Writing Middle-Grade Novels: Really Useful Links by Lucy O’Callaghan

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Lucy O'Callaghan

Lucy O’Callaghan

‘Middle-grade is often called the golden age of reading because the format has the largest readership of any other, including adults.’ (Jenny Bowman). There is a magic to middle-grade stories and the perspective of 8–12-year-olds. Think about the books you read yourself as a child and how they’ve stuck with you. A brilliant middle-grade book should capture a child’s imagination and inspire them to put themselves in the story. Wouldn’t it be wonderful to write stories that do that? I have put together some articles and podcasts that share great advice and guidance about writing middle-grade novels.

  1. https://nybookeditors.com/2019/11/how-to-write-a-middle-grade-novel/

Middle-grade readers are voracious readers who enjoy meeting the same characters over and over again. They want to understand the world and their place in it. Middle-grade novels can help readers tackle difficult themes such as compassion, sense of self, tenacity, and loss. As a writer, although you’ve been a child, it’s important not to let your adult knowledge cloud the purity of your tween perspective. Middle-grade readers are there for the action so don’t bore them with overly descriptive or painfully symbolic language. Keep it simple with simple sentence structures and always go for active verbs over passive ones. Your prose should be an effortless, frictionless read. This article warns the writer to be careful with mature themes. You can write about darker themes, but just remember that you must do it in a way that doesn’t damage the reader. It’s also important to bear in mind that middle graders are more literal than emotional. Where they might grabble with self-doubt and fitting in, they don’t have the emotional maturity to be introspective. Your character’s voice is important; they must sound like a tween. So, it’s necessary to know how today’s tweens think and communicate with each other so listen to them, check them out on vlogs on YouTube, and read current middle-grade novels.

  1. https://www.jennybowman.com/how-to-write-a-middle-grade-novel/

Jenny Bowman puts middle grade into two subcategories: Lower middle-grade: 8- 10 years. There may be a subplot but the main plot will be the focus and all themes will be G or PG rated. Upper Middle-grade: 10-13 years. There will be a subplot that helps to carry the story in a substantial way. Themes may be a bit more complex and PG or PG13 rated. Series can work well for the middle grades. Once readers are hooked on a character or world, they want more. But it’s important that if it is your first book, your MG novel needs to stand alone even if it could have series potential. Middle-grade novels can span several genres: contemporary fiction, magical elements, adventure, mystery, and historical fiction. This article also covers humour, romance, violence, and tone. It discusses using 1st person vs 3rd person point of view.

  1. https://writingtipsoasis.com/how-to-write-middle-grade-fiction/

Writing tips oasis shares a guide to writing middle-grade fiction. This guide is divided into 3 parts: defining the middle-grade genre, plotting, characterisation, and narrative, and illustrations and other extras. It shares three ways for you to try and capture the voice of your protagonist, and while your memories serve to put you in the child’s state of mind, you still need to spend time with the kids of today; their lives are totally different to what your generation was like. The backstory of your protagonist helps with the voice of your character so explore that. Ask your character questions. Your characters should not be perfect, even though they are children. And your narrative should be kept in the spirit of childhood, even if you’re showing themes that are difficult for a child to fully comprehend.

  1. https://www.writersandartists.co.uk/advice/writing-middle-grade

Middle grade is a great area for adventure stories, funny on quirky ideas, magical and fantastical characters with detailed world-building, but also thoughtful, quite complex, and deeply moving stories. This article discusses early middle-grade 7- 9 years and older middle-grade 9- 12 years.

  1. https://www.writersdigest.com/write-better-fiction/6-golden-rules-of-writing-middle-grade

Erin Entrada Kelly says ‘Kids don’t want to read about adults helping them solve their problems. Grownups aren’t that fun.’ Try to see things through their eyes not yours. Being 12 now is different from when you were 12. Don’t think about what life was like when you were 12. Think about what life felt like when you were 12. Use the emotional anguish of your 12-year-old self to inform you of today, but don’t forget to include the realities of today – social media, smartphones, the internet, etc.


  1. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/books-between-podcast/id1139651110?mt=2

Books Between is a podcast for educators, librarians, parents, and everyone who loves middle-grade books.  The episodes bring you inspiring conversations with the authors and educators who make that magic happen.

  1. https://podcasts.apple.com/us/podcast/publishers-weekly-pw-kidscast/id590063756?mt=2

There are lots of episodes here with interviews with children’s and YA authors conducted by Publishers Weekly’s children’s editor, Emma Kantor.

  1. https://www.blueridgeconference.com/podcast/writing-for-middle-grade/

Writing for middle grade requires more than writing skills. Linda Goldfarb and Taryn Souders share details and advice you need to hear.

I hope you have found this week’s column helpful and you are raring to go with writing your middle-grade novel. Next week we’ll look at writing for young adults. As always if there are any topics you would like me to cover then please get in touch.

(c) Lucy O’Callaghan

Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31.

Facebook: @LucyCOCallaghan

Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

About the author

Writing since she was a child, Lucy penned her first story with her father called Arthur’s Arm, at the ripe old age of eight. She has been writing ever since. Inspired by her father’s love of the written word and her mother’s encouragement through a constant supply of wonderful stationary, she wrote short stories for her young children, which they subsequently illustrated.
A self-confessed people watcher, stories that happen to real people have always fascinated her and this motivated her move to writing contemporary women’s fiction. Her writing has been described as pacy, human, moving and very real.
Lucy has been part of a local writing group for over ten years and has taken creative writing classes with Paul McVeigh, Jamie O’Connell and Curtis Brown Creative. She truly found her tribe when she joined Writer’s Ink in May 2020. Experienced in beta reading and critiquing, she is currently editing and polishing her debut novel.
Follow her on Instagram: lucy.ocallaghan.31. Facebook and Twitter: @LucyCOCallaghan

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