Make Them Feel It By Ann Haywood Leal

Lewis Carroll once said,  “What is the use of a book without pictures or conversation?”
As middle-grade and young adult writers, we owe our readers those pictures and conversation.  They are the toughest audience around.  Right around third grade, they start to form very strong opinions.  When I taught third grade, each day I would get a round of critiques, with their observations, all of their up-and-downs.  They watch to see what I have on my desk, what I’ve put around the room, how I might be reacting to the fact that Owen is taking all the razor blades out of the pencil sharpeners, and Anna has brought her cell phone to school and is showing it off in the cubbie room. 

They see and hear and feel everything.  So it is our job to make them see and hear and feel every last bit of our story.  We have to provide the pictures and conversation.  We have to drop those kids into our book from the first page, from the first sentence, or they are going to turn around and leave.  Remember, we’re not there to teach; we’re there to entertain.

They need an equal amount of action, description, and dialogue.  Not one word should be there that doesn’t drive the story forward.  Give them something to wonder about on the first page.  Give them someone to worry about or cheer for.
Ray Bradbury reminded us to “find out what your hero or heroine wants, and when he or she wakes up in the morning, just follow him or her all day.” –THEN start your story.  Some of that information about your character will never make its way into your book.  It will stay inside your head, simmering there as you write.  It will, in fact, affect all of your writing, because what you know about your character will come out in bits and pieces with their dialogue, with the way they walk across the room, and the way they interact with the other characters.


  1. This is so true about the third grade! I notice a lot of what you mention in my visits with 3rd grade classrooms.


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