Hannah’s Notes on Heather Vogel Frederick on Much Ado About Middle Grade: Mastering Setting, Character & Plot

“There are three rules for writing a novel. Unfortunately, no one knows that they are. “ ~ Somerset Maugham

This is how Heather Vogel Frederick began her presentation on “Much Ado About Middle Grade,” which addressed how to not only write middle grade fiction, but any type of writing, through the setting, characters, and plot. First, however, it is important to write from your heart, and not just about what others want you to write about it. Also, write about what you want to know, not what you do know, it allows you – as the author – to be passionate and interested in your writing.

The setting is a vital part of a story because it can set the reader down in the world you have created. It can be anything you want it to, it just has to be described vividly for the readers to get the full effect.

To address the importance of setting, Frederick described our first writing exercise: take two or three minutes to draw a map of your childhood neighborhood. Then, go to a place on the map that you loved, circle it, and describe it for five minutes.

Next, Frederick discussed characters; readers love a book with memorable characters, which can be described in two different ways: outside/in and inside/out. Through outside/in, the exterior appearance of the character is the main description given to readers, but it can also suggest certain interior qualities. Even the name of the character can hint to his personality. We then proceeded to the second writing exercise in which we described a picture from her presentation by their outside qualities.

On the other hand, describing a character using inside/out is by describing their action and dialogue. For homework, Frederick told us to pick a few favorite books and see how they describe their characters.

Lastly, Frederick addressed the plot, which is surprisingly easy to forget. A writer’s secret weapon, used to avoid forgetting the plot, is the question : “What if?” For most stories, there is a three act structure: Act I is the call to adventure, in which the hero is introduced. Secondly, is Act II, where the hero faces obstacles, and finally there is Act III, when the character triumphs and returns with some sort of insight. Don’t take this as a formula, advised Frederick, but as a pattern.

Frederick concluded with a small bit of humor as she discussed her two fears: the fear of the blank page and fear of failure. To avoid these, Frederick likes to get a piece of duct tape and tape her butt to her chair. That way, she has no choice but to write.

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