Before doing research for my middle grade mystery, I knew only the two principles set out by middle grade mystery superstar Chris Grabenstein, who says, the two essential elements of middle grade fiction are farts and underpants.
Armed with a farting ferret and a petting zoo wearing underpants, I started Kassy O’Rourke, Cub Reporter.
But even the loudest stinkers and baggiest undies don’t make a novel. Having a hard time getting off the ground, I reviewed various plotting techniques, including Alexandra Sokoloff’s screenwriting tips for novelists, tips from Hallie Ephron, Paula Munier’s Plot Perfect, and Jericho Writer’s Plot Template. I spent a lot of time combining techniques, making charts and filling out templates. Then one day I just started writing and didn’t look back.
Lesson one: I’m not a template kind of gal.
Reading up on middle grade, I discovered it’s pretty squishy and can be anywhere from 20-80K words, aimed at 8 to 12 year olds (although some say 7 to 14). MG can have multiple pionts of view but those POVs are presented in separate parts rather than alternating (eg. Wonder, The Candymakers). MG is split about half and half first person and third person.
What surprised me is how many are written in present tense. Although not MG, one of my favorite YA, The Hunger Games, is written in first person. So, I decided to try it. Kassy is first person present tense. My other novels are third person past tense.
Lesson two: writing in first person present is hard.
Of course, no sex (or even romance), no swearing, no drinking or drugs, and not much violence. I had to invent MG swear words like “Crapulence,” “Shitake Mushroom,” and “Shih Tzu Puppy.”
Lesson three: I can’t write a novel without swearing.
In fact, the main reason I decided to write middle grade was to kick my fictional swearing, drinking and drug habits.
Middle grade mystery is like cozy with younger protagonists … missing what Becky Clark calls cozy dust. But if I can get my hands on some of her magic cozy dust, maybe I can cross-market Kassy. Any cozy readers out there like a well aimed fart? Okay, maybe not.
Another reason I decided to try middle grade is because my sense of humor, especially my penchant for madcapped slapstick action, is sometimes lost on adults. Hopefully kids will be more open minded when it comes to slipping on the occasional fruit or vegetable.
Less tied to adult expectations of believability and realism, I learned perhaps my most important lesson writing middle grade mystery …
Shih Tzu Puppy, writing middle grade mystery is a woodchucking blast!