The Challenges of Writing Middle-Grade Fiction

Guest Blog Post By Author Jaime Lee Mann

I am the author of Elora of Stone, the first book in the “Legend of Rhyme” series of middle-grade fantasy novels. While creating this series, I’m learning that the middle-grade audience is probably the toughest age range to write for. They devour books, which is great, but they like them to be written in a certain way. Below I outline a few of the challenges that I have faced.

Balancing Description

These readers need enough description for them to vividly imagine the scenes unfolding on the pages, but they can’t have too much description because it bores them. Too little, they aren’t drawn in, too much, they stop reading. I try to avoid the flowery descriptions that go on and on, and try to write crisp, clear imagery that shows what I’m seeing in my mind in as few words as possible.

Holding Attention

Middle-grade readers also need lots of action to keep them turning pages. I try to write short chapters, and to have something suspenseful happen at the end of each chapter. These children love suspense, and they love when characters do things that catch them off guard. I need to keep them on their toes!

Creating Relatable Characters

I purposely try to give the adults in my books a bit of a back seat – at least the normal human adults. That’s because middle-grade readers want to read about people their own age, so they can picture themselves in the action. For that reason, I try to write strong characters, especially strong female characters. It’s important to me that my characters teach good messages because the young readers of these books are like little sponges.

Influencing Lives

Children take comfort in books. They provide an escape from ordinary life. The most influential books I’ve ever read were those I read between the ages of nine and twelve. Books you read as a child have the power to shape the person you become. At this stage in life, what you read can literally have an impact on how you see the world. That’s a responsibility I don’t take lightly, so I fuss over every single word, maybe more than I need to.

Balancing The Pressure To Produce

One other big challenge of writing for this audience is that they want the next book NOW, before they even finish reading the first. I’ve actually had kids ask for the second book before they’ve started reading the first. I call this the Netflix Effect. My generation was forced to be patient. You had to wait a full week for a new episode of your favourite show. You had to set the VCR to record a program if you weren’t going to be home to catch it. You got a snack during the commercial breaks. You waited all week for the Top 40 on the radio so you could hear that new song your friends were talking about. You had to wait until the newspaper came out on Thursday to see what movies would be playing at the local theatre. And you had to wait however long it would take for your favourite author to put out a new book. Today’s kids will never know a time before PVR and YouTube. Everything is on demand. And so I am not sure how long readers will wait for a new instalment before they lose interest in the series. Maybe I’m paranoid, but that’s my sense of this demographic. And then if you’re forcing them to wait, you better be sure to make the next book worth it.

While this age might be a challenging group to write for, by the same token, it is insanely satisfying to please these readers. It’s a huge rush to hear back from these kids saying how much they loved the book. It makes the hard work completely worthwhile.

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