Growth is something that is important for middle grade fiction, as far as I am concerned anyway. I'm not including the hundreds of books written that make kids laugh. Although, there are quite a few that have an underlining message in that laughter. The growth I am talking about is the process in which a character's (antagonist or protagonist depending on the story you are writing) being--mind, body, spirit, is enhanced. He or she grows strong, courageous, overcomes fears, gains understanding, learns to be tough or brave, or discovers what kind of mettle he or she is made of. Why?
Well think about it. Who wants to read a book, or write one for that matter, where the character wanders aimlessly through the story on some willynilly plot line that takes him or her no where? I sure don't. In other words, while some obstacles are for fun, the majority of them are written to move the character toward a goal. And isn't that goal part of your plot? Even Pooh Bear faces one obstacle after another in his endeavors to capture another honey trove. Why? Simply put, because it creates tension, conflict, and even humor. How to do this effectively is a lesson all on it's own, and it is one I am still learning.
In Search for the Red Ghost, my main character, Jake, faced one obstacle after another. Each was created out of the setting and the dangers it held, but each was also created to show his character move or "grow" from being a bent-on-revenge seeking 13 year old to the responsible young man he became. He developed wit and courage, and learned what mettle he was made of.
Like I said, I am still learning. In a class I am taking, I am developing a series of obstacles for my character to overcome. Each one must move the plot and my character forward. Difficult? You bet it is. Why? I think my problem is that my work in progress is a picture book with under 500 words. Red Ghost was a full book. Jake's obstacles could be worked out in an entire chapter or chapters of several thousand words. 500 words doesn't leave much room for conquering obstacles, but my little Ellie has to move forward. So, fingers crossed! Like that Little Engine that could, "I think I can. I think I can."