Friday, August 20, 2010

Rachel Vail - School, Drool and Other Daily Disasters: Finding the Humour and Heart in Middle Grade Novels

Rachel Vail

Be inspired by books that really move you.

Middle grade – you emerge into the world, away from your family. It hits you. Is your family weird? Books can be company for you. You feel that others out there are like you. You also discover 'there are other ways than my way.'

Common humanities. We are the same, but different. Are we more or less daring? Shy? Do we live in different places?

How do we move past our own lives? How do we become someone else? Start with what you know. Eg. Metaphorically, do you feel that you were 'kept under the stairs'? How would you act/react as a person in this situation?

Life or death moments are a dime a dozen in middle grade. You just want to die. You can also feel utter joy. Suddenly shame, lust and ambition emerge. You have never felt these feelings before. RV describes feeling 'soul-melting jealousy' when she discovered that a boy in her class could already read at 6 years old.

Young adolescents can feel that they are changing in front of everybody – in full view. There is no cocoon to hide in. You are learning to laugh. They feel soul-burning humiliation as if they are naked in front of the world. The need the loyalty of a friend.

Ask yourself: who did I not want to sit next to and why? How did I feel when I stood at the top of the ski hill when I actually didn't know how to ski yet? Speed write for 10 minutes about these thoughts and see where it goes.

Little children harbour worries that parents may not be aware of. They often think: what if?

Many stories of middle grade have a one act play structure. RV wrote Justin Case as such. Then she threw it out and started again. It takes practise to get the voice right.

Rachel told us about her discovery of the water cycle when she was in school. To her it was a big revelation and she felt excited about telling everyone in her family about it. Everyone responded with 'Yes, I know', except her uncle. He played along and acted very interested and intrigued. He took her seriously. It made her feel important and special. Can you be a person who listens to a child?

The first draft: Michaelangelo said that the sculpture was hidden in the stone. As the stone, start chiseling away and find your story.

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