Middle grade voice is considered one of the most difficult for a writer to get right. Maybe it’s because it’s been a fair amount of time for most of us since we were a middle grade reader ourselves. But short of time-traveling back to that period, there are things writers can do to make sure their middle grade voice is authentic.
Getting it Right
- Listen to how kids talk. Middle grade kids are just discovering the world, and they have lots to say about it.
Read a lot of middle grade.
- Use kids as gauges. “Have a kid read your manuscript out loud to you. Make note of the places they trip up, or make a weird face like they don’t get it. Write for kids. Not gatekeepers.” Shari Schwarz, author of Treasure at Lure Lake.
- Pay attention to how age affects worldview. Author Janet S. Johnson (The Last Great Adventure of the PB&J Society) says, “Middle grade voice is more open, while YA characters try to mask their feelings.”
- Make your characters complex. Bust stereotypes. Boys cry, girls are tough.
- Embrace humor. “MGers enjoy learning, yet can keep that part private. Silly is still a refreshing part of their building blocks.” Sheri Larsen, author of Motley Education.
Pitfalls to Watch For
- Talking down to the reader. Sometimes adult writers have a tendency to be “sermony.” They think, “It’d be GREAT to write an anti-bullying book!” or whatever, and then the book becomes all about that instead of the specific characters’ journey. Themes must be pinned to a character.
- A voice that is too mature. Even kids that have been through a lot still tend to be goofy and playful.
- Avoid flatness. The voice must have a stand-out characteristic that makes us want to keep reading. So, even if you’re writing a book about a shy girl who overcomes anxiety, her inner voice should have some sort of arresting quality.
Do you write middle grade? What are some suggestions you can offer writers just starting out?
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