Thursday, January 26, 2012

The ABC's of Middle Grade: H is for Hero

As kids, we all had heroes--people we admired, people we looked up to, people we aspired to be like, people who could do things we never dreamed we could. Some of these heroes were real people, some were characters we met in books or movies, and still others were beings that existed in our imaginations.

As we grew up, those heroes perhaps lost their hero label, but we still have people we admire, those we aspire to be like. But as a middle grade writer, I wonder how the world of heroes fits into today's world of middle graders? As a writer of middle grade, exactly who should be the hero in what I write?

Brooke Favero, who writes a terrific blog at Somewhere in the Middle, wrote a post several months ago about who should rescue whom in middle grade writing. It got me thinking. A lot. Originally when I read her post, I was drafting a middle grade manuscript. She asked provoking questions and helped me approach my manuscript in a fresh way. So, as I was planning this middle grade alphabet series, when I got to the letter 'H,' it didn't have a choice but to stand for Hero.

Let's discuss: And, I'll ask the question Brooke asked but in my own words, who should the hero be in a middle grade novel?


  1. Good luck with your query critique! I hope you get great feedback!

    Regarding heroes, I tend to most enjoy books where at least one of the main (viewpoint) characters is the hero. If the character isn't "heroic" at the beginning, I still like to see him or her get there by the end. One example I can think of is The Amulet of Samarkand by Jonathan Stroud -- I didn't connect with the first book as I had hoped (though I loved Bartimaeus's voice!) and only later did I realize it was because I didn't really *like* the other POV character, Nathaniel, who is actually (imo) a pretty self-serving and not entirely likeable person. But in the later books a third POV is introduced (Kitty, who is more "heroic"). By the third book even more changes (trying not to spoil things) that increases the "heroism" quotient. And that third book (Ptolemy's Gate) is one of my all-time favorites!

    I suppose even if the main character is not the traditional hero (frex, if he or she were the sidekick to a knight or something) I like to see him or her achieve an arc that feels heroic, even if on a smaller scale. That they triumph over something/ become a better person/improve the world.

  2. I'm not sure why, but I prefer heroes who start out as weaklings. There is something about the grow-to-be-better arc that appeals to me.

  3. Thanks for the link! I definitely want to read about who should rescue whom as I'm working on MG, too. :)

    And I found you at Matthew's site. :)

  4. Deva, wow! That's so much good stuff to think about. I love when an MC is the hero too and definitely love when they have triumphed, learned, overcome.

    Akoss, grow-to-be better is an arc I strive for myself :-) so I certainly adore it in books.

    Janet, Hi! And welcome. Brooke has another awesome post today about pacing in MG. Check it out too.

  5. I just blogged about heroes today too. I have a different take. I think books are made better by having a protagonist AND a hero, but maybe that's more for YA readers.

  6. First off, good luck with the query critique! *fingers crossed*

    Now, heroes! (Love this topic, btw!)

    I think it's more important for a protagonist to be heroic rather than a hero. Not all stories are set up to have a happy, the-day-is-saved type of outcome, after all. And even if the day can be saved, sometimes the plot or world is designed in a way where the protagonist can't (or shouldn't) be the one to do it. But as long as you see that protagonist grow and overcoming obstacles, making the attempt to be heroic (when, perhaps, they may not have before), that alone is satisfying, IMO. But I'm probably in the minority, heh.

    1. You are right on, Heather, and for the purposes of this post, in my mind I was interchanging heroic and hero. Even in MG there isn't always a happy ending where the day is saved, but the growth and overcoming that you speak of is key. Thank you so much for sharing your thoughts.

  7. Great H word. I think the kid should be the heroes of the story. They don't always have to be heroic but I think that the kid has to solve the problem or confront the obstacles. I think characters dealing with changes in family, school, and friends can be just as heroic as characters who face the kinds of foes that Harry Potter or Percy Jackson face. It is important to let the kid character solve the problem and not let an adult character swoop in and solve the problem.

  8. Something I've thought about a lot as well -- in MG, I think the kids have to be the heroes, to echo Carrie, above. There's always a temptation to let the grown ups take over, or worse, let luck resolve events for them, but MG's about saving the world, and that means the kids taking action.

  9. I think kids want to put themselves in the shoes of a character who is heroic and saves the day. For child readers, it's cool to see kids doing things that can made some kind of difference to the story world or situation, especially when they are problems that adults think they can't solve.

  10. I always enjoyed reading about kids who were "better than I" in that they faced and solved their problems with real courage and maturity. It made me want to rise to that.

  11. A lot of good answers already posted. I definitely think the MC should either be the hero or show heroic qualities. They are the person the reader gets inside of and they are the one that should be changed by the end of the book. Hope the query went well!

  12. Great discussion and each comment is appreciated. It's such an important thing to consider when writing MG, and although I didn't have adults saving the day in my MS at the time I read Brooke's post, I also hadn't REALLY stopped to consider who was the hero and why.


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