Tuesday, December 13, 2011

A New Challenge: Middle Grade

So, I've been kicking around a question in the back of my mind for the past two or three months: what separates middle grade literature from YA or adult literature? (You know, apart from the obvious: age of the intended audience).

The reason I ask is because at first I was inclined to think the major difference was that middle grade literature can't delve into more serious issues that apply to the real world. But I've decided that's not true; just look at some of the more popular middle grade titles if you don't believe me. Quite a few of them deal with such things as death, loss, grief, ambition and betrayal, broken homes, love, friendship, etc. And what's more, some of them do a lot better with those more serious themes than a lot of YA and adult literature.

So, the difference isn't in the theme, necessarily.

There's another obvious answer: reading level. Middle grade is, supposedly, written in simpler, easier to understand language by definition and necessity. But again, I'm not so sure this is entirely accurate. One of my favorite authors, Garth Nix, wrote a fantastic middle-grade fantasy series called The Keys to the Kingdom. One of the things I love about Nix is that his prose is absolutely beautiful. I don't mean flowery or anything like that; it's eloquent in how easy it is to understand without being simplistic. Also, I've learned several new words from him!

When it comes to the actual writing, I think middle grade might actually be harder to write that YA or adult literature, precisely because it has to be so easily understood. I think it's the mark of a true master to write a sophisticated, meaningful story that's easily understood by 10–13 year old children. It reminds me of a movie called A River Runs Through It. I saw it when I was young (it's one of my dad's favorites) and I didn't understand this scene until I was in college. A scene toward the beginning of the film shows the main character as a boy, being educated by his father; the boy brings a paper (presumably an essay or report) to his father, who reads it and then tells him to write it again...this time only half as long. That's the essence of good writing: to be able to reduce it down to the shortest, simplest form possible, without losing meaning, power, or impact. It's harder than it sounds.

So, my friends, what do you think is the difference between Middle Grade and YA/Adult literature? Also, if any of you know of good resources (online or otherwise) for writing middle grade literature, please share them!

Have a great day!


  1. Cherie Colyer did a nice post on this topic: http://cheriecolyer.blogspot.com/2011/09/writing-for-middle-grade-audience.html

    Even the questions and answers in the comments are helpful.

  2. I think a lot of it comes down to voice and the way that the author connects with the reader. Me, I'm a little intimidated by the thought of writing middle grade. I think you have to have a special gift for it.

  3. MG is more innocent I think. If there's too much romance or anything like that, the kids in that age range won't read it. Like the first three books of Harry Potter are more middle grade. There isn't as much death and destruction. But books 4-7 they are suddenly YA books and they have a much more complex story.

  4. I agree! Often it's harder to say something in a few words than a few sentences or a paragraph.

  5. I've stepped into the MG realm for the first time with two different projects lately. While the language is simpler to write, being succinct about it is tough for me. It's a whole other beast, really. Reading more of it will certainly help.

    I have noticed there is more humor involved, or wacky situations.

  6. I think one of the differences between MG and YA is consequences. In MG people have to be seen to pay for their actions, that doesn't always happen in YA.

  7. YA needs more, more teen angst, more peer pressure, more intensity and more drama - like teens themselves. MG can have some of these things, just toned down some and definitely easier to understand.

    you helped me clarify my MG fantasy! thanks!

  8. Good point. Voice, scope, plot, interpersonal relationships in MG...it's all different from YA.