My Adventures in MG: Reading

I’m eventually going to get back on my normal schedule. I promise.

On my epic quest to start writing MG science fiction, I have taken what I perceive to be the first step. And that is: simply reading a bunch of MG to see how it’s done. I have acquired many of my books from The Book Bundler, where you can buy discount used books in bulk (not a sponsor).

Here is the complete list of MG books I have read since committing to this quest (so far):

  • Goosebumps by R L Stine
    • Welcome to Dead House
    • Night of the Living Dummy
    • Say Cheese and Die
    • The Haunted Mask
    • One Day at Horrorland
    • The Werewolf of Fever Swamp
    • The Scarecrow Walks at Midnight
    • The Blob that Ate Everyone
    • Please Don’t Feed the Vampire
  • The Forgotten Girl by India Hill
  • The Girl in the Locked Room by Mary Downing Hahn
  • How to Train Your Dragon by Cressida Cowell
  • Outcast of Redwall by Brian Jacques

But I haven’t just been reading. I’ve been studying and making notes, plot-maps, and timelines in an attempt to collect as much information as I can. For fun, I also did this with the new Disney film Raya and the Last Dragon to compare and contrast.

An example of some of my notes

Here are some things I have learned:

  • The catalyst seems to happen a little later than I have noticed in stories for older audiences. It makes sense that it might take a little longer to make sure a young reader is thoroughly grounded before jumping into the action.
    • On a similar note, there seems to be more forgiveness and wiggle room when it comes to explaining things or having some background information in the opening pages.
    • Because of this, Act 1 tends to be on the longer side.
      • This is not always true. R L Stine sticks with a pretty consistent 25%-50%-25% three act structure.
  • Word count is much less than books meant for adults for these two main reasons:
    • The writing is simpler and more straightforward.
      • This may seem obvious, but keep in mind that these stories are not lacking in quality or emotional content. Writing in a style suitable for 8-12 year-olds doesn’t necessarily mean watering or dumbing things down, but rather remaining to-the-point and focused only on plot-relevant details.
    • There is less content.
      • This one may also seem obvious, but again, these are still good and sometimes even complex stories we’re dealing with here. The content that is cut from these books that is present in adult content are things like:
        • Introspection
        • Deep romantic relationships
        • Intricate subplots
        • And various other “extras” that make a story more “full” but are not necessarily crucial to the core plot.
  • Plots are simple and easy to identify, pinpoint, or “put one’s finger on” so to speak.
    • As are the themes
  • Voice is incredibly important. Even more so than in adult stories.
  • The first half of Act 2 tends to typically follow this structure:
    • An objective
    • A break, during which we are reminded of the theme
    • A second objective
    • Another break, during which we are reminded of the theme
    • A third objective
    • Another break, during which we are reminded of the theme
    • Midpoint
      • This pattern is distinct in some books and subtle in others but seems fairly consistent
  • I noticed, particularly in the horror genre, that any perceived danger within these stories is established early on as either being secretly friendly or just plain not real. This is contrary to horror for older audiences, which strives to make the reader feel as though what they are reading could actually happen—as if they are actually in danger.
  • Dialogue tags are in abundance. Kids this age are just starting to learn what dialogue is and how it works. They need the tag follow who is speaking.

Using this information, I decided to move forward with a story idea and began writing the first few chapters. Right away, I made a lot of mistakes. How did I learn about these mistakes? From none other than a group of real-life 8-year-olds.

For my next post, I’ll be getting into what I have learned from actual kids within the MG age range.

Questions here.

4 thoughts on “My Adventures in MG: Reading

  1. I admire your dedication to learning a new genre. As much as writing is a creative endeavour, the common structures amongst genres are crucial to ensure the story works. Sci-fi is my genre of choice, and I’m searching for MG Sci-fi in particular at present to read with our three kiddos. I’m keen to see what you come up with! I also enjoyed your insight into children’s horror, how the author ensure the danger isn’t all consuming for the reader, I never noticed this and am interested to dive into our own Goosebumps collection again to see it in action. Great post!

    Like

    1. Thanks! I learned the hard way that it’s not enough to just sit down and write something, knowing the proper way is crucial. It’s easy to assume that writing for kids is easier than writing for adults, but it’s just different.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. I’m in the process of learning the same lesson, I’m in the midst of my first full outline for my yet-to-be-debut novel, and the benefits are exponential compared to my countless attempts at pantsing over the last decade. The story already feels fuller and more complex, and the outlining has helped me piece it all together and hold all the parts in my head as opposed to fighting myself to remember what I wanted to happen. Preparations are crucial.

        And I agree with your second point, kids stories aren’t easier, they’re just as challenging and require almost an entirely different set of skills to accomplish well.

        Like

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