Heroes in Young Adult Books

Some heroes wear capes - but not all.

Some heroes wear capes – but not all.

After 5 years of on-and-off again writing, I finally finished my novel for middle grade readers (grades 3 to 6), and sent it to an agent. Fingers crossed she’ll offer representation. Even if she turns me down, I hope she’ll give me feedback to help me revise so I can send it off again. That’s the path to publication;  try, try, and try again.

In the meantime, the best way to avoid chewing my fingernails is to jump into a new project.

I’m brainstorming for ideas for young adult novels. I woke up the other day with a single sentence in my head: “There was a hole in the side of the mountain.”

Yep, that’s it. No characters, plot, or setting. So do I have the start of a new story, or just some weird scrap from my subconscious? Remains to be seen.

I’m looking forward to taking a class with author Meg Medina next week at the SCBWI conference in Decatur, GA. According to the conference brochure, she’ll help us unearth clues for our next projects by making a journal using glue sticks, scissors, and magazine pictures. Sounds fun, yes?

While I was thinking about a protagonist for a Y/A book, I found this quote by actor Matthew McConaughey: “Every hero doesn’t go do this great big hero thing. They do the simple thing over and over and over…and they stick to it.”

So true. Not all heroes are Supergirls or Batmen; some are selfless, patient, perservering everyday Joes and Janes who push on in the face of adversity. They’re outsiders or bullied kids or teens who parent younger siblings when parents are MIA or unloving. In the adult world, heroes are caretakers of Alzheimer’s sufferers, single moms or dads, and people with chronic pain or disease.

But novels, especially for young readers, hinge on drama, tension, and action. How would you write about a character who is an ordinary, everyday hero without boring your audience? How do you convey strength, passion, drive, and change–because by definition, every story has to be about change, whether interior or exterior–in a setting or circumstances that are about “simple things” someone is doing “over and over and over”?

Of course, nobody is saying I have to write about that kind of hero. And this isn’t an impossible task; other authors have created just these kinds of characters. I’m just mulling over who my next protagonist will be, and what he or she will want and do and need.

Like I said, I’m looking forward to Meg Medina’s journaling exercise. I’ll let you know how it turns out.

 

 

Comments

  1. Sharon Aiken says:

    Wow. That’s a lot of serious stuff to think about. I’m not familiar enough with YA novels or those for middle grades to weigh in but I like your thoughts and those you quote. One thing that sticks with me is something William Faulkner said, that a story is often temporary unless it involves “the heart in conflict with itself.” Huck Finn is not a traditional hero, but he faced a huge decision. Kids don’t have to face monumental decisions to feel pressure or to feel like they are making life decisions. I think kids have an awful lot today to make decisions about. It’s tough for them. I have great faith in your ability to see things as they might. Good Luck!

    • Sharon, that’s an excellent way to sum up what stories must do: resolve a conflict, whether it’s internal (“the heart in conflict with itself”) or external. Thanks for your insight. That really helps me in thinking about how to write about a character whose struggle may be small or even ordinary and everyday, but universal, too.