February 3, 2020 at 11:20 am #7434
I’ve got a draft of what is meant to be an upper mid grade novel, but I have concerns I’ve written it in a too Young Adult style. I’m specifically looking for feedback from experienced MG writers on whether I need to adjust the language/structure, and how I might go about it.
All other comments also welcome.
(As usual the formatting of the extract is a bit hit and miss).
The high carved doors of the Hall of Hearing swung open and I took a step back, or tried to. The Brownie Brigade captain who was standing behind me gave me a sharp poke between the shoulder blades and I stumbled into the room, tripping on the curly toes of my favourite purple boots to land in a tangle on the floor.
Dancing dung beetles, how had I ended up in this mess?
Peeking around the hall, my mouth dropped open and my head tilted back and back. The Tree Shapers had coaxed the inside of the Home Tree into a hollow filled with rippling columns and an arched ceiling high enough that even a sprite aerial antics team would have had room to perform. Dandelion seeds were suspended on fine threads to form a roof of make-believe clouds, and glow bugs gleamed in crevices and clustered in shining chains of brightness.
I’d sneaked around the back passageways of the Home Tree looking for chances to play pranks plenty of times, but I’d never been in here. The Hall of Hearing was where all the serious faery business was carried out.
The Brownie captain harrumphed like a toad trying to swallow an extra juicy slug and tapped his staff on the floor. I took the hint and scrambled to my feet, tugging my orange gauze skirt straight over my green leggings. And that was when I noticed the other faeries.
On a row of benches at the side of the room, I spotted Mum and Uncle Grayling. I gave them a wave, but Mum turned away, dabbing at her face with a spotty handkerchief. Uncle scowled. So much for family support. They weren’t the only familiar faces – there were my old teachers Mrs Brug and Mr Sparrow. And, oh no, it couldn’t be, the head mistress Miss Sharp as well as several of Mum’s neighbours.
There was a cough and my gaze jumped to the front of the room. Seated at a long table on a platform that ran the width of the room were a bunch of dusty old faeries who didn’t have a smile between them. One of them looked in my direction and pointed to a raised root in the centre of the room. I checked over my shoulder but unless they meant the Brownie captain, which seemed unlikely, the faery wanted me to stand on it. I trotted forward and hopped up.
The faeries at the table were wearing fancy clothes: bright tunics and long, embroidered gowns, not to mention pointy shoes which were no good for walking. My wings gave a nervous flutter. This had to be the faery council. In fact, I was sure of it because they all looked as if they’d just had a dose of ant powder and, from what I’d learned, the more serious a faery looked, the more important they tended to be.
I nibbled on my lip as they all frowned at me in silence.
That was when a gong sounded. The air quivered and I almost fell backwards off the root. A big set of doors, painted with a gold circle, swung open behind the council and everyone stood.
It couldn’t be. Surely.
Queen Leticia and King Byron glided into the room, and my ears tingled. No way were they here just for me – that was a loopy idea. There had to be far more serious business for them to deal with. I took a sneaky peek around the room but nobody else was waiting to speak to them. Perhaps there was a queue of faeries outside. They were just getting the unimportant stuff over with first. That had to be it.
The Queen settled into a seat at the centre of the council table, smoothing down her shimmering robe. A flock of bright butterflies which had followed her fluttered onto the tabletop and fanned their wings. The Queen’s pale hair was held back by a net of gold set with crystals, and a lump formed in my throat at the sight. It had to be Dad’s work. Nobody else but him could craft something that beautiful.
The crystals shone with the warmth of the glow bugs’ light, but the Queen wasn’t smiling. Which wasn’t like her at all. The King seated himself in the chair next to the Queen and she nodded to the council.
One of the old dusties stood up and sniffed loudly. She really should carry a hanky. ‘Ariadne Greenlegs?’
Yeah, thanks Mum for the super-silly name. I nodded.
There followed much paper shuffling and throat clearing, and then the faery fixed me with a scowl. ‘Your actions, Ariadne, are being considered in the most serious light.’
I held in a giggle. What was it with the old toad? ‘It was just a joke.’
The faery made a sound like she’d swallowed a fur ball, and another wave of giggles shook me.
‘Ariadne.’ The Queen’s voice was impossible to ignore. Usually it reminded me of the bubble of water over stones, but today it had a waterfall sharp edge to it. ‘You very nearly revealed the faery community to the human world. Can you imagine the consequences of that? How much danger you’ve placed us in?’ She leaned forward and fixed me with her pale eyes.
‘But…’ I wriggled my toes. ‘It was a harmless prank. That was all.’
The Queen sighed and gestured to dusty faery who shuffled her papers some more and glared at me. ‘Did you, or did you not steal the official pixie seal from the offices of the sky-high commissioner –?’
That got me another glare.
‘And did you then use it to seal invites to…’ she paused and checked her notes. ‘…the president of Gnomes Monthly gardening magazine, Sylvia the sensational slug charmer and her snail juggling side-kick, a fire-salamander who fortunately ignited his invitation, and twelve leprechauns to see a performance of the Brownie rock band Bossy Big Nose and the Toad Huggers at Stonehenge at sunrise on the summer solstice?’
Well, when they put it like that, it did sound kind of serious.
I wriggled my toes some more and put on my best smile. ‘Ye-es, but_’
‘No!’ The Queen slammed her hand down on the table and I jumped into the air, levitating for a moment in a whir of wings. The Queen did not shout. It was unheard of. ‘No more buts, Ariadne. Pictures were taken by humans. If it hadn’t been for Gabriel’s intervention,’ the Queen gestured to the side of the room, ‘we’d be in a very serious situation right now.’
My stomach did a little back flip as I looked to where she’d pointed. Leaning against one of the columns, half hidden in the shadows, was a figure in gold, sequin-spangled trousers and a white tunic top, framed by feathers. No. Surely it wasn’t…. I looked up at the face and dark eyes gazed down a long nose at me.
Badger’s buttocks, they’d called in an angel to help.
The space around the angel quivered and his body bulged like a squeezed balloon for a moment before shrinking to a more normal size. I swallowed and pressed a hand to my middle. Angels were too big to fit into the passages and rooms of Home Tree, but they had a fancy space warping trick to change their size. Useful, but stomach churning for anyone watching them do it. And I really didn’t want to throw up in the middle of the Hall of Hearing.
‘You never consider the consequences of your actions,’ the Queen continued and my gaze jumped back to her, ‘or how they might affect others. It is time you learnt. Your mother and uncle are respected and valued members of the community, as was your father, and they are the only reason I am not expelling you to Dragonfly Island.’
Dragonfly Island! My ears quivered at the thought of it.
‘I have spoken to your old teachers,’ the Queen continued, gesturing to where they sat ‘and they tell me you are a pixie of talents, if only you would apply them to appropriate topics.’
A smile tried to creep onto my face. Why bother with the curriculum when charms for exploding face pustules, luminous snot and long-lasting-lisps were so much more fun?
The Queen rapped her knuckles on the table and my smile wilted. ‘So, it has been decided you will be assigned tasks until you learn a sense of responsibility. And Gabriel has been sent to us to supervise you.’
There was a sharp intake of breath from where the angel was standing, and I glanced across at him. It seemed the big guy knew nothing about this either.
‘My lady,’ he said through gritted teeth. ‘I don’t think…’
The Queen held out a golden card that shimmered – there was only one thing which could do that. Angel mist. That marked the message as official.
For a second Gabriel’s form ballooned, swelling to fill the hall, his head brushing against the dandelion ceiling, and then he was small again. My stomach flipped at the sight, and on the observers’ bench somebody gulped, but I had worse things to worry about than a bit of space warping.
They couldn’t seriously mean Gabriel would be keeping me in line. That was madness. I was just a pixie who liked to play a prank.
Gabriel strode forward, frowning, though the look was ruined by the white fluffy seeds which had got caught in his hair where it had brushed the cloud ceiling. He took the message, scanned it, and his frown took on a whole new dimension. Badger’s buttocks, would lightning shoot from his eyes?
He ruffled his wings and smoothed the frown from his face, though he still looked as if he had a wasps’ nest in his pants.
He swivelled on his heels and stared at me. ‘You!’
What was that meant to mean? Gabriel was about the only regular angel visitor to Faery Valley. He carried messages, and strangely he’d come to Mum and Dad’s a few times when I’d been younger – before Dad disappeared. There wasn’t any reason for him to remember me though. Not unless he suspected I was the one who’d slipped powdered stinging nettles down his robe on one visit. That stuff was a nightmare to get out of feathers. But he couldn’t possibly have any proof.
I put on my best it-wasn’t-me look. Some serious charm was needed here. ‘Hi, Gabe.’
‘It seems,’ he said in a voice that rumbled more than a gnome’s fart, ‘we will be spending some time together.’
Dancing dung beetles. Was there no end to this mess?
February 3, 2020 at 3:51 pm #7436BellaParticipant
I have no experience of writing MG, and it is a loooooong time since I was aged between 8 and 12 (that’s the MG target, right?) but I would say you are slap bang on the money. I’d certainly have gone for this at that age. It’s great fun.February 3, 2020 at 4:51 pm #7437SquidgeParticipant
Hi Kate, it’s pitched about right, I think.
I wondered about the amount of description initially – and where it just touches on backstory/info dump when your MC says she’s never been there before. Can you rework something along the lines of ‘In all my sneaking around, I’d never managed to see inside, and I wasn’t disappointed on this, my first visit. Even the circumstances that brought me here now couldn’t take away the thrill I felt on seeing…’ There’s a big list of names, too – the only reason I point that out is because I was once given the advice of not introducing too many characters too early on; focus on your MC and a few important others.
Sounds like your MC’s a bit of a tinker, and that comes across clearly – though I assume Dragonfly island is a pretty serious place to end up in? Might work more if you can put that fear across – the realisation that your MC has as to the consequences of her actions?
Does any of that help?February 3, 2020 at 5:12 pm #7438February 4, 2020 at 7:45 am #7447
I don’t see a problem with the language either, to be honest, but (like Squidge) I did wonder about the amount of description at the start. It takes us out of the moment and lessens the impact of the question ‘How did I end up in this mess?’ if you see what I mean?
I have a few observations, obviously ignore anything that doesn’t work for you:
I’m not sure you’re making the best use of the immediacy of writing in the first person. You’re inside Ariadne’s head, do you need to say ‘…who was standing behind me… because you already know the Brownie Brigade captain is there. Couldn’t you just say ‘he poked me from behind so we know he’s there? ‘Peeking round the hall…’ Is this Ariadne’s voice? Isn’t she more likely to do the ‘Whoa. This place is AMAZING!’ kind of thing (Okay, not that exactly, but hopefully you get what I mean.)
Assuming that Ariadne’s actions were the catalyst for change, why didn’t you start the story there? Threatening the faery community’s security is pretty serious stuff.
Dragonfly Island – like Squidge, I didn’t feel the fear.
Now, this might just be me, but at the moment, I’m not really sure why I should care about Ariadne. She’s unrepentant. Other than the lump in her throat at the sight of her dad’s work, is there a ‘save the cat’ moment where we begin to see she’s more than just a pixie with a penchant for pranks?
Not sure if any of that helps?February 4, 2020 at 12:27 pm #7451
Thanks @seagreen, this is all great. I’ll have a think about the save the cat moment and ramp up the fear a bit as a few people have mentioned that. I’ll weed out some of the description as well.
Re the being in the character’s head, and the explanations like ‘standing next to me’, I think you’ve cut to the heart of my question re YA vs MG writing.
Looking at MG books, I’ve found the reader tends to be less in the character’s head and more riding around on their shoulder. I believe this is because younger mind finds it harder to infer what is going on and therefore needs a bit more distance and explanation. Hence I’ve tried to explain where the characters are in relation to each other and maybe tell a little more than I would in YA writing.
But is that working. Have I gone too far, or not far enough? I think that’s my question.February 4, 2020 at 1:44 pm #7455
I wonder if this is the reason more MG books are written in 3rd person? When you write in 1st person, you don’t think like the character, you are the character, and I think that additional explanations will ultimately slow the pace.
I tried to find a MG book written in first person for comparison and all I could think of was Running on the Roof of the World (Jess Butterworth). Have you read it?February 4, 2020 at 2:31 pm #7456
That’s a really good point Sea. I took a look at my MG books and they’re all third person! Thanks for the Jess Butterworth one – I shall take a look. I’ll also try and do some investigating into first/third. (And possibly have a cry over my keyboard at the thought of rewriting into third. :D)February 5, 2020 at 5:09 am #7472
I should perhaps confess that my own novel is written in 1st person, and I have so far resisted the notion of changing it.
As for the Brownie Brigade Captain, if he were breathing down Ariadne’s neck or humming in her ear, or something that draws Ariadne’s attention to him, it would draw ours as a result, if that makes any sense.February 5, 2020 at 11:27 am #7474
I did a bit of googling and everybody says something different. Apparently in 2014 there were more first person than third, so I guess it just varies.
I shall attempt to find more subtle ways of placing my characters, as you suggested. Thanks for all the help. I’ll keep it all in mind as I go in for the next round of edits.February 5, 2020 at 12:04 pm #7476SquidgeParticipant
It’s still possible to get in close, even using third person. It’s a bit of a knack, to get into your character’s head in this way – I often find myself rewriting complete paras when editing, because by the end of the book I’m so familiar with my character I can tell how they’re going to react, what they’re feeling or thinking. It’s a weird place to be in, but it works.
I write third person, but get close and personal – have a look at the first few chapters on look inside on Amazon for the novels. It’ll be better to read it rather than me try to explain it. Kingstone’s probably the best one for getting into a head of a character while writing in third…February 5, 2020 at 2:30 pm #7477
I had a sticky scene that wasn’t working Squidge, and after some time away from it I reread and thought D’oh, of course she wouldn’t react like that. She’d be angry. It’s funny how the characters become real people in our heads.
Thanks for the heads up about Kingstone. I shall go take a look.February 6, 2020 at 11:09 am #7482KazGParticipant
Hi @katemachon, just got to this. I love the voice! I do agree about paring down the descriptions, making them part of the action as much as possible. And yes, you need to give us a reason to be on Ariadne’s side – give us her motivations, what she wants, what she fears.
I would also warn against overthinking the whole positioning of it, especially at first draft. I loosely, kind-of thought the book I was writing was YA, right up until the point my agent told me the publisher wanted to pitch it as MG. I really gave no thought to that in the writing, beyond the age of my protagonists and the story I was telling. Of course the subject matter and concerns, ie no sex, no adult angst etc – but you get that automatically if you are tight in the head of a younger character. I would say get a firm feel for your protaganist, what she wants, what she fears, her world, and then let rip. Have fun with it. See where it goes. That’s how I wrote my best stuff, anyway!
Also – don’t forget Philip Pullman is positioned as MG, as is the Miss Peregrine series. So you can do dark and sophisticated at this level as well. I would focus less on what you CAN’T do in MG and more on what the rich possibilities are for this story 🙂
For what it’s worth my books are 3rd person and I find that works really well. As Squidge says, you can get just as close and personal in 3rd person as in first, and it gives you more freedom. Good luck, and more importantly, have fun!February 6, 2020 at 12:00 pm #7486
Thanks @KazG. Your thoughts on this are comforting. I was worried if I had to pull back and simplify more I might lose the voice, but I wanted to know if I needed to do a major edit on this aspect or not. I’ll stop worrying about it now.
But, as always, the feedback has been great at throwing up some other issues, so I shall get to work on Pix’s motivation and paring back that description.
Many thanks for your thoughts and time.
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