Sunday, March 13, 2016

Write MG right!

It's March, and at the mentor blog this means Middle Grade (MG) Month. And to build upon the lovely Jessica Vitalis' blog last week, I'm continuing a rough overview of MG.

I love to read YA and adult novels, oh and picture books too, and I love Enid Blyton ... so maybe I'm not ALL about MG, but I absolutely, hands down love it; I'd go as far as to say it's my favourite age group too. Probably because it was definitely during this time I think I became aware of my deep and passionate book love. When reading answered my questions; when library times at school weren't long enough; when having to put a book down to eat dinner was a trauma; when fighting sleep was essential just to get one last chapter in; when buying a new book with my pocket money competed with Christmas morning feels. And I think it's often during this time when children rely on books more than ever.  

There's an ocean of difference between YA, CB and MG. And I'm going to take a little bash at surfing those waves with two recommendations of, in my opinion of course, books that have hit that MG voice with one heck of a POW.


I'm absolutely sure you know, MG books appeal to a much much wider audience than simply 8-12 year olds, often including adults. Think Harry Potter. But this is where things start to get tricky. And we venture into two topics: Content and Voice. As an MG writer, you've a lot of responsibility to get these right. Don't lose your way; always remember your key audience: kids aged between 8 and 12. You get this wrong, or start trying to appeal to everyone, it just won't work. The innocence of MG books is what lures older readers in. There's little pressure, gentle complexity, and a naivety we all wish we still had.

Some book recommendations to read and study...

One of my ALL TIME favourite MG books is A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness. Genius. Classic. Perfect.
Now, I'm all about escapism when I write my own stories, which most kids of this age at some point need, but to complement this, mid-grade readers also want answers, or to understand the deeper elements of life. Well, there is no better book than this to show all aspiring (and accomplished) MG writers how it's done. I won't spoil the book, in case you want to read it – and you should right now – but it's basically the story of a young lad coming to terms with the pending death of his mum. Heartbreaking. But it's done so well, so subtly. It's not all about the boo-hoos. Good gracious no. The whole death side of things is touched upon and most importantly the details aren't exploited, and the tone is mature but still for the ears and mind of a child. We know Mum's ill, that's obvious, and we know she's suffering, but this is woven in so carefully, considerately, and every word so precious, that the young reader won't go away overwhelmed with what's involved with dying. Kids can only take in so much, remember. Truly, this book is perfect and an ideal MG example for writers to analyse.


Another perfect example of subtle, careful and respectful is There's a Boy in the Girls' Bathroom by Louis (Holes) Sachar. This is all about Bradley. And Bradley's behaviour pretty much lives up to what his peers – and teachers – have come to expect. But the narrative is so freaking clever that details of Bradley's behavioural concerns aren't delved into in ridiculous detail; language and information isn't loaded up and piled on the reader. We can see his struggles and we care, but the unnecessaries – only adults love to discuss – are spared. Kids still get the concept, the story, the character's journey, and they're introduced to the politics of school life and the influence parents can have on matters within school walls, but they aren't bogged down with technicalities. It's a superb book to study language, showing, and voice.  


And actually Holes is another book that's definitely worth a read.

If you want to know how the perfect MG can be achieved read these books, learn from them. Study them. The language, the style, the content. The voice. Find out what else is selling and work on understanding why and how. Read other MG books; as many as you can. Lap them up, absorb, scoff and munch (all technical writer words). And when you come to write your own MG story, enjoy yourself and, again, always remember who your key audience is. 

So respect these kids. They're smart, they're growing up, they're learning. So don't talk down to them, don't dictate, don't educate them, don't preach. You do that, and they won't listen. Don't try to speak what you think is 'kid' either, or what 'kid' was when you were that age; and don't treat them like babies. Respect them. This age is full of wonder. They're realising life isn't quite as rosy as they once thought; that grown-ups often get it wrong; that there's a whole lot of crazy stuff going on in the world that makes no sense to them. (It makes no sense to a lot of adults too, and it's perfectly OK for kids to know this.) But at the same time, you have to balance out treating them as mini adults with the fact that they are still kids, they do still need a hand to hold, and they're just not ready for all the graphic details. Yeah, it's not easy. You must tread with care.

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