My Adventures in MG: Prologue

I know this blog post is late late late! (A “late” for every week it’s late.) I have been so incredibly busy with school and life I have not had a minute to sit down and write anything at all. Not homework (which I am way behind on), not my own writing, and definitely not blog posts. But finally it’s spring break, and I have a minute to sit down and bang one of these out.

I have decided to switch gears and try my hand at writing MG fiction. It will still be sci-fi because that’s what I love, and I hope to foster a love of sci-fi in my readers. I’d like to take you all with me on this journey, walking through what I am doing as I do it. That way, you’ll be able to learn from my experience and stay up to date on what I am working on as I work on it.

Today, I’m going to talk a little bit about why I am making this decision and about my past experience with MG.

To start, let’s talk a little about what MG is and what it isn’t. Middle grade fiction is work aimed at kids around age 8-12. It is not “middle school” fiction, as the primary target audience is still elementary school aged. It is the step from easy-reader type chapter books to novels, generally running between 30k-50k words (with some being shorter and some being longer depending on genre, target age, etc.).

It is different from YA. Young adult books are for teenagers. Teenagers are not the same as kids aged 8-12. Teenagers are into drama. They’re more introspective. More involved in relationships both romantically and sexually. YA books can be darker and deal with more complex and mature themes. YA books also range from 50k-75k (wordcount exceptions applicable).

Obviously, (as with everything in writing) there is much more to it than that, but that’s it in a nutshell.

One of my earliest books, Fire Master Marley, I wrote intending it to be MG. Care to guess what I understood about MG when I started writing it?

Basically none of what those two paragraphs went over.

The truth is, I started writing a YA book. In passing, and with no research whatsoever, I heard that MG features protagonists as young as 12. My MC was 12, so therefore, my book was MG…right?

Nah.

First of all, Fire Master Marley was far too long. It blew right past 50k words and went all the way up to 85k. That would have been long even for YA! Information about wordcounts are fairly easy to find though, so when I learned my book was too long for MG, I got to cutting. I hacked the book down to almost nothing, gutting its very soul, until I had gotten it down to 65k words. Notably, this is still too long for MG, and I lost a lot of the magic of the story along the way.

However, increasing the age of my MC and calling it YA wouldn’t have helped either. Marley did not act like a teenager. She acted like a kid. She reacted to conflict as a kid would. Turning her into a teen would have required a complete overhaul of the book (which it needed anyway but that’s a story from another post).

Things only got worse from there. You see, some of the characters were teens! In fact, while the MC was twelve, she was a part of a lead trio, one of which was fourteen, and the other was sixteen! While I am not saying this setup could never work for middle grade, the problem was that these characters all had their own stories and their own POV chapters within the work. That meant some of the chapters were about a child as young as twelve with her unique perspective and issues, while others were about a teen as old as sixteen and his unique perspective and issues.

The book was, therefore, something of a hybrid between MG and YA. The problem with that is: it doesn’t work. Teens don’t want to read stories about young kids. They’re past that stage and are much more likely to move forward toward books meant for adults than they are to move backward. Similarly, while MG-aged kids tend to read up, the ones who are interested in MG books won’t want to read about teen drama, and the ones who are interested in teen drama will just read YA.

So, after the mistake that was Fire Master Marley, I moved on to writing YA and adult books.

But recently I’ve been working with a lot of kids ages 8-9 (for those who might not know, I am working toward my teaching license). In order to better connect with them, I’ve picked up a few MG books. The combination of reading those books and working with those kids has reminded me why I wanted to write about a 12 year old protagonist in the first place. I love kids. I love how they think, and I love how they act, and I love their stories. I think there are still children’s stories in me. I just need to learn how to write them.

To that end, the first step I will be taking is to read a ton of MG books. I’ll be reading them for enjoyment, but also to analyze their content and structure to see if I can pinpoint patterns and get a sense of what a good MG book really looks like. In my next blog post, I’ll be discussing some of my findings and breaking down my process with notes and examples. See you there.

Questions here.

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