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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Sep 11

Writing with Focus

Why is focus so important?

You have a wonderful idea for a story. Maybe it’s a mystery novel, a children’s middle grade story, or a picture book. Maybe it’s a young adult. You know what you want to say, or convey, and you start typing away. This is the beginning of every story.

But, we should backtrack a moment and go back to the idea. The idea: your protagonist has a problem or conflict. Delving a little deeper, you can see how each chapter or section will be worked out.

You are sure you can bring your idea to full fruition—without the use of an outline. Okay, that’s fine. Many writers use the by-the-seat-of-your-pants (pantser) writing method. So, off your mind and fingers fly . . . creating something from nothing . . . well, not exactly from nothing, from an idea.

This is the beginning.

You type a draft of your story. How long this process will take depends on how long your manuscript will be—whether a novel, short story, or children’s story. Take note though . . . even if your story is as short as a children’s picture book, you still need focus in your writing.

Writing Focus

Focus is the path from point A to point B. It’s the path from beginning to end that keeps the story together and wraps it neatly up.

An example might be an ice skater whose goal is to become good enough to get into the Olympics. His focus will be to train vigorously to accomplish his goal.

Another example might be that of a school bus on its route to pick up children and bring them to school. The shop is where the bus begins, point A; it will end up at the school, point B. But, between point A and point B, the bus must deviate from the direct path to pick up each child.

The same holds true for your story. There is a path the story needs to follow to accomplish its goal. If you deviate too much from this path your story becomes diluted or weak. This is not to say you cannot have subplots, it means everything needs to be tied together moving forward on the same path toward the same end.

Using an outline can often help with maintaining focus, even with a short story. It’s kind of a writing GPS that guides you from point A to point B. It allows you to stray here and there with the comfort of knowing that you need to be at certain points throughout the manuscript. It’s a reminder to keep you focused.


Check out my 200+ page ebook (or paperback) that gives you all the basics of HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK. It’s newly revised and includes information on finding a publisher or agent and marketing your books.

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