Ready for Middle Grade Novels?

Courtesy Flickr Creative Commons and Andy Carter

We’re constantly told to write what we love to read. Easier
said than done, because I find that most writers read a wide range of genres.
But I had a long discussion with myself late last year and was forced to admit
that I love YA novels, even the contemporary, nearly romantic ones.

But it didn’t end there. I think somewhere around the time I
read Moon Over Manifest, I realized
the frightening truth.
I’m a middle-grade geek.
Here’s the other cold hard truth I realized: actual
middle-graders who love to read are honest to the point of cruelty and don’t
give second chances.
Mind you, middle-grade covers a wide range of reading
levels. The silly Diary of a Wimpy Kid
type books are a far cry from the aforementioned Moon Over Manifest, which has been equally popular among adult
readers. Both, however, are considered MG. Perhaps there are writers who can
cover that range. But I think it’s safe to say that the new MG novelist should
choose his or her narrow audience and write to that level. Middle-grade aged
children develop at a rapid rate, many will go from chapter books to adult
novels within a one year span (I was reading Stephen King at 12…my nightmares
were spectacular!).
However, there are some commonalities that cover the
accepted middle-grade range of 8 to 12, specifically differences between YA and
  • An MG character will tend to be very
    self-centered. The world revolves around 8 to 12 year-olds, as any parent can
    attest. A YA character, in her high school years, also tends to be
    self-centered, but will begin to see the world through the eyes of others. In
    fact, that’s a common character arc for a teen protagonist, from “it’s all
    about me” to “I’ll sacrifice for you.
  • MG readers want snarky humor. Even if a horde of
    zombies is about to invade his living room, the MG character will think and say
    humorous things. Dialogue, especially, will be filled with one-line zingers.
    For boys, yes, potty jokes will always be the rage (try it, say “fart” in front
    of a group of ten year old boys and watch them erupt into laughter).
  • So the drama. What adults see as minor blips in
    their day, MG characters must see as end-of-the-world scenarios. Her BFF didn’t
    “like” her Instagram photo of her first day of school outfit? Call the Marines
    and Dr. Phil.
  • A great deal of tension (and we love tension,
    right?) is gained from the clique-ish behavior of middle-school kids. Split
    your characters into groups and set them against each other. Most of us can
    remember it. Yes, it’s still that brutal.
  • MG readers are pretty darn smart. If they’re
    reading, they can handle three-syllable words. But they like a fast pace, lots
    of action, and–shall I mention it again?–humor.  Of course, action is easy when every little
    thing in the MG world is high drama.
  • Adults can be present, and even major characters,
    but they cannot solve the protagonist’s problem. Just like in adult fiction,
    your MG protagonist must be clever, smart, and move the story forward herself
    to its final conclusion. Mom cannot save the day at the end.

Those are a few of the tips I’ve picked up while delving
into MG fiction. It’s a fantastic world where we can dig deeper and release that
youthful voice that we must often restrain in our adult novels. It’s not easier
writing by far. Some of us have to reach back quite a few decades to find those
feelings we shelved on our way to adulthood.

But when you do it well, it’s magic. And when your “slightly”
older middle-grade readers latch on to a piece of their childhood through the
words you’ve written, it’s like you’ve tapped into a whole new world.
As Christian writers, of course, we have another
responsibility. Secular YA is already plagued with the world view, especially
when it comes to sexual relations. Many also included a skewed version of Christianity.
We have an opportunity to use our gifts and talents to reach children while
they’re still developing their beliefs and opinions. We can impact that for God’s
So how about you? Are you considering middle-grade for your
next novel? I’d love to hear from you.