Schuster at Barnes & Noble. The bookstore chain was locked in a disagreement with the publisher over how much it was willing to pay for books. Read more ...

    August 6, 2013:
    NPR's 100 Must-Reads for Kids
    NPR's Backseat Book Club asked listeners to nominate their favorite books for readers ages 9 to 14. More than 2,000 people nominated titles, and a panel of Newbery authors brought the list to 100. Most are middle grade books. Read more ...

    July 2, 2013:
    Penguin & Random House Merger

    The new company, Penguin Random House, will control more than 25 percent of the trade book market in the United States. On Monday, the newly formed company began to take shape, only hours after a middle-of-the-night announcement that the long-planned merger had been completed. Read more ...

    March 28, 2013: Big at Bologna

     This year at the Bologna Children's Book Fair, the focus has shifted to middle-grade.  “A lot of foreign publishers are cutting back on YA and are looking for middle-grade,” said agent Laura Langlie, according to Publisher's Weekly.  Lighly illustrated or stand-alone contemporary middle-grade fiction is getting the most attention.  Read more...


    March 10, 2013: Marching to New Titles

    Check out these titles releasing in March...


    March 5, 2013: Catch the BEA Buzz

    Titles for BEA's Editor Buzz panels have been announced.  The middle-grade titles selected are:

    A Very Nearly Honorable League of Pirates #1: Magic Marks the Spot by Caroline Carlson

    Counting By 7s by Holly Goldberg Sloan

    The Fantastic Family Whipple by Matthew Ward

    Nick and Tesla's High-Voltages Danger Lab by Bob Pflugfelder and Steve Hockensmith

    The Tie Fetch by Amy Herrick

    For more Buzz books in other categories,


    February 20, 2013: Lunching at the MG Roundtable 

    Earlier this month, MG authors Jeanne Birdsall, Rebecca Stead, and N.D. Wilson shared insight about writing for the middle grades at an informal luncheon with librarians held in conjunction with the New York Public Library's Children's Literary Salon "Middle Grade: Surviving the Onslaught."

    Read about their thoughts...


    February 10, 2013: New Books to Love

    Check out these new titles releasing in February...


    January 28, 2013: Ivan Tops List of Winners

    The American Library Association today honored the best of the best from 2012, announcing the winners of the Newbery, Caldecott, and Printz awards, along with a host of other prestigious youth media awards, at their annual winter meeting in Seattle.

    The Newbery Medal for the most outstanding contribution to children’s literature went to The One and Only Ivan by Katherine Applegate. Honor books were: Splendors and Glooms by Laura Amy Schlitz; Bomb: The Race to Build--and Steal--the World’s Most Dangerous Weapon by Steve Sheinkin; and Three Times Lucky by Sheila Turnage.

    The Coretta Scott King Book Award went to Hand in Hand: Ten Black Men Who Changed America written by Andrea Davis Pinkney and illustrated by Brian Pinkney.

    The Laura Ingalls Wilder Award,which honors an author for his or her long-standing contributions to children’s literature, was presented to Katherine Paterson.

    The Pura Belpre Author Award, which honors a Latino author, went to Benjamin Alire Saenz for his novel Aristotle and Dante Discover the Secrets of the Universe, which was also named a Printz Honor book and won the Stonewall Book Award for its portrayal of the GLBT experience.

    For a complete list of winners…


    January 22, 2013: Biography Wins Sydney Taylor

    Louise Borden's His Name Was Raoul Wallenberg, a verse biography of the Swedish humanitarian, has won the Sydney Taylor Award in the middle-grade category. The award is given annually to books of the highest literary merit that highlight the Jewish experience. Aimee Lurie, chair of the awards committee, writes, "Louise Borden's well-researched biography will, without a doubt, inspire children to perform acts of kindness and speak out against oppression."

    For more...


    January 17, 2013: Erdrich Wins Second O'Dell

    Louise Erdrich is recipient of the 2013 Scott O'Dell Award for her historical novel Chickadee, the fourth book in herBirchbark House series. Roger Sutton,Horn Book editor and chair of the awards committee, says of Chickadee,"The book has humor and suspense (and disarmingly simple pencil illustrations by the author), providing a picture of 1860s Anishinabe life that is never didactic or exotic and is briskly detailed with the kind of information young readers enjoy." Erdrich also won the O'Dell Award in 2006 for The Game of Silence, the second book in theBirchbark series. 

    For more...


    January 15, 2013: After the Call

    Past Newbery winners Jack Gantos, Clare Vanderpool, Neil Gaiman, Rebecca Stead, and Laura Amy Schlitz talk about how winning the Newbery changed (or didn't change) their lives in this piece from Publishers Weekly...


    January 2, 2013: On the Big Screen

    One of our Mixed-up Files members may be headed to the movies! Jennifer Nielsen's fantasy adventure novel The False Prince is being adapted for Paramount Pictures by Bryan Cogman, story editor for HBO's Game of Thrones. For more...


  • Subscribe!

    Get email updates:

    Enter your email address:

    Delivered by FeedBurner

Brainstorming For the Young (and Young-at-Heart)

Learning Differences

Knowing many of you readers are teachers and parents, I am certain you have, at one time or another, heard this complaint: I don’t know what to write about!*  (*said in a whining tone of voice)  Well, here are a few tips you can share with those young writers and you can say you got them from a real author!

You can tell I'm a real author by my messy work station

First off, authors do not have a complete story in mind before they write it! It is said that authors don’t write stories, they discover them. We all start with a puzzle piece or two: A name, Setting, Cool phrase, Subject (war/baseball/dog/dance, etc), Ending, Title, Character (boy/girl, alien, chipmunk), Conflict (argument, competition, misunderstanding, 2 people w/ conflicting needs).  We then take those few puzzle pieces and brainstorm.

General Brainstorming Rules

  • Have lots of scrap paper available – don’t limit yourself to just one page.
  • Write down EVERYTHING that comes to mind, however stupid or lame or blah or boring or far-fetched. Actually PUT IT ON PAPER. It may not be as stupid as you think and it may lead you to something better.
  • Write fast. Do not pause to edit or second guess. NO editing allowed at this stage!
  • Neatness does NOT count. Neither does spelling or grammar or complete sentences.
  • If something ‘rings your bell’ put a star by it but KEEP BRAINSTORMING.

Three Brainstorming Techniques to Try (In order, from knowing the least about your story to knowing the most)

1. Web-making or Tree branching (Puzzle piece = Cool Phrase, Subject, Genre, Setting, Title)

Put your word in the center of the page and draw a circle around it.

Then play a ‘word association game’ with it, writing as many other words/phrases that come to mind. If a word you write makes you think of a different word, continue the branch forward. When you run out of words on one branch, go back and start a new branch with another first word.

Don’t get caught up with the branching – drop it if it is slowing you down. It’s not a work of art and there’s no right/wrong way. The most important part is to keep writing down words/ideas that come to mind.

2. Questionnaire (Puzzle piece = Name, Character, Conflict, Ending)

Take your initial idea/word/subject and start asking yourself questions about it.

Write down as many different answers as you can to each question – nothing is stupid!

Sometimes you have to get those first, easy answers out of your brain to make room and time for something more interesting to come out. Writing them down gets them out of your way, out of your mind so they don’t keep coming back to block your thinking.

If you have trouble asking yourself questions, here are some to get you started:

  1. Who is the Main Character?
  2. What does the Main Character want/need? (Needs are more compelling than wants)
  3. Why is this important to the Main Character?
  4. What could happen to stop the MC from getting what he/she wants?(conflict, complications)
  5. Where does this story take place?
  6. What is cool or important about this setting?
  7. Who are the other characters in this story
  8. How do they feel about the MC and/or his problem?
  9. Does the MC achieve his goal and if so, how? How does he fail?

3. Character Diaries/Interviews (Puzzle piece = Conflict, Character(s)

Write from the point of view of each of your characters. A short story should have a main character and a few others (3 max?). If you’ve decided what the conflict/major story problem is, have each character write about it from his/her perspective. This is merely the way you used to pretend as a kid. It’s acting, but on paper. Pretend you are this person and start ‘talking’. You can pretend you are writing in your diary, or writing a letter, or even being interviewed (where you make up the questions).

Post Brainstorming: Now what?

Once you have a paper or ten full of ideas, words, phrases, go back and re-read. Mark anything that strikes you as interesting/exciting. Pull out those ideas and put on a separate sheet of paper. You may need to do a little mini brainstorming to fill in the holes.

By the time you are finished, you should have

A Character___________________________________________________________

in a setting____________________________________________________________

who wants/needs something______________________________________________

but there’s a conflict_____________________________________________________

and he/she has some failures (making it worse each time)_______________________


until finally*…___________________________________________________________

(*Remember, your character should solve his/her own problem. They can have help but only a little.)

Brainstorming is not just for Beginnings! There are many times, mid-manuscript, when authors get stuck. So I go back to my earlier brainstorming sheets and see if there are some ideas there. If that doesn’t help, I brainstorm my problem, asking myself, um, “what’s the problem?” And then, “What are some possible solutions?” If a character is not working, I might do a diary entry for that character to see what I can “discover” about him/her.

Brainstorming is useful in the “re-visioning” process as well. By the time we are finished with our first drafts, we know the characters better than when we started. We may find our original plan does not work so well with who the characters have become.  Uh oh! What’s a writer to do? 

Why, brainstorm, of course!

Beverly Patt is mid-brainstorming, mid-re-visioning her third novel at this very moment.

Comments Off