May 10

Outlines and Character Details – Tips on Writing a Middle Grade Story

Outlines and character details

The majority of my clients ask for picture books, but currently, I have two middle grade clients.

While a middle grade book isn’t as long as a novel, it still has a significant word count, around 20-50,000. Quite a difference from the under 1000-word picture book.

Based on this, writing a middle grade story is similar to writing a novel, so the same practices should be used.

When I write a picture book story, I use the seat-f-the-pants method of writing. With around 600-800 words, I find it works well. Not so much with a middle-grade story. Because of this, I use an outline.

Creating an Outline

The thing with an outline is you can make it as detailed as you like.

Being impatient, I used to write as bare an outline as I could. I’ve found though that writing a more detailed outline is a huge help when getting down to writing the story.

This became particularly apparent to me when a client from five years ago recently gave me a call.

I had written one middle-grade for him and started a second one. For some reason or other, the client stopped the project after a month into it.

He now wants to resume the project … after five years.

Fortunately, I keep good records and files. I make sure I have them backed up. In fact, I use Dropbox and Carbonite. I also have an external drive that I back my files up to.


Maybe, but I’ve had the experience of losing a client’s project – the entire story – due to a computer mishap, so I take extra precautions.

Because I save everything, I have the information from the first book and what I had done on the second book.

Going over my notes, I was THRILLED to see that I had written a detailed outline of Book2.

Granted this is an unusual situation as I’ve never had a client stop a project, and especially stop one for such a very, very long time, but it helps emphasize the importance of an outline.

Having that detailed outline is going to save me time and effort.

Creating Characters

Along with creating an outline, it’s important to create character details.

Writing coach and children’s author, Suzanne Lieurance, says that if you know your characters before writing your story, you’ll write a better novel.

The reason for this that if you take the time to create your characters, especially the main characters, you can open up other details or subplots within the story that you might not have thought of before.

This also helps you to create unique characters. Characters with their own personalities and quirks that make them easily distinguishable from the other characters.

You’ll know that Jeff has a temper and Russell is timid, and they’re best friends despite their differences.

You’ll know that Marisa has a crush of Matteo who has a crush on Abby who likes Jeff.

All this is going on behind the scenes in subplots as the main character struggles to reach his goal.

Knowing all this will allow you to know how a character will react in certain situations. It’ll also help you write particular scenes with ease.

I hope these tips help you write an outstanding middle grade story.

Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need ghostwriting or rewriting, let me take a look at your children’s story. Just send me an email at: Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box. Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable story today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK.


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Apr 26

Creating Your Main Character – Hit a Home Run

Writing main characters.

Contributed by Linda Wilson

Bases to cover while creating your main character:

First Base: Make your character interesting

Give your character a flaw

A flaw, according to Webster’s, is “an imperfection or weakness and esp. one that detracts from the whole or hinders effectiveness.” A flaw, according to Kristen Kieffer, is a problem your character doesn’t recognize that is getting in the way of a happy, productive life. In Kieffer’s article, “The #1 Key to Creating a Relatable Main Character,” is a list of “REAL flaws, personality traits or characteristics that hold [your character] back from being the person they need to be in order to achieve their story goal and/or defeat the villain.” To give you an idea, I have included a partial list of flaws. To find the complete list and more of Kieffer’s helpful information, please refer to the complete article.

Anger issues

My character’s flaw in my WIP: She is riddled with self-doubt, which comes naturally to me, as an extreme lack of confidence was one of my major flaws as a youth.

Give your character a quirk

What characters come to mind because of their quirks? Beatrix Potter’s Peter Rabbit is curious and mischievous, which gets him into trouble; A.A. Milne created a ravenous hunger for honey in her character, Winnie-the-Pooh, who couldn’t fit through the rabbit hole.

What is the difference between a character flaw and a quirk?

Webster’s defines a quirk as “a peculiar trait: an idiosyncrasy.” Two examples, in a nutshell: Batman is self-taught, and has made himself “the most brilliant and capable man he can be, and he uses gadgets and tools to appear otherworldly to his enemies.” (1)

Arthur Conan Doyle’s Sherlock Holmes: has extreme powers of observation; the power to detach his mind; and he keeps secrets.

Flaws and quirks help make your character interesting. Watch out for a too perfect character: Readers can’t identify with your character if she is too perfect. Sure, she has challenges, but if they’re overcome too easily, your reader will be bored.

Second Base: Give your character a worthy goal

In another Kristen Kieffer article, “How to Craft a Killer Character Goal for your Hero,” Kieffer makes a distinction between your character’s ambition, or what she desires, “something they believe will quell the dissatisfaction they feel in their lives,” which is what, evidently, many authors believe is enough of a goal; with “a specific and actionable goal that will lead your character into your story’s juicy conflict.” This article walks you through the process of “taking your character’s ambition and turning it into a powerful story goal,” and even says it’s simple!

Kieffer offers a list of key questions you can ask yourself to help define your character’s goals. Here are two:

  1. How is my character dissatisfied with their life?
  2. What does my character believe will bring them true happiness or contentment?

A second list is helpful in nailing down your character’s goal. Here is what I came up with for my character, using Kieffer’s list as a model:

  1. She wants to go home to city life, is tired of the country.
  2. She’s stuck in the country due to car trouble and needs to figure out a way to leave.
  3. Here her goal changes: She realizes she can’t leave until the car is fixed, has been asked to help someone in trouble at the inn where she’s staying, and doesn’t want to leave until she solves the problem.
  4. She does everything she can to solve the problem.
  5. She solves the problem and is ready to go home.

If you are struggling with these issues, I recommend these two articles. Kieffer has helped me identify weaknesses in my story and has given me a way to strengthen those weaknesses.

Third Base: Give your character a special love interest

An analysis of your favorite stories can reveal elements you want to include in your own stories. Personal favorites are mysteries, thrillers, and adventure stories. For me, the story falls flat if there isn’t love of a dog, a horse, a romance, or my favorite: love between two friends.

Cover your bases with these tips and you will be well on your way to hitting a home run in creating your main character. Hit the ball out of the park and you can do it again and again in many new ballgames.



This article was originally published at:

Children's author

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she has completed her first book, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, and is hard at work on Book Two in the series. Follow Linda at

Children's ghostwriter

Let me take a look at your notes, outline, or draft. I’m a working children’s ghostwriter and rewriter. I can turn your story into a book that you’ll be proud to be author of.

Shoot me an email at: (please put Children’s Ghostwriter in the Subject line). Or, you can give me a call at 834—347—6700

Let’s get your story in publishable shape today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, FICTION WRITING FOR CHILDREN.

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Jul 21

Deep Point of View

Contributed by Linda Wilson

Do you write romance novels? Historical fiction? Mysteries? Whatever your genre, you strive to create a close personal relationship between your main character and your reader.

To shed light on this topic, at a recent New Mexico Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, SCBWI Regional event, Kimberley Griffiths Little presented the workshop, “Close Third Person or Deep Point of View, DPOV.” Kimberley has written many Young Adult novels, such as Forbidden, Banished, and for Middle Grade, When the Butterflies Came and The Time of the Fireflies. Also, as Kimberley Montpetit, she has self-published The Executive’s Secret, Unbreak My Heart, and many other books.

As Kimberley described DPOV, it is capturing your main character from the inside out. What she “knows, sees, hears, feels, experiences—filtered through her world. DPOV creates an immersive reading experience. In DPOV we see more of who the character is.”

Add to that a writer’s greatest prize: DPOV is how you gain THE VOICE.

Boot out the Narrator

I received one of the first drafts of my first book back so fast from a beta reader it wasn’t funny. There were few notes, few edits. But in huge letters on the first page she wrote: “GET RID OF THE NARRATOR! Then send it back to me.”

Oh my, was I in a world of rewrite! I think all authors would agree that finding that voice, showing and not telling the story, nixing the narrator, takes practice and experience. Also, I’ve talked to writers who agree that even in later stages of revision, “telling” and “the narrator” crop up and have to be banned. It has certainly happened to me. Examples offered at the workshop:

Narrator: She wished she could whisk back in time and redo the last few minutes.
Without the Narrator: Too bad life didn’t come with an undo button.
Narrator: He had to think hard about what to do next.
Without: What should he do next?

DPOV in Action

According to Kimberley: Become your character. Live inside your character’s mind and heart. Immerse yourself by staying in your character’s point of view. Take your reader on a journey through your character’s experiences. Want to see how? Here goes:

Shallow: Desiree’s skin prickled with pleasant excitement.
Deep: Shadows loomed. The place reeked of ancient secrets. Desiree’s skin prickled.
Shallow: He could see the tip of the dog’s nose peeking out of the closet.
Deep: Barry stepped through the door and entered the room. “Aha! There you are!” The tip of the dog’s nose peeked out of the closet.

DPOV is not italicized. According to Kimberley, italicizing thoughts takes the reader out of DPOV.

With italics: Jane looked out the window. Wow! Look at that sunshine and dew sparkling on the roses. What a perfect day for gardening. I’d better go get my tools.

She went to the garage and scanned her shelves. Now where did I put my gloves and trowel?

Without: Jane looked out the window. The dew on the roses sparkled in the morning sunlight. Wow! Would there ever be a better day for gardening?

Humming, she hurried into the garage. Her gaze searched the wooden shelves. Where had she stored her gloves and trowel?

Avoid “Pitfall Words”

Do a search in your manuscript and look for “pitfall words:” Think, Know, Feel, Realized, Caused, Made. Focus instead on the senses and play-by-play action in the NOW: Touch, Taste, Smell, Sight, Sound, Emotions.

Word No-No’s that create narrative distance:

  • Saw, considered, made, caused
  • She felt: watched, thought, realized, wished, decided, wondered
  • Avoid prepositional tells: with, of, in
  • Beware the IT Trap. It’s vague—(What’s vague? The It Trap! There, that’s better!) What does IT mean? Namely, that substituting “it” instead of specific nouns and descriptions isn’t nearly as dynamic.
  • Choose power words

Workshop Tips Served up on a Platter

  • Overuse of “to be” verbs
  • Don’t summarize: Write the scene
  • Share from the inside out rather than a “watcher’s” perspective
  • Research physiological reactions
  • Write moment-to-moment
  • Break up long description with an action; break up internal dialogue with action
  • Don’t name the feeling—Show the feeling by physical effects on the body, thoughts in keeping with that particular emotion: ASK HOW YOUR CHARACTER WOULD REACT
  • Everything can’t be written in DPOV. Your reader sometimes needs distance to relax, such as your character reflecting and telling friends.

A word of thanks: Experienced and successful authors like Kimberley and others in our New Mexico Regional SCBWI chapter, who take the time to attend meetings and events and share their expertise, are appreciated by our members. To learn more about Kimberley, visit:

Linda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Her first book, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, will be published in September 2018. Currently, she is hard at work on Book Two in the series. Follow Linda at

Need Help With Your Story

Whether you need editing, rewriting, or ghostwriting, let me take a look at your children’s story. Just send me an email at: Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box. Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable children’s story today!

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Sep 09

Creating Story Characters? Avoid These Common Mistakes

Guest Post by Linda Wilson

Many characters inhabited the early drafts of my WIP: a MG mystery. Like many of my characters’ counterparts—kids—I assigned each character a “friend,” following the example I’d seen so often of kids going around in “packs.”

What fun I had! The snappy dialogue! The endless opportunities to showcase what was on everybody’s mind! And oh, the ballooning plot–sensational! Until along came an editor who, with utmost gentleness and understanding, gave me a reality check.

Each Set of Friends Morphed into One Character

Whoa! Cut! My editor suggested I settle on one character for each set rather than have two: one sidekick for the main character, not two. One antagonist, not two. One little brother, not a little brother and his friend. I edited out the “doubles,” the “extras”, and though it was painful eliminating the “friend” appeal I had created, it did clean up the story—a lot. But there was still work to be done.

Each Character Must have a Role

In narrowing down the number of characters in my story, a few things happened.

– Though my MC’s sidekick lacked other girlfriends, their relationship became stronger.
– There were fewer distractions; that held true for the antagonist and the little brother, too.
– And then . . . I was told that the little brother would have to go. She knew this would be difficult for me. I loved this character dearly. I had rounded him out so well and he was funny. But that wasn’t enough.
– So, I gave him a role. In the beginning he plays a prank on the main character. For the rest of the story, he faded back into the background. Still not enough, she said.

Each Character Must have Follow-Through

Now it’s your turn to make sure your characters have roles throughout your entire story. You do that by creating a story arc not only for your main character, but for each one of your characters.

To use the bigger role I assigned to my little brother character as an example:
– When he first appears, he brings up the mystery.
– Early in the book, he plays a prank on the main character, which is directly related to the plot.
– A little later, he teases her about the prank.
– Still later, he takes part in one of the main character’s adventures.

And two things were added to top it off near the end:
– He possesses a secret of his own that he brags about to the main character and her sidekick, which is eventually revealed, and . . .
– He receives a surprise of his own.

Writing instructors describe the creation of characters’ story arcs in different ways. The one that has stuck with me is to view your characters’ story arcs as strings of pearls that run throughout your story.

One way you can accomplish this is to highlight your characters’ actions with different color highlighters to make sure they are not forgotten in any section of your book. While creating the story arcs for my characters, I found the dog in my story had disappeared for about thirty-five pages. I went through that section and added him in where he fit, and when he was gone from the story, showed an explanation for his whereabouts. This must be done for each character. And, for recurring items such as a key, a flashlight or a locked door, items I had to check and re-check to make sure mention of them was accurate.

A Word about Multiple Points of View

Editors say that new writers should shy away from attempting multiple points of view. They say it takes experience and skill to pull this off. A good example applies to an adult novel from Audible I recently listened to, which was told in two sisters’ alternating POV’s. There were problems. First, their names were similar, perhaps because they were sisters. I had difficulty jumping from one to other and felt confused about who was who.

The other problem was that unfortunately, I didn’t care about the sisters. The author hadn’t, in my opinion, spent enough time allowing me to get to know each of them. I almost didn’t finish the book because it became tedious rather than enjoyable.

One of my writing instructors dislikes multiple points of view because of this problem. She believes in having one main character that you as the reader can get to know, love and “get into her head” so that you experience what she experiences throughout the book.

Personally, I find novels told in multiple POV’s refreshing. I’ve enjoyed sinking myself into more than one character. But I agree with my instructor: it has to be done right. And as a beginner, I don’t plan to venture there until I have a lot more experience under my belt. But I do plan on highlighting my characters’ arcs and making sure they have ongoing roles tied to the plot.

Author Linda WilsonLinda Wilson, a former elementary teacher and ICL graduate, has published over 100 articles for adults and children, and six short stories for children. Recently, she has completed her first book, a mystery/ghost story for children 7-11 years old, and is hard at work on Book Two in the series. Follow Linda at

This article was first published at:

Be a children's writerBeing a writer, like being any kind of artist who creates something from nothing, is an amazing ability. It’s almost like magic. And, you are in control. You decide what to create. The only limit you have is the cap on your imagination.

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