Tips on writing Middle Grade
Hi Everyone! And thank you to Gem State Writers for having me here today! Middle Grade fiction is finally getting the recognition it deserves in the industry by touching those very impressionable readers. What a prime opportunity to hook a young mind on reading! But it’s tricky.
Middle Grade encompasses the 4-7/8th grades. And that’s an upper level 4th grade reader. 8th grade, I believe, is where you will get readers who are content with the “easy yet entertaining read,” and those who are first delving into the throes of tween fiction and young adult fiction. So while you don’t want to talk down to your reader, it’s important that you’re not writing way above their heads either. Vocabulary plays an important role. Putting in a big word every now and then is fine as long as there are context clues to help them figure it out.
I started out writing adult contemporary romance. A lot of the feedback I received from contests was that my heroine seemed immature. Well, okay, she was a 20-something young woman. What did they expect? Then I received some Young Adult books at a conference I attended. I devoured them, and thought that if my heroines were immature maybe I was writing in the wrong genre? So I gave YA a try.
Only I’m not a YA writer. What I thought was YA, turned out to be Middle Grade. In Middle Grade, your characters need to be between the ages of 13-16, YA is 17-21. YA topics tend to be edgier, sometimes gritty, although they can be funny. When you look at the YA books on the shelf, a lot of them deal with current issues plaguing our teens. There is a TON of drama and angst. I just can’t write that. As much as I would love to, it’s just not who I am. I’m light and funny and emotional, but not in a deep dark way. Obviously there are other YA topics and stories that are paranormal, sci-fi, etc… but there’s a different feel to a YA story. I think as a writer you either have it or you don’t. That’s not to say you can’t have a serious issue in a Middle Grade book, you just have to watch how you present it. And as you know, a Middle School student’s issues are different than a High School student’s. Oh, there’s drama…Middle School kids just look at it differently. Always keep in mind the age of your reader.
Voice is huge in a middle grade book. You don’t want your characters sounding too juvenile, but you don’t want to have them sounding like they are going off to college either. If you have middle grade kids (or know someone who does) listen to how they speak, watch how they dress. What are their favorite pastimes? Try to avoid “fad” words that will eventually date your book. When I first started writing middle grade, I made the mistake of using slang from MY era (the lovely 80’s). I just thought back to when I was in 7th grade – how I acted, what I said. When I let my kids read it, they had no clue what I was talking about. Of course my CP hadn’t had any issues….cuz she was a child of the 80’s too! Of course, there are some words that are universal and will always be around. The best thing to do is find a Beta Reader in the age group so they will catch anything that isn’t working. Beta Readers are great, and they can even be helpful in brainstorming (gotta love those young, creative minds)!
Keep the premise easy to understand, yet entertaining and unique. You want to suck them into your story so they will be begging mom and dad for the next book! Thinking series with Middle Grade, in my opinion, is essential. Keep them turning the page and wanting more. Think of a unique idea and expand upon it. Young minds love world building and adventure. Some even want their first taste of romance…that first, sweet, innocent kiss. I love writing about crushes! There’s something about that innocence that inspires me to write young love! And in a MG book you have to keep it clean! I find it refreshing to write for a younger audience. When I have to switch gears to write adult romance, it’s another refresher. Writing in both worlds is a lot of fun and very fulfilling.
If you’re up for the challenge, then give writing MG a try. You might find yourself in a new genre!