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Writing Middle Grade Novels

Updated on September 28, 2017
Linda BookLady profile image

I'm the author of "River Girl" - a middle grade historical novel set in the Klamath River Valley, where I once lived.

The Story Book
The Story Book | Source

Would you like to write a middle grade novel?

Middle grade novels appeal to children ages 8 to 12. If you want to write for this age group, the best way to get started is to read recently published books similar to the one you want to write. In this way you gain an instinctive sense for the type of writing that is publishable.

You can find plenty of novels for the 8 to 12 age group in your public library. Ask the librarian for recommendations, or check out the list of Newbery Medal winners to know what other librarians thought were the best. Many of the novels on that list are for older children (young adult novels) so do some research to make sure the novel you want to read is for middle graders.

Years ago I developed a habit of reading novels from the Newbery Medal list to my two young children. I learned to love this genre, and wanted to write similar books of my own. I finished the first draft of my first middle grade novel in 2001, and I've written several others since then.

Start writing your novel and don't quit

...you can do it!!!

The most important thing to remember when writing a novel is that you cannot quit. Even if you think the story is bad, don't quit. Even if you decide you're only a scribbler of worthless ideas, don't quit. Almost every author goes through a period of hating their novel while they're writing it.

Perseverance is the hardest part of creating a worthwhile story. Once you quit, you fail. And if you don't quit, you can always keep adding to and editing your novel, until it is something you can be proud of.

You should expect to write something new on your novel every day. If you skip a few days, don't despair - just pick up where you left off. If you're new to writing, you can try for 500 new words daily. If you're ambitious, 1500 words daily would be a great goal.

Whatever word count you choose, remember that the key word here is "daily". Do you realize that if you write just 500 words daily for two months and ten days, you'll have a viable 35,000-word middle grade novel manuscript? Then you'll have something in hand to edit and polish up, and be on your way to novel writing success.

A writing poll

What age group do you most frequently write for?

See results

Basic building blocks of a novel

...just stack them up!

Your manuscript will contain elements that are building blocks for the novel.

Some of these building blocks are:

Words

Sentences

Paragraphs

Scenes

Chapters

When you set your goal to add a few building blocks each day, it is much easier than telling yourself you're about to write an entire novel.

When I wrote my first middle grade novel I made it my goal to write 2500 words daily - which would be the approximate length of each chapter. I decided that each time I sat down to write I'd have a list of five scenes to write. My scenes lasted for about 500 words apiece, more or less each time. And in that way I wrote the entire novel in only 17 days. (The first draft was about 50,000 words.)

Set your goals. They don't have to be as ambitious as mine were. But know what you're planning to do, and where you're headed. Then get started, and give yourself the time to get where you want to go. Stack up your blocks, one at a time, and soon you'll have a manuscript to be proud of.

Francoise in a Round-Backed Chair, Reading
Francoise in a Round-Backed Chair, Reading | Source

To plot or not to plot

...that is the question.

Novelists are all different. Some make elaborate written plotting notes before starting the actual writing. Others resist plotting, preferring to write organically, letting the story progress as they do the writing itself.

I've written novels both ways. I like and appreciate both approaches. So don't expect me to say that you have to have a plot, or that having one is limiting and bad. It really depends on what you want to do.

There are many different ways to write out a plot. My favorite way is to decide what the main character's journey is. The MC (main character) starts as one kind of person, then learns, grows, matures, and changes. When I figure out what the character will be like at the end of the novel, I can then decide what the different chapters will be.

I write a simple list of chapters - about 15 to 25 chapters depending on the complexity of the novel. For each chapter I write a brief summary of what I want to have happen, what scenes will take place, where, and with which characters. Then as I write the novel I have this list of ideas to draw on as I write chapter after chapter, easily and without too much guesswork.

Organic writing can be fun too. Try it sometime - you might like it! To do it, just decide who your MC is, put that person in a situation, and start writing. Let your imagination be your guide as you travel with your MC through whatever happens next. It is not difficult, and you may end up with incredibly fun and exciting manuscripts. I love the stories I wrote that way.

So to plot or not to plot - that is your decision, and whichever way you choose to write your novel, you're doing it the right way for you.

Creating a main character for your novel

...who is this strange person? ...why will children like him - or her?

The most important person in your novel is the main character (MC). When you're writing a middle grade novel, your MC should be a child.

Some writers believe that children prefer to read about MC's that are slightly older than they are. So since middle grade novels are for children ages 8 to 12, you can't go wrong with having a twelve-year-old protagonist. However if that age doesn't fit your novel idea, just go with whatever you feel is right. Children will want to know how old your MC is, and it would be good to find some creative way to tell them.

Give some thought to your MC's personality before starting your novel. Write it all down, so you don't forget the details while you're writing your novel. It is very helpful to have a character development sheet to refer to while you're writing. In one novel I wrote there were four children, and I constantly referred to my character development notes to remember things like which child was raising rabbits, which one had dark curly hair and which one was blond, what their cats were named, etc.

Give your child protagonist at least three strong positive characteristics, and one negative one. For example your child could be capable, charming, and talkative... and afraid of the dark. Characters with flaws are much more fun to read about than perfect characters. Children want fictional friends they can identify with and care about.

Interview your character. Ask your character what he (or she) wants the world to know about him. Let the answers bubble up from your subconscious and write it all down. Then ask what he wants you to hide, and why. Ask as many questions as possible, and get to know this person's personality well, as you'll be living with him for months to come.

Good advice from a young editor

Conflict in novels written for children

...every novel needs conflict.

A novel without conflict is boring. Every novel needs characters that disagree with one another, major problems that the characters need to solve, and near the end, a huge crisis.

Since your protagonist is a child, and your readers are children, your novel's climax and other lesser problems should be resolved by the child who is the main character, not by parents or teachers. Children want to read about other children that had problems and came up with great solutions for them.

So as you write, you're supposed to be thinking, "what can I do to make it worse for my characters?" Yes, that's not very nice, but who said novelists had to be nice - while writing, at least. Our job is to make our characters suffer, but to give them plenty of room to find solutions and redeem themselves.

Portrait of Jean and Genevieve Caillebotte (1895)
Portrait of Jean and Genevieve Caillebotte (1895) | Source

Parts of a novel

...make sure your novel is complete.

A novel has these basic components:

  • Prologue - This is optional. Most novels don't have them but you might decide after writing your novel that it would help to add one. Don't worry about it for now.
  • Beginning - The first page is the most important. This is where you will hook your potential reader, or lose him, so you need an exciting and intriguing start that will make people want to read the rest of your novel.
  • Middle - This is the main section of the novel, consisting of many chapters. You will move the MC from the beginning, through whatever character changes he experiences, to the end where he will be a new and better kind of person.
  • Sub-Plots - Novels are more complex when they add extra plots to distract the MC along the way. These take place in the middle of the novel. Leave the beginning and end for the main plot.
  • Climax - A few chapters from the end you should start building toward your main crisis. This should be the most exciting part of the novel, and it usually happens in the penultimate chapter.
  • Denouement - This is the last chapter. The crisis is over. The character has changed. Now you just have to wrap up loose ends and send your MC and other characters on to their new and better life.
  • Epilogue - I rarely see these in middle grade novels, but that doesn't mean you can't throw one in if it feels like the right thing to do.

A panel of middle grade novel authors at Comic Con

© 2007 Linda Jo Martin

working

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