If you’ve been studying writing awhile, you’re well-versed on how to create a character, how to structure a plot, and how to find the novel’s “voice” (by far the hardest thing). But did you know these three extras that really give your story that extra oomph? Here they are:
Use pivot points. This is a place in the plot where the action is spun 180 degrees. As a non-child-oriented example, in the movie Tommy Boy, a young-looking older woman and her 20-something son integrate into Tommy’s dad’s life. In one scene, at a carnival, the woman and her son are walking behind the tents talking about inheriting Tom Sr.’s money when they suddenly embrace and kiss–in a way no mother and son ever would. It’s then we discover that they are really husband and wife, running a scam.
Think of movies you like: almost all modern movies have these “pivot points” in the story. There aren’t too many, though: I’ve counted about five at the most in books and movies, and three is enough.
If you’re writing a mystery, every little discovery is not a pivot point. A pivot point is a complete turnabout in a different direction.
Your protagonist should be a marblecake character–not one way or one flavor. The poor little saintly girl who loves and understands everyone, without any negative behavior, won’t work. If you find a book for children from the 1950s or earlier, you might see that, but today’s audience is much different and more sophisticated.
Besides knowing the plot of what you’re writing, dig deep into yourself and ask: what is the biggest thing that happened to my main character before this story began? How did she react? Another good exercise I’ve used is to make a list of random situations that could face any child this age (a bully mistreats her enemy at school; a teacher unfairly accuses her of cheating; her mother begins heavy drinking) and write how my main character would respond to each situation. Some children are sweet and some are not; mix a bit of both for depth.
Don’t Muddle the Middle
It’s easier to write a strong beginning, and to draw up the conclusion toward the end. What’s much harder is not letting the middle sag. You don’t need to worry about this as much on your first draft. Once done, though, take a hard look at each chapter in the middle. Do the characters seem to be “going through the motions”? This is where you’ll have to strengthen your plot or do serious rewriting.
For each chapter in the middle of the book, ask yourself:
1. Does this naturally flow from what happened at the beginning?
2. Does this help or hinder what happens at the end?
3. If this chapter stood alone, what would you say is the point of it?
If your chapters as a whole are okay after that, then go through each scene in those chapters and ask the same questions. This is what professionals do before they submit to an agent. Writing for children is not a get-rich-quick scheme. It’s not even a get-rich scheme!*
*Don‘t bring up J.K. Rowling. You are not her. She had magic on her side.