I’m delighted to bring you tonight’s guest blog post, on the topic of writing middle grade fiction, by Glen C. Strathy.
The Two Most Important Things I’ve Learned About Writing Middle-Grade Fiction
When I was younger, I never could have predicted that I would one day be writing middle-grade fiction. In fact, I always imagined that my first novel would have been adult science fiction, fantasy, or mystery, simply because that is what I used to read for fun.
All that changed, however, when I became a father. My daughter loves to read and be read to. She also has a hard time falling asleep. So for many years, I spent one or two hours each evening reading middle-grade fiction aloud to her. I recited all the Harry Potter books so many times that she now knows many passages by memory. I also read the His Dark Materials, and the Bartimaeus series, most of Roald Dahl’s books, and many other classics.
While I was developing a subconscious understanding of children’s fiction through continuous exposure, I was also working on my own middle-grade novel, Dancing on the Inside, and consciously working out how to make it a book that would appeal to girls my daughter’s age. So let me share with you the two most important things I’ve learned.
First, it’s important to choose the right main character for a middle-grade novel. On the one hand, kids aged 9-12 are just starting to figure out who they are, who they will become as they mature. They want heroes they can adopt as role models. So a good main character will be older than the readers, someone who does amazing things and has admirable qualities. He or she will have some special ability, whether it’s external (e.g. martial arts) or personality based (e.g. a humorous way with words).
At the same time, it’s a mistake to make the main character more than a couple of years older than the readers. Kids want to read about characters they can relate to – characters who wrestle with similar problems. A 45-year old man going through a mid-life crisis would a terrible main character for a children’s book, even if he is a superhero by night. The best main characters are pre-teens or young teens who are care about others, have some problem or insecurity common at their age, and also possess some trait or ability that makes them special.
The second thing about middle-grade fiction is that story matters. When you’re writing literary fiction for adults, you can downplay plot in favor of character, style, and inner conflict. But a solid, dramatic plot structure really engages young readers. Kids love to see their hero fight against the odds and succeed in the end. You don’t have to have a comic book villain in a black cape, but you do need an antagonist and some type of conflict. Your main character’s problems must get worse until they reach a climax, at which point he finds a way to fantastic way to solve them. A little mystery also helps readers stay engaged.
However, as long as you follow these two principles, there really are no limits to what middle-grade readers can enjoy. Almost every genre can be written for this group – historical, science fiction, fantasy, mystery, western, paranormal, contemporary, or in my own case… performing arts. It’s a great age to be, and a great age to write for.
Thank you Glen!
Glen C. Strathy started writing stories when he was 11 years old and too shy to have a life. He eventually found a life when he started acting in community theatre and met other writers, actors, dancers, and artists. He discovered that the best thing about performing arts (and other arts too) is that they give people more freedom to be who they want to be. After spending time as an actor, teacher, and freelance writer, he returned to his first love, fiction and wrote Dancing on the Inside, a novel for ages 9-12.
Glen earned an M.A. in English from the University of Western Ontario, and graduated from the Artist in Community Education program at Queen’s University, Kingston. He co-authored two non-fiction books, one of which (The Coming Economic Collapse, Warner Business Books, 2006) became a New York Times Bestselling Business Book. He belongs to the Professional Writers Association of Canada (PWAC) and the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI). His website www.how-to-write-a-book-now.com provides advice to budding authors.
Glen lives with his wife, fellow writer Kaitlin Rainey, and their daughter in Kingston, Ontario, Canada. You can visit his website at www.glen-c-strathy.com. Visit him on Twitter and Facebook. Glen will be returning on December 12th for our interview. 🙂
If you would like to write a writing-related guest post for my blog then feel free to email me with an outline of what you would like to write about. If it’s writing-related then it’s highly likely I’d email back and say “yes please” (while quietly bouncing up and down in my seat with joy!).
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