Author Archives: Mindy Alyse Weiss

Are You a Plotter or a Pantser?

When I first started writing middle grade novels, I was a total pantser. I’d get an idea, mull it around for a bit, jot down some notes, then plunge in without really having an idea where my story would go. It was a fun ride full of surprises, and I enjoyed every minute of it. I loved how my characters took over the story once I got to know them better, and couldn’t wait to see how they’d get out of all the situations they stumbled into. I was amazed at the gems that popped up! But then I realized how much muck I had to dig through. I didn’t have a full story arc. It was more like the fast ups, downs, twists, turns, and upside-down loops of a roller coaster. I’ve lost count of how many major rounds of revisions it took to turn my roller coaster rides into fully fleshed out story arcs.

roller coaster

I thought about outlining. For a minute. It felt too restricting. I didn’t want to know all the major details about my stories in advance. But I also wanted to have stronger structures to my novels. So now, I’m somewhere between a plotter and a pantser.

Before leaping into a new novel, I still do my typical brainstorming (which can last for a brief period of time to several months or even longer if I’m working on another project but can’t get ideas for a new one out of my head). I jot down any possibilities that hit and cross out ones that don’t look like they’ll work. But now I’ve added or enhanced a lot of other techniques, too.

  • My character sketches are much more in depth. I used to jot down a few ideas, then change a lot of it as I wrote and got to know my characters better. It feels strange trying to know so much about my characters before diving into their stories (especially after finishing a novel where I know my characters inside and out), but the more I brainstorm the story and work on the overall plot ahead of time, the more my initial character sketches work throughout the book (although it’s rare that I don’t make at least a few tweaks along the way). It’s way more than just a brief physical description and a few facts and traits now. I fill out character questionnaires, interview them, etc. One of my favorite questions is: what’s your biggest secret or fear? It’s great knowing what my character’s flaws are, and how they’ll be tested throughout their journey. Newest Plot Clock 2016
  • I love using Joyce Sweeney’s Plot Clock before writing a novel. It’s such a fantastic tool! It helps me get the bones down without feeling shackled to an outline. If you’d like, you can take a peek at some notes I shared a few years ago after taking Joyce’s Plot Clock Workshop, or you can sign up for Joyce’s newsletter then log in to her site to watch her free hour and a half Plot Clock webinar.
  • I saw agent Jill Corcoran state on social media that it’s helpful to have a pitch ready before you start writing a new book. What a brilliant idea! Not only does it help focus you, but you can also check to see if the concept seems strong enough for the market, and alter it if you need to before writing a single word of your manuscript.
  • During an SCBWI workshop, Lorin Oberweger said something that will always stick with me—know what your character wants before the story begins. I’ve looked back at past novels with this in mind, and figure this out before starting any new projects now.

Are you a plotter, a pantser, or somewhere in between, like me? What tools work best for the structure of your novels—and where do you struggle the most? In case you can’t tell, plotting is something I’ve had to study a lot, because it was one of my weaknesses. Joyce Sweeney once told me that plotting was one of her weaknesses, too—but she studied it so much that she was able to develop the Plot Clock and turn plotting into one of her biggest strengths. That’s so encouraging! I’m always looking for new tools to help me, and love seeing how much stronger my plotting is thanks to them.

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

How to Find Great Middle Grade Novels

Z Middle Grade Books and Ruby 2

With so many middle grade novels out there, how do you decide what to read next? If you’re looking for some great new MG to read, here are a few easy ways to find them:

  • Browse our unique book lists! You can search for topics like humorous, fantasy, books for reluctant readers, multicultural, action and adventure, books for strong readers, contemporary, sports, historical fiction, etc. If you don’t find what you’re looking for, let us know and we’ll do our best to create a new book list for you.
  • Check out our monthly new release posts.
  • You could find some interesting books by browsing our author interviews.
  • To read book reviews (either by children or adults) and to find more middle-grade focused sites, check out What Should I Read Next?
  • Ask your local librarian! If you mention the kind of book you’re looking for, I’m sure he or she will point you in the right direction.
  • Go to a library or bookstore and browse! See which covers and titles catch your attention. Choose a bunch that interest you, then sit down and read the first few pages. Chances are, you’ll find more than one great book to add to your must-read list.
  • Check out award winning middle grade novels! The Newbery Award is usually a middle grade novel, but this year it was awarded to a wonderful picture book. You can check out the recent Newbery Award Honors, plus past winners and honors. There are tons of different awards out there. Some are selected by peers, like the 2015 Crystal Kite winning book Just a Drop of Water by Kerry O’Malley Cerra.
  • For anyone interested in writing or illustrating children’s books, the SCBWI Blueboard is an amazing resource! There’s an entire section for discussing the craft of middle grade novels and here’s a thread from 2015 asking for the 10 best middle grade novels.

I’d love to know how you select which middle grade novels to read.

Happy reading everyone!

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.

What Are You Grateful For?

Happy Thanksgiving

Happy Thanksgiving to all who celebrate it. I love this time of year, and have a lot to be grateful for this Thanksgiving. My older daughter has been suffering from an eating disorder, and after living at Oliver-Pyatt (an amazing eating disorder facility in Miami) for the past six months…she’s home and way stronger than I’ve seen her in a long time!

People often spend so much time concentrating on food for the holidays. While it’s nice to enjoy special treats, I’m definitely going to celebrate being with both daughters and my husband. It’s such a gift to spend quality time together!

I originally had a different topic in mind for this post, but since it’s the day before Thanksgiving, I started thinking about how much books have meant to my daughters and me. I have so many wonderful memories of snuggling together, reading books from the time they were little. One book I’m extremely grateful for is Tales of a 4th Grade Nothing by Judy Blume. It was one of my favorite books as a child! I’ll never forget reading it to my girls. My younger daughter was in pre-school at the time, and both girls listened intently to every word and laughed at Fudge’s antics.

When my first born was a bit older, we read My Teacher is an Alien by Bruce Coville. She loved it so much that when I had to stop reading it during an appointment, she grabbed the book, sat down in the corner and said, “I’m sorry, Mom, but I just have to see what happens next.” What priceless words!

Now that my girls are older, we haven’t read together in way too long. I really miss it! I think I’ll see if they’re up to picking out an amazing middle grade novel to read together this weekend.

Besides being grateful for family, friends, good health, and awesome books–I’m also grateful for SCBWI (and the SCBWI Blueboard, which is an amazing message board for anyone interested in writing, illustrating, or involved in publishing or being an agent for children’s books). And I’m thankful for everyone at the Mixed-Up Files blog, and all of our wonderful readers. 

What are you thankful for this holiday season, and which middle grade novels helped create special memories for your family?

Mindy Alyse Weiss writes humorous middle grade novels with heart and quirky picture books. She’s constantly inspired by her two daughters, an adventurous Bullmasador adopted from The Humane Society, and an adorable Beagle/Pointer mix who was rescued from the Everglades. Visit Mindy’s TwitterFacebook, or blog to read more about her writing life, conference experiences, and writing tips.