Hi, my name is Kai Strand and I’m the author of the newly released middle grade fantasy, Beware of the White. Dorothy was gracious enough to ask me to talk to you today about writing suspenseful middle grade.
I believe there are two key elements needed when writing suspenseful middle grade. First you have to find what matters most to your target audience. And then take it away from the main character. It can be everyday things, such as Xbox, computer time or phone privileges. Or you can concentrate on bigger things like freedom to visit their friends, their allowance or their life.
Yes, I just said take their life away from them – or threaten to. Which brings me to my second key element. Drama. If you want your middle grade audience absorbed in your story, you have to exaggerate the heck out of everything. To them it isn’t an exaggeration. If having a phone to text on 24/7 is important, then taking it away from a main character by having an alligator snap it out of her hand and swallow it – leaving the m.c. with no means of telling her bestie that an alligator just ate her phone…well, that is huge in their world. Plus you used your two elements, taking away something important and doing it in a spectacular fashion.
Speaking of fashion, here is another example. Let’s say your m.c. is a fashionista, at the movie theater with her girlfriends. What would happen if the worker accidentally spilled a large soda down the front of your fashionista’s pale yellow shirt and snow-white shorts? To us adults it would be an inconvenience. We’d be sticky and wet. The stain may not come out. The clothes may need to be replaced. But for your main character (and your middle grade reader who fancies themselves a fashionista too) standing in a stained and dripping frock in the middle of a busy movie theater it is devastating to their carefully crafted reputation.
As adults, we tend to forget that kids don’t come with a fully developed set of life experiences to draw on. They don’t know that what they find horrifying today will simple be a funny memory in the future. The first time they live it – it is HUGE! As a writer, you should play on that. Take away what matters most and do it in a spectacular fashion, your middle grade readers will eat it up and clamor for more.
Oh and speaking of threatening your main character’s life:
About Beware of the White:
As is tradition, Terra learns on the Saturday past her twelfth birthday that she is a Natures Spirit. It is her legacy to serve in the peaceful underground city of Concord. Learning she is named in a prophecy and being threatened by the leader of the death tribe…that part breaks tradition.
The Trepidus are the death janitors of the Underworld, responsible for delivering fatalities with a smile and cleaning up after themselves until Blanco, recent leader of the Trepidus, decides the day of reckoning for his species is coming. He begins organizing the creatures and leads them toward an uprising. The prophecy says there is one person who can stop him. Terra.
With Spirit of Security, Frank, protecting her, Terra attempts to complete her training and discover her Spirit talents. Together, they go on a rogue investigation to learn how to defeat Blanco. In the end, it comes down to a battle of the minds. The future of Concord is at stake. Will Blanco, the older, more experienced being win? Or will Terra, the young, new Spirit earn back the peace of the city?
Or look for it on iTunes
About the author
Kai Strand writes fiction for kids and teens. Her debut novel, The Weaver, was a finalist in the 2012 EPIC eBook Awards. She is a (very lucky) wife and the mother of four amazing kids. The most common sound in her household is laughter. The second most common is, "Do your dishes!" She and her family hike, geocache, and canoe in beautiful Central Oregon, where they call home.