Pictured: My niece, Chloe
My title protagonist from “Belinda Starr and the Metallic Enchantment” is, at the start of the story, eleven years old. But eleven years old was a long time ago for me. …Too long.
And as a writer, if I come off as condescending or not relatable to my target audience (middle grade), all is lost. I know that if I want to write a character from a age group different from mine well, if at all possible, I need to spend time with someone or lots of someones from that age group. And I’m lucky enough to have a niece the same age (or close–she’s ten) as my protagonist. I’ve also observed Girl Scout troops and youth groups of the same age, but it’s time with Chloe (said niece) that I love the most. The reasons for that are twofold: One: it’s quality time with a smart, funny, sweet, creative girl whom I love with all my heart, and two: “Belinda”—courageous, blue eyes, freckles, plays basketball, loves animals—is modeled after Chloe. It works well.
Today, after a breakfast at Applebee’s to support my nephew’s youth group fundraising, I had the honor of watching Chloe’s volleyball game and then toting her along to Christmas Gifts on Broadway. This lovely shop is a traditional Christmas destination for our family, though it’s been years since I was last there, and this was Chloe’s first time. She was enamored with so many of their wonderful items, and it was a joy to see the look on her face as she buzzed from room to room, taking it the Christmas splendor. I got to see it through her eyes, and the more time I spend with her, the more of her “middle-gradeness” will ingrain itself into my thought process. Sometimes I take notes of what I see–sometimes merely mental notes—and sometimes I just enjoy the moment. It all makes its way to my brain, and more importantly, to my heart.
…The moments where she acts silly and makes me laugh, shows her crafts and collectible toys, amazes me with her thoughtful insights about how the world works, and makes me proud with how hard she works at her sports and how much she loves her family and pets…gah, I love it. I am in awe of her, and thankful to have her as a prime example of her age. She reminds me that middle-graders are, or can be hyper, child-like, imaginative, goofy, intelligent, gross, thoughtful, loving, cranky, wise beyond their years, helpful, eager, frustrated, passionate, and adventurous. On their best days, they’re bundles of chaotic fun, with waves of gentility, humility, and spurts of smack-you-upside-the-head wisdom. No wonder it’s such a fun and eventful age to write!
I love spending time with my niece. When “Belinda” is finally published, I will owe (and already do owe) a big dose of gratitude to this girl. So, here’s to you, Chloe Rhiannon. My favorite (and only) niece, and forever my inspiration. And to my readers, for another heart-warming article about inspiration and encouragement, click here.
What cute/endearing/funny/overall nice stories do you have about the kids in your life? Share in the comments!
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