Tips For Writing The Mid-Grade Novel

I didn’t make it to the ACFW (American Christian Fiction Writers) conference in Dallas this month, but many of my writer friends did. Some shared what they learned.

Lara Van Hulzen was one of those generous new writer friends who agreed to share her notes. If you click on Lara’s name it’ll take you to her website where she Writes Fiction From The Playground of Parenthood. (I love that title.)

Below are the notes she took from Joyce Magnin’s class on WRITING THE MID-GRADE NOVEL.  But first, let me tell you a little about Joyce. She’s the author of seven novels: five adult novels and two middle grade readers. She said, I never wanted to do anything but write and every day I wake up astonished that I get to do what I always dreamed about. If you click on her name above you’ll be directed to her link. She has some awesome cat pictures that cracked me up!

Below are a few of her mid-grade books. You can go to her books page to learn more about her book being released in 2013 by clicking here.

Here are the notes:

If you think that writing for children is easier than writing for adults, think again. It isn’t. Kids are smart and they know when writing is good and when it’s bad.

What is middle grade?

  • Ages are 9-12 or 8-13. Middle grade books are NOT specifically for middle school kids.
  • Word count is not a defining point any more. Anywhere from 20,000 – 60,000 words is accepted.
  • Kids don’t always stick to a specific genre. They read across the board.
  • YA usually has a romance. Middle grade novels typically don’t. If they do, it’s puppy love.

Both the ABA (American Book Association) and the CBA (Christian Book Association) have some fantastic Middle Grade books. You need to be reading them, especially if you want to write them.

Ask yourself why you’re in this? Is it for the literature?

Consider a series. Kids love those.

How does someone in their 50’s and 60’s write for this generation?

  • Learn the tehnology
  • Write in an era you know. Kids can relate to a different generation if the story is written well.

What happens if you write a series where the protagonist starts out at 9-years-old but ends up older than 13?

  • Consider slowing the time so they don’t age more than 13.
  • You don’t have to age a kid. For example, Henry Huggins was a character in a children’s literature series who didn’t have a birth date.
  • Learn the emotional, physical and psychological changes kids this age are going through.

If you want to write for 7-8 year olds, stick with more concrete stories. They can’t think abstract yet. When you hit 9-12, they can think outside the box a bit more.

VOICE is really important. Craft one. If you can nail a middle grade voice, you’re golden.

How?

Read great MG. Here are a few examples:  Gary Schmidt – Lizzie Bright and the Buckminster Boy.

Look up these authors: 
Jerry Spinelli
Kimberly Willis Holt
Lisa Yee

A great resource for YA and Mid Grade writers is CYNSATIONS. Check out the link.

Character and plot work together. A good character adds to the plot and the plot adds to the character.

How do you develop a good character?

  • Inner journey is very important for this age. Girls this age are focused on heart matters. The reader needs to identify with your characters.
  • External things need to be happening. It could be winning the big baseball game, but the inner journey needs to be a part of the story within the external element.
The INNER JOURNEY within your Character has to have THREE things:
  1. A core wound. (Like a father’s death.)
  2. A coping mechanism (Lying about it.)
  3. A core defense (At some point he has to face the truth and accept it.)

Winning the baseball game may be the external element, but you’re disguising the inner journey with the external situation.

Take your character out to lunch and interview them.

Heavy Topics

You can deal with heavy topics without showing it happen. Abusive parents, alcoholism, etc. However, Christian publishing houses probably won’t be interested in these topics. There doesn’t have to be blood on the page. Use common sense. You can have a neighbor murdered without describing the knife going into his heart.

How to Choose a Title

Choosing an MG title isn’t necessarily different than adult genres, but think about it as creatively as you can or would for any book.

One of the toughest parts of this genre:

The gatekeepers! How do you get the book into the hands of the readers? Moms and dads are the ones that buy and approve the books for their children. If they don’t think their child can handle it, they won’t buy it. Christian publishers aren’t going to be interested in purchasing your book if it deals with tough divorce or substance abuse issues because they don’t think it’ll sell to the parents. Many times it’s the content that’s rejected–not that your book is poorly written.

ACFW needs to represent middle grade better. How do we get the moms reading Amish romance to buy books for their kids?

Middle grade fantasy might be a good idea. Fantasy always sells.

If you think of where your book could coordinate with a school curriculum that could be a plus, but it’s difficult to get Christian published books into the secular school system.

Structure of your story

  • We write in a post modern era. We have to write flawed people.
  • As Christians, we can write a story that sounds hopeless at first but gives light and hope by the end.
  • All characters change! They must change. There are a choice few who don’t, like Superman, but most, if not all, need to change.

Check back tomorrow for TEN POINTS TO PONDER WHEN CRAFTING MIDDLE GRADE FICTION.

(I’ve been reading Junie B. Jones books to my seven-year-old granddaughter and find myself lol. They’ve inspired me to write a series with her.)

What Mid Grade novels do you recommend?

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Comments

  1. Good job. I was in same class, taking copious notes, and wrote up for ACFW Afictionado. Your friends caught a few details I didn’t (I did have to leave for 1 appt.) and different things always stick out to different people. I appreciate the helpful info. you supply to this blog’s readers.

  2. Hi Dee! You were at the ACFW too? You lucky ducky. Did you see Ben’s hand before the awards dinner? (Oh my! Big controversy there.)
    Do you write MG? If so, I’d love to talk to you about this genre. I’m writing a book with my granddaughter. It’s like a JUNIE B. JONES book but with more modern day problems.

  3. Great job as always. I have just developed a unique character namd Mort. Let me know what you think. Do you have to be a published author in order to atten that awards event?
    You can find it on my blog at….. http://www.parrillaturi.wordpress.com

    Blessings.

  4. Great job as always. I have just developed a unique character named Mort. Let me know what you think. Do you have to be a published author in order to attend that awards event?
    You can find it on my blog at….. http://www.parrillaturi.wordpress.com

    Blessings.

  5. Hi Johnny!
    Thanks for the compliment on our blog. I can’t wait to read about Mort. I hope to get there today and give you my comments, okay?
    No, you don’t have to be a published author to go to most any writer’s conference. I’m not sure where you live, but if you Google writer’s conferences you can search for them in your area. As far as the award’s ceremonies at these events–anyone can go. You don’t have to be a published author. Most of the people who go to these award ceremonies know some of the authors who are nominated. They go to support them and to dream of when they’re nominated. Hey, it never hurts to dream, right?
    M

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