Category Archives: Writing MG Books

Writing Effective Beginnings

DISCLAIMER: If the contents of this post about how to write effective beginnings seem familiar to you, you’ve got a good memory. You’ve also probably been reading the MUF blog for at least two years. Let me explain.

A couple of years ago, I posted about key elements that should be present in a story’s opening lines, and I used Wendy Mass’s Every Soul a Star as a model. Today’s post is going to revisit the same book. And I’m so lazy, most everything else is the same, too. But there’s one key difference:

Wigs.

Now, instead of reading, sit back and relax. Grab your favorite beverage. Then take just 3 minutes to watch my video on what you can do with your story’s opening lines in order to hook your readers.

So . . . what’s a book you’ve read that pulled you in from the opening line? What struggles and/or successes have you had at crafting your own effective beginnings? Feel free to post in the comments below.

T. P. Jagger, The 3-Minute Writing Teacher Along with his MUF posts, T. P. Jagger can be found at www.tpjagger.com, where he provides brief how-to writing-tip videos as The 3-Minute Writing Teacher plus free, original readers’ theatre scripts for middle-grade teachers. You can subscribe to his e-newsletter and/or his YouTube channel in order to be notified when new videos are posted in “The 3-Minute Writing Teacher” series of how-to writing tips.

 

A Ninny Contemplates Courage

Girl Preparing to Pool Dive

Last week at graduation ceremonies for our daughter, who received her physician assistant degree, one of the speakers gave a piece of advice that made it hard for me to listen to what anyone else said.

“Keep your courage in an accessible place,” she told these future healers.  Immediately I had visions:  a capacious side pocket made for sliding in a hand and pulling out a fistful of pluck;  a small pouch concealing a shining dauntless stone;  a backpack bulging with fortitude.  I could use one of those things, I thought.

So often we talk about finding courage, as if it’s something that wanders off at the first opportunity. I was struck by the idea of keeping it with us, carrying it around, knowing just where to find it at all times.

The young people graduating that day are already far braver than a ninny like me will ever be. Their life’s work will be taking on the sickness and pain of others, of doing everything they can to ease and relieve suffering. They’d already shown their mettle,  learning about the endless complexities of the human body, and if you asked any one of them, she’d say she’d only begun.  A lifetime of learning lies ahead. The room brimmed with excitement and yes, a tinge of fear over what they’d taken on. The speaker’s advice was going to come in handy.

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I found myself  thinking how the youngest children have no  concept of courage. They know go and see and touch, and the drive to do all those things propels them forward on those first juddering steps into the unknown. Toddlers never know where they’re going till they get there–and there often  lasts only a few moments before it’s on to the next discovery. Yet it takes bravery to leave the safety of a parent’s arms–just watch how often a little guy looks around to make sure Mom or Dad is still nearby.

As kids get older, the need for courage becomes conscious. Some risks are physical, like learning to ride a two-wheeler,  step onto a diving board, or pet that very large dog. Some are social–nerving up to make a new friend, audition for a part in the play, or  go to a very first sleep-over.

The situations that call for moral courage are the ones that the writer (and reader) in me finds most moving and powerful. From early on, even before they can talk, children have a strong sense of right and wrong, of justice and fairness. When my kids played make-believe, the stories they made up were always about good vs. evil, about the kind-hearted and true winning out over the greedy and dishonest. Real life, they discovered, was a good deal more complicated. And the older they got, the truer that became.

In the middle grade novel I’m working on now, my main character hates making choices. She’s slipped through life, getting away with things, not taking responsibility if she can help it–she’s so much like me at age twelve. In my story, she will, at last, face a decision she can’t escape.  She’ll have to find her courage, something she’s not used to keeping in a pocket or other accessible place. She’ll have to hunt and dig and probably ask for some help.

One reason I’m loving writing this book–why I always love writing for middle graders –is how central and powerful questions of right and wrong are to these readers. To be worthy of my audience, I have to think hard and deep, not just about how things should be, but how they are, and what we each, with our one wild, precious life, can do.  Writing for middle graders forces a ninny like me to be brave, and for that I am very grateful.

*****

Tricia is the author of What Happened on Fox Street and Mo Wren Lost and Found. Her  new middle grade novel, Moonpenny Island, will publish in February.

 

 

 

 

 

Finding it difficult to focus? Join the club

Lately I’ve noticed my focus has been a little, well, um…wait, what was I saying? Oh yeah. I’ve noticed my focus has been somewhat…how to put it…GONE. Actually, I’ve become constantly unfocused. Anyone with me here?

At first I chalked it up to summer, a houseful of noisy kids, my aging brain…but then I read about a syndrome called “continuous partial attention.” And it turns out I — and probably you — have it.

On Facebook and Twitter multiple times a day? Liking and posting and sharing never-ending content? Checking your phone every few minutes for texts, emails, Instagram photos? Watching way too many videos online? You know you are not alone.

Call it social media overload or living in a virtual reality — researchers say that people today are finding it increasingly difficult to focus on tasks because of chronic and constant interruptions from screens.

social media overloadNot good for a writer. Not exactly good for anyone.

According to a recent article in Toronto’s Globe and Mail, we sprint through our days in a state of super-charged distraction and it’s taking a toll on our brains. In one study I read, workers stopped the task they were doing because of a screen disruption every three minutes.

Writers especially need quiet contemplation in order for ideas to form and gel. Time when nothing is beeping, beckoning, begging for our attention. Not quite conducive to today’s world, is it?

Desperate times, as it is said, call for desperate measures. My focus was floating somewhere out there and I needed to get it back. Who else to turn to but my fellow writers? I texted, posted, sent messages (and yes, I am fully aware of the irony here), pleading for help. What are your secrets, I asked, for avoiding the evil temptress of the Internet in order to get in some focused writing time?

Now I realize, some of these suggestions may seem radical, but I’ve compiled them here because I have been assured they really work. (Disclaimer: If you choose to try one of these, you are proceeding at your own risk.)

1. Accidentally “misplace” your phone. Some excellent places to “lose” it include: the bottom of a laundry basket full of smelly socks, under the sofa, somewhere in the backyard, under a seat in a friend’s minivan. Preferably one with fast food remnants and candy wrappers.

2. Journey to a remote mountainous location with no WiFi, cell towers, or sign of human life, and write. Siberia works, but a tree house will do in a pinch.

3. Give yourself a one-hour challenge. Set a timer and write for one hour without checking any electronic device. This will be similar in nature to detox so be prepared. Drink a lot of water.

4. Let a baby borrow your phone. (They need to text too.) Within minutes, it is guaranteed you will have no Internet connection.

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5. Find WiFi free zones in which to write. Suggestions include the beach, a canoe, while skydiving, or on a roller coaster, preferably while upside down.

6. Walk and dictate into an ancient device found in antique shops and on archeological digs: a tape recorder. An added bonus here is that people will stay far away, believing you are a lunatic.

7. Write while walking on a treadmill, with all electronic devices stowed in another room. Do not get off until you’ve written one thousand words.

8. Pile up any and all devices, put them in your car, and park it around the block. Walk back to your writing space and go.

9. Give your Smartphone to a teenager so he/she can install all updates and add a variety of cool, new apps you’ve never heard of. You will not be able to figure anything out when it is returned to you.

10. Find Thoreau’s cabin in the woods. Knock.

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Good luck, fellow writers. May the focus be with you.

Michele Weber Hurwitz is the author of two middle grade novels, The Summer I Saved the World…in 65 Days, and Calli Be Gold. She will check her Twitter @MicheleWHurwitz when she returns from Siberia. In the meantime, find her virtually at micheleweberhurwitz.com.