First I should make it known that I write for all age groups, from picture book to adult fiction to non-fiction. What I love most about writing middle grade that it’s fun. Middle graders are at the exact point in life where things can be done solo or with friends, and just before the drama of real life, usually, sets in. Not to say that middle graders don’t have drama, but it’s far less than the trials of boyfriends and girlfriends, jobs, and colleges. Readers are not yet teenagers. They are discovering friendship, themselves, and the world around them in more depth than ever before.
Another reason why I love writing middle grade is because unlike picture books (who doesn’t love trying to tell an entire story in 300 words?!), and young adult (sooooo many words); middle grade is probably the most perfect word count…ever.
When I think about my favorite middle grade book, I always jump to The Truth about Twinkie Pie by Kat Yeh. To be honest, anytime someone asks about a favorite book, even if they want an adult book, it’s my go to recommendation. Ms. Yeh’s writing is captivating and funny with a wit of sass. My second favorite author of middle grade is Donna Gephart. Her books (Lily & Dunkin, How to Survive Middle School, As if Being 12 ¾ Isn’t Bad Enough, My Mother is Running for President, to name a few) are perfectly funny with a bit of sophistication for the sub plot.
When I write middle grade it starts with an idea or title. It pops into my mind and I immediately start to sketch out the story. My writing style with middle grade is witty with deep underlining tones pulling each chapter together. I love, LOVE to create ending hooks, making the reader want to not set the book down at the end of a chapter. I also love sarcasm at the middle grade level, and it’s probably the easiest age to pull it off without being too over the top.
Another reason why I enjoy writing middle grade is because the readers at this level are excited to read. They are past the chapter book level where they might still need some word assistance and the stories are shorter. And they have yet to reach the thick books of young adult. Middle grade is the level where they can feel superiorly independent and dive into a great book. Also, the level of homework they have makes it perfect, as they still have free time before the heavy handed high school work load kicks in.
However, past all the delicious candy covered reasons why I love writing middle grade, there is a deep dark swamp of why it can be a challenge. First, you are limited by how far a character can explore certain aspects of life. It’s a trick to put just enough emotion and knowledge into the character. Middle grade is a tightrope walk of balancing the awkward stages between elementary school age and high school. If you think about your schooling, at least with mine, middle grade was by far the hardest time to make friends and fit in. This makes writing a story a great training experience for the mind. Outlining is nearly a must, even if it’s not your usual process. Much like the challenge in selling your picture books to agents and publishers, middle grade is just as challenging because the character can be easily deemed too wise or too young from the reader’s point of view. For example, some middle graders are getting into relationships while others are focused on sports or other academics. Yet, as a writer, you need to be able to balance what is going to be accepted by the community as an author and what will shelf your manuscript for good.
Writing for middle grade can be rewarding, exciting, and emotional. This is why I write middle grade.
Savannah Hendricks is the author of Nonnie and I (Xist Pub., 2014) available in English and bilingual editions. She is also the co-author of Child Genius 101: The Ultimate Guide to Early Childhood Development Vol 1, 2 & 3 (Knowonder Pub., 2013). Savannah has over 25 pieces published in magazines and anthologies such as Dear Nana, Highlights High Five, and Front Vision. She has been a member of the SCBWI since 2006, has a Master’s in Criminal Justice, and a degree in Early Childhood Education. You can learn more by visiting her blog at http://theseashellsoflife.wordpress.com/