The middle-grade market presents a particularly wonderful opportunity for creativity in the fiction writer. Tweens are, as that colloquialism implies, between stages. Kids of 8-12 years are developmentally very different from younger children, yet just as different from teens.
They’re more sophisticated than tots but not as surly as teens. And they’re ready for anything, while they haven’t yet seen enough to be cynical. It’s a kind of emotional and intellectual twilight that I find very rewarding to write for.
I gave some thought to why this age group is so special to me, and offer a list of suggestions for other writers who aspire to write middle-grade novels or stories.
Use your imagination. Tweens crave new experiences, even imaginary ones. So take them someplace fabulous you’ve invented, or some fabulous time you’ve researched. And twist that plot! Under no circumstances should the story be ordinary or predictable.
Make it fast. There should be plenty of action. It needn’t be violence, but things need to happen.
It’s more than “show, don’t tell.” Of course, as in all lit, scenes should be described in such a way that the reader feels s/he’s there. I’m talking about physical activity. And the characters should be the agents, the ones causing things to happen or change. If the world simply changes around your characters and they just stand there and take it, your young reader will close your book and start playing a video game, where s/he can have the illusions that s/he’s actually doing something.
I’ve recently been re-reading Madeleine L’Engle’s A Wind in the Door. One thing that strikes me is the amount of time characters stand around talking about ideas. Do not try this at home! No publisher would stand for it, and no kid either. L’Engle’s book was published in 1973, long before kids had tablets, gaming devices, and smartphones growing out of their fingertips. It was a slower-moving (and generally better-educated) populace. And let’s be honest: Even L’Engle might not have gotten away with it if she didn’t already have a Newbery for A Wrinkle in Time.
Make it smart. The tween brain is an awesome machine. These kids absorb vocabulary, scientific concepts, and all types of minutiae at a rate they’ll never match later in life. They’re hungry to know stuff. Give them unusual details. Give them new words. There’s little they can’t handle if it’s presented right.
Make it funny. All good teachers know that one of the ways to make new information go down more easily is to slip it in during laughter. Tween audiences can handle a fun combination of silly and clever, pratfalls and puns, wedgies and witticisms. So make that dialog snappy and make those situations wacky. And maybe a little bit gross.
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My own tween lit:
You can purchase my tween paranormal mystery, Ebenezer’s Locker, directly from the publisher or on Amazon or BN.
You can purchase my tween medieval mystery, Trouble at the Scriptorium, directly from the publisher.