Misadventures in Middle Grade Fiction

Once again, I surprised myself with this week’s writing prompt. Taken from NaNoWriMo’s Young Writer’s Program Dare Machine, the prompt was “have one of your main characters break a bone.”

Having just gone through the experience of having one of my children break his arm and all the drama that goes along with that, this should have been a fairly easy assignment. My issue wasn’t so much writing about a broken bone experience, as it was about which character should experience this sort of injury. That wasn’t such an easy task.

In my fantasy fiction, there is a lot of fighting and warfare. Broken bones are probably inevitable. It isn’t likely that my main characters in these stories are going to be able to avoid injury. However, the experience of such an injury isn’t going to look at all like it did for me and my son a few weeks back here in our modern society with ambulances, pain meds and x-rays.

My middle grade adventure fiction, however, takes place right here in this world with real world kids who experience real world life. To keep things simple, I decided to start with one of these characters for the purposes of this exercise.

There are six main characters, three boys and three girls. Most of them are active in sports and various other activities. Injury of this sort would not be unreasonable. The dilemma was in who I should afflict with such an injury. It isn’t easy to just decide to injure someone, even a fictional someone.

I explored what I know about these six pre-teens and decided it was one of three who would be the most likely to break a bone. One boy tends to be reckless on his bike and skateboard, taking unnecessary risks just for the fun of it. He is, however, uncommonly graceful. Or perhaps lucky.

Another boy is the least athletic of the six. He’s overcautious and accident prone. I thought it could easily be this one who suffers such a serious injury. He’s also more likely to be subject to reinjury due to the clumsiness that comes from crutches and ungainly casts.

In the end, it was one of the girls who got hurt. She isn’t the most athletic of the girls, but she does play sports. She tends to try to overcompensate for being a girl in order to compete with the boys. This is, of course, a ridiculous notion, but one girls seem to feel too often. She tends to try too hard and take the wrong sort of chances, leading her into a greater risk of injury.

The story I started writing then, is one that I hope will show that girls are capable of being the best of who they are. That they don’t need to be just like the boys in order to be “good enough.” They are good enough just by being themselves. Unfortunately, my girl gets hurt while on their adventure. But hopefully, valuable lessons are learned along the way.

Love’s Folly

by T. A. Hampton

“Good morning, Fair Lady!”

Conner swept into the store from the back room where he’d just checked the delivery schedule. Deirdra looked up the counter and greeted him with a smile that rivaled the daisies behind her. She was in the middle of a large arrangement of stargazer lilies.

“Hello, Conner, you big tease.”

“You wound me, Deirdra.”

“If the truth is too painful to bear….”

“Ouch.” Conner clutched at his chest as if he’d been shot with an arrow. He moved in behind the counter to look over her shoulder at the order she was working on. “Another Valentine wedding, I see. Ah, let’s see, who is it this time?” Conner turned the work order so he could read the names. “I give it a year.”

“Conner!” Deirdra turned and smacked his arm. “Don’t mock.”

“I wouldn’t dare. Romance and love are, after all, my livelihood.”

There was a rude sound like a snort of laughter from his backpack. Conner dropped the bag on the floor and kicked it out of the way, but thankfully, Deirdra didn’t seem to have noticed the sound.

“I have a full day of deliveries. I’d best get to it.”

“I have reinforcements coming in this afternoon,” Deirdra said, turning back to her arrangement.

“Reinforcements?”

“You remember Niko? He’ll be delivering part-time through the holiday.”

“Niko.”

Deirdra glanced up at his tone. Conner turned away and retrieved his bag heading for the back room and his delivery list.

“Oh, come on, Conner. You’re not still angry about what happened last year?”

“What’s to be angry about? I just don’t like the guy, that’s all.”

“Well, you’ll probably rarely see him. If at all.”

“I’d better go load up.” Conner bent to retrieve his bag before returning to the back room.

“Need a hand?”

“Nah, I got it. You’ve got your hands full with that wedding.”

In the back, Conner checked the delivery log again and began removing arrangements from the refrigerator. Smaller ones went into boxes to be loaded into the back of the delivery van. There was one larger arrangement destined for a local funeral home. Conner liked those sort the least. Death was so contrary to his nature.

Once loaded, Conner climbed into the front of the van, carelessly tossing his backpack onto the passenger seat beside him.

“Ow! Enough of the abuse!”

“Oh, shut it. You’ll live.”

Conner took a moment to remove the heart-shaped box from his bag and set it on top of the bag. With a quick glance at his itinerary, he put the van in motion.

“I thought you were going to give me to the girl.”

“I am.” Conner shot a glare at the box. “I will.”

“It won’t work, you know,” the box continued. “You’re doomed. Cursed.”

“Shut it. It’s different this time.”

The box only laughed. At a stop light, Conner stuffed it roughly back into his bag. He studiously ignored any further attempts to draw him into useless conversation. Instead, he focused on making his deliveries.

Usually, when he delivered flowers to offices or homes, he was met with smiles and happy greetings. Today, however, his most cheerful delivery was the to the somber funeral home. One woman evenburst into tears and threw the flowers back in his face. Conner tried to catch the vase, but it slipped and shattered on the ground in a puddle of baby’s breath and roses, splashing him with water and bits of floral foam as it fell.

When he climbed back into the van, the box of chocolates was laughing at him again from inside the backpack. Conner pulled it out, ready to tear the box to pieces.

“Doomed,” it whispered.

The fat, baby angel on the box lid mocked him. An arrow clutched in its chubby hand. Conner hated the image. He wondered how on Earth had he ever become associated with this image.

But the box was right. He was doomed.

Conner put the box back into his bag. He put the key in the ignition, ready to head back to the store and call it a day. He started the engine, put his hands on the wheel. But rather than put the van in reverse, he dropped his head onto the wheel.

“Aahh!”

“Good afternoon, Fair Lady!”

Conner swept into the store from the back room, this time, the box of chocolates with the chubby angel baby in his hand. Let the fool box try and speak now.

Deirdra’s soft laughter ceased at his entrance. Only then did he realize the lady wasn’t alone in the store. Leaning insolently on the counter across from Deirdra was Niko.

“Conner.” The other man didn’t rise, instead picked up a Queen Elizabeth rose, twirling it in his hand.

“Niko.”

So much for never seeing the bastard.

“Play nice, boys.”

“You needn’t worry for my sake, Deirdra.” Niko turned to Deirdra and held out the blushing pink rose. When she moved to take it, he took hold of her hand and lifted it to his lips. “Until later.”

Niko brushed past Conner on his way into the back room, nearly knocking the box of chocolates from Conner’s hand.

“I’m glad your back, Conner,” Deirdra said once Niko was gone.

“You are?”

Conner joined Deirdra behind the counter and watched her carefully arrange the roses. He never tired of watching her work.

“I finished the wedding flowers, and I’d hoped you would be back in time to deliver them.”

“Oh.”

“You sound disappointed.”

“What? No. Nothing like that.”

Conner tossed the box onto the counter, momentarily forgetting what he held. The pudgy Cupid stared up between them.

“What’s this, Conner?”

“Uh, I—. I got you a gift.”

“Really?”

Conner dared to lift his gaze to hers, ready to find the anticipated rejection. But her eyes only glinted with merriment, and her lips lifted into her signature smile that never failed to raise hope in his chest. He forgot how to breathe.

“That’s sweet.”

Deirdra’s gaze returned to the box, and the spell was broken. Conner could breathe again. He watched her hands as she moved to lift the box lid. The angel stared back at this with a mocking gleam in its eyes. Conner moved to prevent her opening the box, then saw again Niko lifting her hand to his lips.

She lifted the lid. Inside were a dozen tiny Cupid figures, all with bows drawn. Conner nearly groaned in despair. He’d forgotten how ridiculously childish the candies must seem, especially in light of Niko’s suave charm.

“What is this, Conner? Are these supposed to be arrows shot to my heart? Make me fall in love?” Laughter danced in her eyes.

“Haha!” Conner laughed, the sound one more of desperation than of mirth. “I don’t know, Deirdra. Did it work?”

“Hmm. Let’s see.” Deirdra plucked a chocolate cherub from the box and lifted it to her mouth. Conner couldn’t look away. She bit the candy, letting it melt on her tongue. Her eyes closed as she savored the sweet. “Mmm. That’s good chocolate.” She held the box out toward him. “You want one?”

Conner glanced at the candy, but gave a slight shake of his head. He knew a little too well what was possible with just a taste. Been there, done that. A tiny bit of chocolate clung to her lip, and Conner wanted nothing so much as to lean in to kiss her. Before he could, however, Niko returned from the back room.

“Deirdra, you want me to deliver those wedding flowers? I’ve plenty of time.”

“I’ve got the wedding flowers,” Conner said, turning to Niko in irritation.

“Sure thing, Conner. Just offering to help.”

Niko didn’t return to the back room, moving instead to stand in front of the counter. He reached for a chocolate before Conner even realized what was happening.

“What are you doing here, Niko?”

“I forgot my keys,” Niko said, popping the candy cherub into his mouth.

“Hey, that’s—.” Not yours. Conner finished the thought silently as Deirdra handed Niko a set of keys from behind the counter.

He watched as their hands touched. Watched the secret smile on her face, the one that dashed all his hopes. The cherub on the candy box grinned up at him in malicious delight.

“I’ll see you later,” Conner said turning away from the bitter scene. “I’ve got flowers to deliver.”

As he passed into the back room, Conner plucked a yellow carnation from a bucket of flowers. He glanced back over his shoulder at Deirdra and Niko. With a sigh he turned away and dropped the flower back into the bucket.

It was true then. In every age he was fated to find the most beautiful woman on Earth. Doomed to fall madly in love with her. And cursed to watch her fall in love with another man.

Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge – July 5, 2017

It’s Wednesday Writing Prompt Challenge again! This is the place to find unexpected inspiration to encourage creativity.

I post a writing prompt, or exercise, here each Wednesday. Follow the prompt precisely, or use it to spark your own writing—a journal entry, a poem, a short story. If you wish, consider sharing a link to your response in the comments below. There are some simple rules, so check them out below before posting.

Thanks for playing along! Happy writing!

July is Camp NaNoWriMo, and whether you are participating, or not, there’s always a little room for inspiration. The writing prompts for the month of July come from NaNoWriMo’s Young Writers Program Dare Machine. I dare you!

Have one of your main characters break a bone.

Rules for posting to Wednesday Writing Challenge:

  1. Must be family friendly.
  2. Hate and intolerance will not be accepted.
  3. No pornography, erotica, graphic violence or excessive profanity.

Please, have fun. Be creative. And let’s write more words!

Writing Exercises – Just For Fun

At first glance, this week’s writing prompt didn’t look at all promising. I mean, really, leprechauns and talking beer steins? Not exactly my thing.

Start a narration that takes place in Ireland and involves a lost leprechaun, a bar keeper and an inanimate object that can talk. (A pint of beer, perhaps, in preparation for the upcoming holiday?)

But for fun, I decided to play along anyway. I thought about some other holidays I enjoy more than St. Patrick’s Day. There’s Easter and Christmas – two of my personal favorites. But they’re also the two biggest holidays of the year, and maybe a little bit overused.

I could have chosen the Fourth of July. It would have been timely, at least.

In the end, I chose Valentine’s Day. For the holiday icons, instead of a leprechaun, I would use Cupid. The barkeeper would become a florist. And the inanimate object would be a box of chocolates. Okay, so Valentine’s Day could end up being just as clichéd as Christmas or Easter. But why not, it’s only a writing exercise, right?

To begin, I needed a place for Cupid’s story to go. So I did a little research into the godling’s mythos to see where he comes from and what stories center around him. I learned some fascinating tidbits, and a story began to form.

I decided to set my story in a modern world situation and therefore, Cupid needed a new name. No one would go by the name “Cupid” unless they enjoyed being laughed at. And his Greek alternative, Eros, isn’t any better.

In the process of renaming the god of romantic love, I stumbled upon the story of Conchobar mac Nessa, an ancient Irish king with a tragic love story all his own. The modern name Conner is derived from this king’s name, and so I had a name.

Conchobar’s tragic love interest was Deirdre. I decided to name the florist in my story after this woman, thereby combining two love tales into one.

I ended up writing a little tale of romance gone bad. A love-triangle where no one wins. I have hopes of sharing this story once I’ve had a chance to clean it up a little. It turned out to be a lot of fun to write.

Writing exercises such as this one can also lead to learning new things. I had to do some research to come up with my story idea. I discovered at least two stories I want to know more about, and when I have time, I’ll read more about Cupid and Psyche and more on the Irish Ulster Cycle.

This just goes to show how a writing exercise is only as good as you make it out to be. Not inspired by the exact letter of the prompt? Try to determine the spirit – or purpose – behind the prompt instead. Make the most of it and have fun. That is, after all, one of the best reasons to be a writer.