Tuesday, September 13, 2011

Writing for a middle grade audience

I recently pulled out my notes on writing for a middle grade audience. I had tons, scattered through different notebooks and I thought it would be nice to have them in one place.

Middle grade is a wonderful age to write for. Your readers are hungry for new adventures and it doesn’t hurt that schools often offer incentives to keep children reading. So what do you have to know if you’re writing for this age group?

Middle grade readers are 8-12, sometimes 13. One of the first things you’ll need to do is determine if you are targeting the younger readers in this range or the older readers. Once you know this, you can determine how old to make your main character.  For instance, if you are targeting younger readers, then you may decide to make your mc eleven. For older readers, have your character be thirteen.

Middle grade themes are also very different than young adult. In middle we think how does the main character fit into the world. Whereas in a teen novel, the character is exploring how they fit in with their peers. Middle grade also has strict lines on what you can and cannot do. You won’t find sex, cursing, or drugs in a MG novel.

I once heard an editor say that hook is not plot. To me, this made sense. Hook is what draws your reader in. Plot is what carries your reader from page one to the end of the book. Some notes on plot and voice in a middle grade novel:

Plot: Think what matters to a twelve-year-old.
  • Are the conflicts what make sense to a twelve-year-old?
  • Do they center on relationship?

Voice: The narrative voice should be what the character notices in the scene.
  • Children this age often talk in fragmented sentences and half thoughts. Does your dialogue reflect this?
  • Watch that your character is not too self aware. He or she shouldn’t have emotional maturity that comes with age.

On last note, while drafting your novel, remember to have the kids create problems that they will later solve.

I’m sure I’ve missed something and I’d love to hear from you if you have tips to share.


  1. I'm contemplating a MG story, even did a comedic scene to get my juices flowing. This information is very helpful. I'm curious as to how certain exceptions should be handled, like the kid who has been through a lot...like...a lot.

  2. @Angela, do you mean your novel would have more mature content? I do know that editors have said that sex and cursing just aren't present in MG. Smoking and drinking are also a no no. If you have a character who is say 13 and your novel does have these elements, then a publishing house would probably put in in YA. I don't think that's necessarily bad and it would let you write the story the way you envision it.

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  4. Middle grade novels. I've not read any in about 45 years, but I agree that they do not need sex or drugs. Heck, I'm a grandmother, and I don't care for it in YA either. I was a Nancy Drew reader early on, and her adventures were enough for me. We don't need to force adult issues onto children. A good adventure, good characters, scrapes and falls, figuring out how to get out of a locked room or a well - that's all they need. Time enough for all the really bad stuff once they reach high school.

  5. My niece just turned 10 this year and I got her some books. I think for Christmas I'll just get her a Gift card to Barnes and Noble because it's hard for me to tell which YA books are appropriate or not.


  6. @Karen, I do agree that middle grade books shouldn't address the same things that a YA books does. A good adventure with characters kids 8-12 can relate to is what makes great MG novels.

    @scribblingpencil,gift cards are always great. I know my boys used to love being able to select their own books.

  7. Great tips! For me MG has to have a lot going on - pacing is keep to keeping MG interest.

  8. A friend told me that in MG there isn't a relationship romance, like at least a necessary one. Thoughts?

  9. Hi Jon. I have to agree with that. Children between the ages of 8 and 10 still find the opposite sex to be different. Girls tend to think boys are weird and kinda of gross. Let's face it, boys like insects and farting and stuff like that. And boys think girls are just as weird with all that giggling and glitter and they think girls have cooties. That doesn't mean two characters can't "like" each other, but they will show their feelings differently than a teen would and most of the time a child between the ages of 8 and 10 won't realize the strong emotion they have toward a particular boy or girl is because they are attracted to him or her. Boys will tease a girl they like, thinking they are being funny or trying to hide the emotions they can't explain. When a girl likes a boy, she might show it by hitting him. I remember one of my son's coming home from school furious that one of his classmates kept hitting him. My son wasn't a pushover, so this surprised me. When I asked why he didn't defend himself he said (and not too calmly) that he couldn't because she was a girl (nose scrunched in disgust to show how gross that was). One day when I was helping out at school I noticed that she tended to hit him to get his attention and that she managed to sit near him when it came time to divide into groups. My son was just too clueless to noticed she liked him.

    A more mature child may be willing to admit they like the opposite sex, but this usually isn't until they are at least 11 or 12 and there isn't any romance in their relationship. To them, having a girlfriend or boyfriend usually just means they sit together at lunch or hangout with each others friends after school. It's all really innocent.