MG at Heart Writer’s Toolbox: Using Imagined Conversations to Draw Character Relationships

The Middle Grade at Heart team is back again with a mid-month post about our June pick, The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras.

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If you haven’t already read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter, get thee to a library! I really couldn’t put this one down, tearing through Drest’s enchanting story in the wee hours of the night.

This story has the feel of the classic medieval fantasies I loved as a child and still devour today. Set in Great Britain, the story follows the adventures of Drest, the youngest child of the infamous Scot known across the land as The Mad Wolf, as she tries desperately to save her family from imprisonment and execution.

Since it happens in the first twenty pages, I’ll give you a little spoiler to set the stage. Late one night, Drest wakes from her place by the fire with her brothers and father. She’s heard a noise and tries to warn the others, but they ignore her. Soon after, they are surprised by a nearby kingdom’s soldiers, who capture Drest’s father and all her brothers, leaving her alone with only a wounded knight they left behind during the attack.

The reader only gets to meet Grimbol (the Mad Wolf) and Drest’s brothers for a few brief scenes during the battle and ensuing capture. And yet, Magras needed a way for us to understand how a young girl could love her family enough to risk a terrifying journey and terrible odds to save them. The way she did this was one of my favorite aspects of the story—a series of ongoing imaginary conversations between Drest and her family members.

Even though we know right off that these are imagined conversations (not ESP or some sort of magical communication), the conversations are so natural that the reader gets a chance to get to know Drest’s beloved family and to understand their family dynamic even though her family is miles away in prison.

“Uwen’s voice in her mind let out a snort of disgust. Go along and hide, then. Be the sniveling, grub-spotted barnacle you are. But when Drest rose, she didn’t’ go hide; she began to run.” P17

The brilliance of lines like these is that they not only show us the hilarious curse-filled banter that is normal in Drest’s family, but they begin to draw both Drest’s brothers and her own character. Because of course, even though the words are delivered in her brother’s voices, they are actually a product of Drest’s own mind. So in the example above, she’s goading herself to action even when she’s cold, and tired, and terrified. Such is her strength and tenacity throughout the story.

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These conversations with her brothers also allow us to understand more about what Drest’s life was like before her family was captured. Since we don’t get to see more than a few moments of “regular life” before the action begins, this gives the reader much-needed context and makes us care about the stakes: If Drest fails, her entire family will hang.

Eventually, real-life conversation with Drest’s traveling companions pulls her away from these in-depth conversations with her brothers. But by the time that happens, we know what we need to know about how she feels about her family, what the rules of their world are, and how the brothers treated their beloved—but never coddled—younger sister. All without meeting them in person. That’s some great storytelling, if you ask me.

. . .

Read The Mad Wolf’s Daughter by Diane Magras and then join us for our #MGBookClub Twitter chat on July 3 at 8pm EST. Also check us out on FlipGrid: https://flipgrid.com/b4a8ac  (password: themadwolfsdaughter). And don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter by June 25 to get recipes, activities, discussion questions, and other resources on The Mad Wolf’s Daughter: http://Eepurl.com/cRubSH 

 

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