The Art of Writing Middle Grade Fiction: 5 Tips to Write a Middle Grade Book
Are you interested in writing middle-grade fiction? The middle grade (MG) genre is a fast-growing category, with publishers and book editors eager to find new authors writing for children. But what makes middle grade stories different from children's books or young adult novels, anyway? And how do you write a middle-grade novel well?
Have no fear! We have the answers to help guide you on your journey to writing your best middle grade fiction that the not-quite-teens will happily devour.
What are the elements of middle grade fiction?
Middle grade, like young adult fiction, isn't just one genre, but rather exists across many genres, including fantasy, science fiction, adventure, and historical fiction. Generally speaking, middle grade fiction is meant for readers between the ages of 8 and 12. Middle grade is unique, however, in that it can be broken down into both lower middle grade (younger readers in this age group) and upper middle grade (readers closer to their teenage years, but not yet in high school). The protagonists of middle grade books tend to be between the ages of 9 and 13, as most readers like to read characters that are slightly older than they are.
What is the word count of a middle grade novel?
The average word count for a middle-grade book is 25,000-50,000 words. Lower middle grade can be as short as 15,000 words, while upper middle grade can be as long as 70,000 words. Middle-grade science fiction and fantasy stories can also be on the longer side, but as an author, you should keep in mind that these readers are still children and may be put off by very long books.
How do you write middle grade fiction well?
The first thing to remember is that even though you’re writing for a younger age group, your books still need to have all the main elements: character, setting, plot, conflict, and goals. All the normal writing rules apply, especially the most important one: keep your reader in mind as you write.
A middle grade reader is not going to be looking for the same things a teen or adult reader is looking for in a reading experience. That’s why we’ve compiled our best tips below to help you find your footing in middle grade writing!
5 tips for writing middle grade
Tip #1: Read books for young readers
If you're trying to write for kids, you need to know what popular middle grade authors are writing about! Read as many middle grade books as you can get your hands on. Books like the Percy Jackson and the Olympians series, Diary of a Wimpy Kid, and Goosebumps are all classics, but don’t stop there. Look at what’s on the bestseller lists. Focus on the genre you’re interested in, but read the other ones, too. We recommend asking a librarian or bookseller for their opinion on what’s currently flying off the shelf. Know any kids in the age range? Ask them, too!
As you read, pay attention to the details. How are the sentences structured? What is the dialogue like? How do authors get into the headspace of a younger generation?
Tip #2: Take care with real-world topics
If your protagonist is between the ages of 9-13, they’re in the stage of life where they are starting to develop their own identities, and seeing the world differently than when they were young children. However, while it's important not to dumb down difficult themes and ideas, you should take care with how you include real-world topics. Middle grade stories should steer clear of things like heavy violence and profanity. Romance is another element that is less common in books for middle graders. If you find yourself wanting to write a darker, grittier story for young people, you may be better off writing for the young adult age range.
Tip #3: Remember what you were like at that age
You may be years (or decades) older than the readers you're writing for, but one of the best ways to get into the minds of younger readers is to remember what life was like for you during that time. Ask yourself questions like: What did I care about most during those years? What was school like? Who were my friends? What was I most afraid of? What did I want my life to be like when I grew up?
It may be uncomfortable to look back on those awkward pre-teen years, but it will help you reconnect with the unique challenges we face during this time of life— and, this, in turn, will help you connect with your readers.
Tip #4: Don’t preach or teach
We’ve all read books where the author harps a little too hard on the universal lesson of the novel. No one enjoys that— especially not kids. Your readers don't want to be told on every page to "always be the bigger person," or "your parents and teachers are always right," for example. Adults are not perfect in real life and they shouldn’t be in books, either.
That doesn’t mean middle grade novels should be without life lessons. We want our young characters to grow on the page in a way that’s relatable to our readers. But make sure you’re using the story to show the reader that growth rather than beating them over the head with lessons at every turn.
Tip #5: Make sure the kids guide the story
In middle grade, as with any story, the central conflict belongs to your protagonist— which means exploring the plot through a kid's perspective. In the Percy Jackson series, Percy and his friends go on quests and undertake trials on their own, often with very little help or guidance from adults. There's a good reason for this! If Percy had an adult with him the entire time, leading the quest and telling him exactly what to do, how would he grow into the hero he's meant to be?
Don't fall into the trap of using adults to solve every problem for your middle grade characters. Your heroes should be the driving force of their stories— they make decisions, face the consequences, and grow as a result.
Ready to write a middle grade novel kids want to read?
Now that you have a good sense of what middle grade fiction is and tips to get started, you're ready to write books that middle graders will be eager to get their hands on! Want more help writing successful books? You can find more resources for writing fiction for all audiences inside the Writing Mastery Academy's Foundations of Fiction course.