Inspiration can come from the strangest places. Like from a bowl of cereal that doesn’t exist.
I just watched my wife clear cereal boxes off the breakfast table. This got me thinking about my kids’ favorite morning repast, Lucky Charms, which we hardly ever have in the house because I’m a tightwad who only buys name-brand cereal when it’s on sale plus it’s double-coupon week plus the box includes “20% MORE FREE!” Yeah, that pretty much means my kids eat Lucky Charms like once every five years. But I digress. Let me explain what all this has to do with today’s blog post.
Although Lucky Charms are currently nonexistent in our home, I got to thinking about how a middle-grade novel is like a bowl of Lucky Charms. Here are my thoughts:
First, the mini-marshmallows are the sweeteners of your writing—the specific details that make a setting come alive and the descriptions of your characters that help your readers form their mental images. The important thing to remember is that these marshmallows must be distributed with care. If I chowed down on a bowl of pure mini-marshmallows every morning, I might get a sugar buzz, but I sure wouldn’t be very satisfied. Similarly, we have to be careful that the details and descriptions we provide don’t overwhelm our readers. They probably don’t need to know how many freckles Bobby has or where Lucy bought her underwear. Each “bite” of our stories must provide balance.
Second, change is good, but it’s also okay to stick with what works. Lucky Charms have been sugar-loading kids since 1964. The marshmallows get tweaked around to keep things new (blue diamonds added in 1975, purple horseshoes in 1984, etc.). In 2005, they began making Chocolate Lucky Charms. And sometimes you’ll see special-edition versions, such as Winter Lucky Charms. But still . . . they’re Lucky Charms. If I went out and bought a box today, the cereal would pretty much taste the same as what I begged my mom to buy when I was a kid. General Mills has a recipe, and it works. And writing a novel has a recipe, too: some form of conflict that will move each scene forward, the inclusion of a character arc that reflects a protagonist’s growth throughout the story, and so on. Play with the recipe. Tweak it to make your story unique. But don’t lose sight of the basic ingredients that every story needs. It isn’t formulaic writing. It’s good writing.
And now, since I need to wrap up this blog post and go have a cereal break, here’s a final, simple thought: Like a bowl of Lucky Charms, a well-written middle-grade novel can be enjoyed just as much by an adult as by a child.
Now go. Write. Create a story that’s “magically delicious.” And feel free to munch some cereal while you’re at it.