Writing Middle Grade

I attended a Writer’s Digest webinar with literary agent Andrea Somberg. The topic was the basics of writing middle grade (MG) and selling middle grade.

The first thing to start with is that the agent made it clear that while MG was popular over the last decade, it’s now slowing down. Publishers are now much more picky about these manuscripts. It seems that the graphic MG is picking up. In fact, it’s becoming one of the fastest growing genres in the industry.

The reason is probably the same from when kids would read comic books years ago. With less words because of the heavy illustrations, it’s an easy read for the reluctant reader.

MG Age Range

What’s interesting is I recently had a conversation with a client about the range for the middle grade genre.

He wanted a MG with the protagonist starting out at thirteen. And, he wanted the protagonist to grow into manhood.

I had to explain that the age range for MG is 9-12 and for upper MG it could go as high as thirteen. But definitely not high school.

We ended up making the time frame from 13-18 years old and made it a young adult.

Okay, back to the MG.

While the age range is 9-12, there is also younger MG which is for the 8-10 reader. And, there’s the upper MG which is for the 12-13 reader.

The Protagonist’s Age

It’s important to keep in mind that young readers read up. So, having an 8-year-old protagonist won’t work because an 8-year-old reader will want to read about a 10-year-old protagonist, or at least a 9-year-old.

Along with this, the 14-year-old reader is too old. The 14-year-old will want to read about a 15 or 16-year-old and that’s beyond the scope of the middle grade.

A key point for the protagonist is that he or she must have strong feelings about their surroundings or the environment.

It’s a good idea for them to be opinionated at the beginning of the book and then grow and change their views based on their experience within the book.

While they should be opinionated, they shouldn’t be introspective. That’s more of a young adult thing.

Structure and Prose

  • As with all fiction writing, it’s about keeping the story moving forward using character actions and interactions. You should also include the world around them.
  • Descriptive paragraphs and long sentences should be avoided as well as avoiding adjectives and adverbs.
  • Write active sentences compared to passive ones, and avoid big words. Don’t make the reader scan over, not know what a word is.
  • It’s also a good idea to have the chapters end in some type of cliffhanger, even if it isn’t in the sense of the life or death cliffhanger. You want the reader to want to turn to the next chapter to find out what happens.
  • And, do not have ambiguous endings.

I have another client who will be writing a series and wants to end each with a cliffhanger. Before I attended this webinar, I knew this wasn’t a good idea. Kids like things neatly tied up. They want a satisfying ending. Each book in a MG series should have an ending that ends the story and ties up all loose ends.

I explained to the client that it’s the merit of the story itself and the reader’s involvement with the characters that will make him want to read another story about them.

The Story’s Voice

Unless you’re privy to ‘real’ conversations of the age group of the protagonist, it will be difficult to pull the voice off.

A way to overcome this is to read a lot of traditionally published MG. You can also watch YouTube videos of the age group. If you have the ability to interact with the desired reader age group, do so. It will give your book authenticity. Being aware of the modulation and inflection is a good idea also.

Along with how MG kids talk, you’ll need to capture their unique pressures of today. I’m sure a 12-year-old today can’t imagine life without and cell phone or tablet. I know this is true because my older grandsons are 12 and 14. It’s a different world than it was even 10 years ago. Your characters’ pressures, daily life, and life styles should reflect this.

Another tip is to avoid trending words. You want your story to be timeless. Editors want books that feel contemporary unless you’re writing historical fiction or fantasy, or sci-fi.

The Storyline

Publishers are looking for best sellers.

Your book should be unique, even if it’s a story that’s been told before. It needs to be intriguing. And, there needs to be a clear sense of what stakes are involved.

For this age group, it doesn’t have to be life or death, but it could be a move, the loss of a friend – things that would evoke strong feelings in a child / tween.

That’s it for the story writing part. The next post will deal with querying agents (and publishers).

Children's ghostwriter

Whether you need help with ghostwriting or rewriting, let me take a look at your children’s story. Just send me an email at: kcioffiventrice@gmail.com. Please put “Children’s Writing” in the Subject box. Or, give me a call at 347—834—6700

Let’s get your idea off the launch pad or your outline into a publishable story today!

Or, if you’d rather give it a shot and do-it-yourself, check out my book, HOW TO WRITE A CHILDREN’S FICTION BOOK.


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