Wednesday, February 9, 2011

F is for Firsts

Although it may seem like “firsts” are prime subjects for picture or chapter books (think losing a first tooth or going to school for the first time), there is plenty of scope for “first time” experiences in middle grade books too.

Do you remember your first dive into a swimming pool? The first time you walked to school alone with a friend? The first time you stayed home alone? Likely, those experiences happened during your middle grade years. Writing about a "first experience" and how your character feels about it offers a great opportunity for character development. Here are a few ideas I came up with:

- first sleep-over
- first time staying at sleep away camp
- first trip to ________________(fill-in-the-blank!)
- first ride on a roller coaster
- first day of middle school
- first time wearing braces
- first pet you are completely responsible for
- first time baking or cooking independently
- first time staying home alone
- first crush
- first time playing laser tag

Some of these "firsts" are easy to think up, because as adults, we recognize or remember the significance of the experiences in our own lives. But there are a couple of things to remember when digging into the past:

1. Firsts that are significant to middle graders may not always be something we adults think of as being significant. For example, my 11-year-old came home all excited the other day because she'd learned a new rule for drawing portraits. Even though I know she likes to draw, I never would've seen that coming.

2. Times have changed. What may have been significant to you as a middle grader may need to be updated. Money is a good example of this. When I was a kid, it was a big deal to see a $5 or $10 dollar bill. Now it might be a $20 or a $50.

3. What makes a "first" significant is the emotions that go along with the experience. And that's what makes a "first" good material for your writing.

4. Adding a "first experience" may be a chance to showcase a character's unusual or interesting hobby. For example, the first time your character finds a whole sand dollar to add to his seashell collection.


Cheryl Reif writes about the joys of firsts.

At her blog Writing Like Crazy, Maribeth Graham discusses how to add a unique element to your story through using your own experiences in your writing.

While these next two are more oriented towards YA, it might be useful to check them out to see what might be too mature for an MG novel (beyond the obvious sex, drugs or alcohol):

Over at Magical Words, Carrie Ryan writes about teen firsts and their emotional impact, and why she's made a conscious decision to write YA.

From a parenting perspective, here are some thoughts on firsts for tweens and teens.

Have you ever used a "first experience" in your writing? How did it strengthen your story?


  1. Great post. Looking forward to reading the links - they sound very helpful!

  2. I think you really hit on a key point. It's the emotion that goes with these firsts that are important! :)

  3. Hi Andrea, great blog!
    My daughter goes to McMaster, not far from you! We summer in Ontario, so it's nice to see a Canadian around here!

  4. I'm reading tons of MG novels right now with my DD and I have to say I like reliving the firsts!~ I do tend to include, even in my women's fiction many of my firsts. I think that sense of knowing adds a new dimension to the writing.

  5. What a great post and such a good reminder.

  6. Such an interesting idea to think about. My MC goes through quite a few firsts in her journey. Thanks for giving me something to ponder.



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