Wednesday, March 23, 2011

MG Makeover: In the Lake

Here is a hypothetical beginning for a Middle Grade novel that I'll use for a Before and After makeover example.


Summer was nearly over. Only a week until Labor Day weekend, and then it would all end for Ron. His parents would arrive from the city to fetch him, and his grandparents would wave farewell and invite him back for next summer. Soon, it'd be back to school for him. He'd miss walking by the lake and going on long bike rides. He'd miss picking vegetables in the garden with Gram. He'd miss fishing with Gramps in the rowboat.

Most of all, he hadn't figured out what that large dark thing was that swam in the lake. He'd seen it eight times now. He didn't know whether it was a thick snake, a sea monster of some kind, or just a really big fish.

Ron whistled for Old Jake, Gramps' golden retriever, and ran off toward the lake. His bare feet were tough by this time, calloused from a summer's worth of running free. He spotted the dock and dashed down its boards. Old Jake followed, long tongue hanging out sideways.

The story isn't bad, but it could be stronger. For one thing, it starts off with a weak "was" verb featured in a pretty bland sentence. The first paragraph is distant, as though the narrator is talking about Ron rather than seeing or feeling the scene through Ron's eyes. The paragraphs could use some voice, some pizzaz added to make them more lively and less ordinary. More middle grade. This can be accomplished by using zestier verbs, adding details, describing sensory things (sounds, smells, etc.), and using imagery or figures of speech.


Ron flipped the calendar page to September and blasted out a sigh. One week left until Labor Day weekend, when his parents would arrive from the city to fetch him. Sure, Gram and Gramps would invite him back next summer, but soon he'd be back at school. No more puttering around collecting rocks. No more sweaty bike rides on the trails. No more picking carrots and zucchini and tomatoes in the garden with Gram. He'd have to leave the rest of those fat silvery trout for Gramps to catch.

Most of all, he still hadn't figured out what that large dark thing was that swam in the lake. He'd seen it eight times now, churning up to the surface like a black slug in a stewpot. Was it a giant snake? Some sort of sea monster? Or just a really big fish?

With a rattley clang of the screen door, Ron left the house. He whistled for Old Jake, Gramps' golden retriever, and ran off toward the lake. The grasses hissed under the toughened soles of his bare feet and the wind whipped a strange blend of honeysuckle and pine-needle smells into his nose. At the dock he thumped down the boards. Old Jake followed, long tongue hanging out sideways like a slobbery red rope.


Note: For the makeover I added about 45 words.

Can you think of anything else that would make this excerpt stronger?
Does the makeover seem less distant to you than the original, & more like a MG voice?
Have you ever written middle grade fiction, for readers ages 8-12?

Do you have a MG or YA page excerpt for use as a guinea-pig post on this blog, to help other writers hone their work? Perhaps an old shelved novel or other work?
It can be anonymous or labeled with your name, as you wish.
Email me if you do: artzicarol [at] gmail [dot] com


  1. Ooh, this makeover thing is a great idea. It helps to see what changes are being made and why. Thanks for sharing :)

    Sarah Allen
    (my creative writing blog)

  2. Thanks for joining me Carol. I posted the poem for Lenny because his mother used to read Wordsworth poetry to him, she is no longer with him. Kind regards, from Carole with an e :0)

  3. You make it look so easy. :P

    I was editing the beginning of one of my chapters today. It went through a major rewrite for the reasons you pointed out here. But once I started it with action, it was much stronger. Adding the sensory descriptions helped too.

  4. Fantastic makeover. The action in the first line throws the reader immediately into the story and we get a real sense of the character. It doesn't have to be eye popping action to achieve this.

  5. I agree with the passive/telling before and the active/showing after. Nicely done, and the story itself is great!

  6. Love the makeover! It sounds like an interesting concept, and I think more voice could add some pizazz!

  7. BIG difference! It's amazing what better verbs (and less passive voice) can do for imagery. In the makeover, even though it's in third-person, I can "see" Ron's world so much more clearly.

  8. This is a great idea and your so good at it :)

    (By the way, I gave you an award on my blog today.)

  9. The second excerpt is soooo much more immediate and engaging--nice example!!!

  10. Excellent makeover! I loved that first line (the new one). This is an excellent example of what I need to do better :D

  11. The makeover is definitely improved. I still felt it could have used a bit more voice, but it was definitely closer. And the description was much more alive and fun in the second one. Definitely better!

    And yep, I write MG sci fi and fantasy. I love this age. You know, that's what I think is missing from the makeover - the part I called VOICE. I think MG needs to feel really ALIVE. And I can't put my finger on it, but I didn't quite get that in either version. Just a few more tweaks or experimentation would get it there, I think though!

  12. I picked up on the same thing--too many woulds and your makeover made it stronger and more active!

  13. The second version is a lot more present, but I can't help but wonder how old the boy is. If he's older than 7 or 8, wouldn't a city boy be a little reluctant to distance himself from his electronic toys? But then again, I don't know if this was addressed elsewhere in the book.

  14. Definitely liked the revised version better, mainly because you cut the telling and turned it into showing, which makes the whole thing much more active as other commenters have said.

    I am working on something for the upper MG age group but will have more of a think about voice - I'm not sure the descriptive style I use is markedly different between adult and MG stuff I've written so will have to think about whether this is an issue or not.

    Food for thought. Thanks!

  15. What a great example of adding more action to move from showing vs telling. This is so helpful. Thank you.

  16. That was great. My thought about the original was that it was bland, and the makeover really spiced it up and made me feel like I was there, not just watching from afar.

  17. Great makeover! Your insight is always helpful. BTW, just visited your website! You're a great artist, as well as a great writer!! Really beautiful drawings:).

  18. I loved the make over! Describing the tongue as a slobbery red rope made me smile :) Great simile!

  19. Much improved. More action in the makeover. I like it!

    My one comment would be to have him sigh instead of blasting out a sigh. Feels like unnecessary words. If you want to give it a blast feel, maybe change word: groaned, grumbled, scowled, growled.

  20. Great makeover! By the way, I have an award for you on my Thursday post at my blog . . . I've just been running around without my pc for nearly five days, so I didn't tell you earlier. Have a great day!

  21. You know, when I read the first one, I didn't think it was too bad... but then I read the second one and it's SO MUCH BETTER! Great work!

  22. What a great makeover! I was definitely more interested in the second version.

  23. Love the rewrite and how you showed us what you changed and why. And what a great idea for a post. Hmm, I might have something I could submit...

  24. Love reading through these rewrites and tips
    so much to learn - thank you


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