In November, I’d read this post on Through the Tollbooth, a blog by VCFA alums. I’d graduated with my MFA some four months earlier and I assumed (somewhat snidely, I suppose) that I had all the writing books one could need. There wasn’t a book out there that could tell me something I hadn’t already heard, right? The post slowed down my assumption-creating brain a little when I considered that author of the post was also an alum — a published one at that — and she found the book quite helpful. Also, the book was written by agent extraordinaire Mary Kole.
In need of some inspiration or motivation or I don’t know what — I ordered the book, Writing Irresistible Kidlit: The Ultimate Guide to Crafting Fiction for Young Adult and Middle Grade Readers, and it arrived on a doorstep just a few days later. (Oh how love books arriving on my doorstep.) I find the book to be compulsively readable and despite the many books on writing which line my shelves (and spill over onto counters and pile onto side tables), this one does indeed fill a gap that I didn’t know I had.
Having Kole’s book is like having SCBWI sitting on your shelf, only less crowded. Kole’s tone respects the art of writing, but also oh-so-gently reminds the sensitive writer that bookselling is (ahem) a business. She reminds us that it will help us as writers to know the markets, to understand the lingo, to grasp the process of selling a book. Kole provides clear, thought-provoking descriptions of the differences between middle grade and young adult literature. For example, she reminds writers where middle grade kids are in their development and what they will identify with in those stages. Toward the middle of the book, she dives into craft issues, including chapters on story foundation, character and plot. Each chapter includes examples from published novels as well as quotes from contemporary authors and editors of middle grade and young adult novels. All of it is written in an encouraging and straight-forward manner.
A section in Chapter 6 on Plot particularly helped me. Kole provides two plot graphs. The first illustrates the traditional three-act plot graph. You’ve all seen it, it looks like an inverted check mark. The second was an emotional plot graph, which looks sort of like a sea serpent. It’s got more curves and it’s upside down, compared to the traditional one. (I’d like to copy it for you here, but I’m not sure about copyright stuff.) At any rate, looking at the two graphs, I realized what was missing in my manuscript. My character hadn’t hit her moment of no-hope despair, the moment that will allow her to grow and understand her new normal, the moment that will allow the reader to resonate with her pain and see her ability to move through it. This, of course, was not a lack of teaching on the part of my MFA advisors. On the contrary, I knew I needed to raise the stakes for my character, but the visual cue of the graph, helped me to see how to do that in a new light.
Kole’s book offers a nice entre to concepts of craft and it is an excellent resource for writers who are ready to learn more about the business side of writing for children and young adults. Also, it’s just plain fun to read.