One of the great joys of being a storyteller is creating memorable characters, much like giving birth minus the pain and anesthesia. Also, characters don’t have to be fed, entertained or educated. But as they emerge from stick figures to become fully flawed and intensely human I often forget that they don’t exist save for the pages of a manuscript. At least that was how it’s felt since creating a 12-year-old girl for my first middle-grade novel, A LOT ON HER PLATE.
Eden Sterling began as a spunky but bewildered pre-teen who resented that life was getting harder. Spoiled, sure. Frustrated, always. Mostly she didn’t get why nothing came easy to her unlike the popular girls who got everything they wanted. Beauty, brains, athletic ability, teachers fawning over them, awards and recognition– a skinny body. But the green-eyed monster made Eden sound whiny and boring- by no means a heroine. Someone that young readers would care about let alone root for.
It was back to the drawing board because it wasn’t fun falling out of love before the end of Act I.
Then something interesting happened. I breathed new life into Eden’s character, took her to page 50 and let go. This was her story now and I knew from writing adult novels that if I had done my job well, she would be able to take it from there. And she did. She made some crummy decisions, got ditched by her friends and disappointed her family, yet she didn’t run from her mistakes. She stopped the blame game, gained self-confidence, took chances on herself and most important, took the story in a direction I never saw coming.
Wait, what? The writer isn’t the boss dictating every plot point? I’m sure many do hold on to the reigns but for me outlines are jumping off points, not landing pads. Basically, if there are no surprises for the writer then there are none for the reader either and I love surprises.
I’d like to believe that as I start my search for a publisher, one that will celebrate Eden’s empowering journey, her story will delight girls and give them hope. Being twelve isn’t easy but it’s the gateway to discovery and a chance to battle test their super powers– ones they will carry with them long after middle school is over.