Tuesday, October 2, 2018

GUEST POST: "Be Like Michelangelo" by Darby Karchut


As part of the Mentor Program of the Rocky Mountain chapter of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrations ( https://rmc.scbwi.org/mentor-program/ ), I’ve had the straight up delight of working one-on-one with aspiring writers on their manuscripts. The six-month long program is a flurry of reading and talking and emailing and editing and revising and laughing and groaning and reading some more. I thought I’d offer some of the tips I shared with my SCBWI protégées.

  • Character: Get this right and the rest will follow. In my opinion, character is the heart and soul of story telling. Kids and teens fall in love with characters, not plots nor settings nor themes. Kevin Hearne, author of the Iron Druid Chronicles, once said, “People don’t dress up for cons or Halloween as your plot. They dress up as your characters.” And, by the way, when writing kid lit, especially with your first book, too few characters are better than too many characters.

  • Dialogue: Most kids and teens talk in short bursts, not long explanations (unless they’re Hermione). They often interrupt others, which is a great way to keep the tension building, especially if one speaker is desperate to impart information, and he/she keeps getting stopped. Also, kids and teens mispronounce words or use the wrong word. Let ‘em mess up when they speak.

  • World-building: If you’re writing fantasy or sci-fi, think about including the eight elements, or universals, found in every human culture. Those elements are: language, history, social groups, government, religion, economy, arts and crafts, and daily life (food, clothing, shelter). Even if you’re creating an entirely new fantastical world, by embedding these eight elements, it gives your story extra intensity and reality. And, no, you don’t need to go into depth on every element. Take economy, for example. Just a mention or two of how your character obtains what he/she needs (trade and barter, jobs, a trust fund, etc.) scattered throughout your story will suffice. History is my favorite element to work with, because it can explain so many whys and hows. Anyway, play around with these elements—see what you can come up with. 

  • Read Aloud: When it comes time to edit, try reading your manuscript aloud. This is a powerful tool to help refine your sentence structures, catch awkward dialogue, and find over-used words. Trust me on it. I’m the person who discovered her protagonist “turned” about 2,847 times in a single manuscript. Sheesh. The hours it takes to do this will be well worth it. It takes me about ten days to two weeks to read a 60,000 word manuscript, mainly because my voice gives out. But you might fly through quicker depending on the toughness of your throat.

  • Manuscript Length for Middle Grade: Word count is not a hard and fast rule, but with your first book, try to stay somewhat close to industry standards. And, yeah, you’ll see different numbers depending on the source, but these are pretty accurate. Your mileage may vary:
           Contemporary Middle Grade:            25,000-60,000            Sweet spot: 30,000-45,000

           Fantasy/Sci Fi Middle Grade:            35,000-75,000            Sweet spot: 45,000-65,000

  • Middle Grade Middle School: Here’s the latest break-down of age/genre per the publishing world. Take these numbers with a huge grain of salt:
                  Picture books                   Infants/early readers
                  Chapter books                  6 - 8 year olds            
                  Middle Grade books        9 - 12 year olds
                  Tween books                   12 -14 year olds         
                  Young Adult books         14 and older  

  • Current State of the Kid Lit World:  The tectonic shift toward more and authentic diversity (and diversity within diversity) in both books and authors is a desperately needed evolution. It’s not a trend or the genre de jour. While there’s been some intense discussions on social media around diversity in books (#wndb) and who is telling the story (#ownvoices), it is much needed conversation for the good of the Cause. The Cause being that “…the literature of this country should reflect the children of this country.”


Want to know something crazy? I still find myself going back to these tips all the time. Each new book is an opportunity to learn how much I don’t know about story telling, which is a Very Good Thing. I hope I never arrive at the I-know-it-all stage. No, I want to be like Michelangelo, who at the age of 87, declared: Ancora imparo. “I am still learning.”

May we all.


Darby Karchut is a multi-award winning author, dreamer, and compulsive dawn greeter.  A proud native of New Mexico, she now lives in the foothills of the Rocky Mountains, where she runs in blizzards and bikes in lightning storms. When not dodging death by Colorado, Darby is busy at her writing desk. Her books include the best selling middle grade series: THE ADVENTURES OF FINN MacCULLEN. Best thing ever: her YA debut novel, GRIFFIN RISING, has been optioned for film. Her latest book, DEL TORO MOON, releases October 2 from Owl Hollow Press. Visit the author at www.darbykarchut.com






“Ride hard, swing hard, and take out as many of those creepy critters as you can.”

Twelve year old Matt Del Toro is the greenest greenhorn in his family’s centuries-old business: riding down and destroying wolf-like monsters, known as skinners. Now, with those creatures multiplying, both in number and ferocity, Matt must saddle up and match his father’s skills at monster whacking. Odds of doing that? Yeah, about a trillion to one. Because Matt’s father is the legendary Javier Del Toro—hunter, scholar, and a true caballero: a gentleman of the horse.

Luckily, Matt has twelve hundred pounds of backup in his best friend—El Cid, an Andalusian war stallion with the ability of human speech, more fighting savvy than a medieval knight, and a heart as big and steadfast as the Rocky Mountains.

Serious horse power.

Those skinners don’t stand a chance. 





1 comment:

  1. As always, Rob, it is a joy to hang out with you! Thanks for being part of my special day and letting me chat with your peeps!

    ReplyDelete

Thanks for stopping by, Esteemed Reader! And thanks for taking the time to comment. You are awesome.