Writing by Reading: Insights About Writing Middle Grade Books [CC]

I know yet another brand new series I’m
just starting them and seeing what works and what I actually want to continue on
with but this series is called writing by reading I’m a big believer that as
writers you should be reading a lot in your age category in your genres reading
in general in order to help your craft I think it does make a big difference in
your writing quality and so this series is all about me exploring some titles
I’ve read recently and talking about the insights I got from them in regards to
writing craft and this week I’m talking about middle grade books because
surprise I’ve been working on adapting one of my young adult projects into a
middle-grade I’m not sure if this will stick but I do feel like it’s a better
fit in that age category than it was in young adult and I’m gonna have a writing
vlog come out next week where I’ll show you all about that process and talk
about the experience but because of that and because I hadn’t written middle
grade before I decided to read a bunch of those books to help me get a better
idea of the style and the age category I’ve read some middle grade in the past
but not very much so that’s what this was all about and I read I read a bunch
of middle grade books but I’m only gonna talk about three in this video and some
of the craft insights I got from reading them the first book I’m going to talk
about is Furthermore by Tahereh Mafi so this is a book all about a girl and she
lives in this fantasy land where everybody has all of this bright color
and everybody has a gift and she does not have a lot of color she’s very pale
and gray and she feels left out she feels like her family doesn’t really
like her because of it and her dad has been missing for a while and she ends up
getting this opportunity to go and find him along with a boy and they travel to
Furthermore hence the title of the book what I learned about writing from this
book honestly I found this book was really amazing and it really showed me
that you could use more complicated language with middle
grade books I think sometimes there’s this kind of mismatch in which it seems
like maybe you can’t use a lot of big words in middle grade the way you can
in YA or at least that was kind of my feeling going into it and she really
showed that you absolutely can and I’m sure a lot of twelve thirteen year olds
can also handle the language when I was younger I remember if I didn’t know a
word I would skip over it I would guess it from context or I would
look it up and that was part of my reading experience especially
considering that a lot of kids read up and they’re reading up for a reason and
so I think they’re more prepared for that than I thought and her story the
way she had laid out all these lush descriptions and really detailed prose
it was really fun to read also but essentially what I learned about writing
from that is you don’t have to kind of pull punches in that way you can use
more complicated language as long as the tone still feels middle grade and it’s
hard to accurately convey that and explain what that means but it’s the
sort of thing that’s quite like writing voice like when voice is good you just
feel it even though you can’t necessarily describe what makes that
voice good and that’s how I felt in this the language was a little bit more
complicated in some areas but the whole vibe of it the voice still felt very
middle grade and age appropriate there was a definite difference between a
young adult voice and the middle grade voice and that was the first kind of
thing I learned from that. speaking of voice I also felt like the voice that
was so fun and playful and middle grade it showed that there is something a bit
more in the voice. I find that in young adult there’s a lot of things that you
can kind of say more plainly even though you still have a voice that you can feel
that’s the voice of the character whereas in this the language was really
it felt a lot more fun a lot more childlike without being like little kid
style if you can say, but it had a childlike
voice that was a bit more fun and you could tell was playing with the language
and the voice and what everyone was talking about in a bit more of a fun
interactive way than I would say in young adult where you can kind of speak
more plainly and still get that entertainment value for the viewer
something else I learned from that parents not necessary so just like in
young adult middle grade can also ignore parents but parents still played a big
role like it was still part of the characters arc to have parents involved
but when they actually went on their journey it’s not like their parents or
an adult with always around there are parts of the journey that they did alone
I think when you think of going from young adult to middle grade there may be
this idea that the child needs some sort of constant supervising presence when
actually from reading this book I really felt that they didn’t there were a lot
of points in which adults interjected to help the kids but they weren’t there all
the time and going along that trajectory it’s interesting because I find that in
young adult or adult books the character has to be really active in achieving
their goals and achieving their endings if people help them too much it feels
like you kind of copped out where in this story I think because they’re a
middle grade and it’s that sort of age they still went and they did a lot of
things to achieve their ending they were active in that way but they did have an
adult help them at the end to come together to achieve their full goal
which I pondered about but I think because of the age group it still felt
like it was appropriate it didn’t feel too out of left field so that was all
the writing insights that I got from Furthermore. The next book I’m gonna talk about
is Amal Unbound by Aisha Saeed so this is a book about a girl living in
Pakistan her family isn’t particularly well-off and one day she goes to market
and she angers a sort of more powerful man and in order and her family
owes him quite a bit of money and because she angered him he demands that
they send her to his place to live as an indentured servant slash slave and so
she’s going through that whole process of being taken away from her family and
having to go live at this man’s house to try and pay off a debt that she likely
will never be able to pay off and what I learned about writing from this is
really middle grade can tackle the tough topics and I knew that kind of already
from reading A Monster Calls by Patrick Ness which I adore and I highly
recommend and that’s about a kid who is struggling with his mom’s cancer and the
fact that she has cancer and that she is really sick and so I knew that middle
grade could tackle tougher topics and this kind of reinforced that that was
something I really got from that and also that it showed that it could do a
theme in which kids could kind of learn something, it’s really about or at least
one of the things that you can learn from the story is that kids can be
active in making things better in making a difference in their communities and
making a difference where they live even though they’re young and that was a sort
of thing where it was a theme that was brought up but it didn’t feel like a
heavy handed lesson and that’s what I had kind of worried about with middle
grade is like would I have to give out this lesson like it was at the end of a
folktale where I had to say and that’s how you learned not to lie but this book
really showed that you could have a theme and a positive message for kids in
the story that didn’t feel like a heavy handed lesson but an adult was teaching
you this one was also interesting to read especially coming off of
Furthermore because it was a very different tone it wasn’t like this like
super light happy tone that Furthermore had Furthermore is also a fantasy an
Amal Unbound is a contemporary and so there were very different tones but it
still worked even though it didn’t have that happy fun tone to it it still felt
age-appropriate and enjoyable and it pushed you forward in the story even
though it didn’t have that same value to it which is kind of nice because it
feels like you don’t have to have this super fun happy middle grade you can
have a middle grade that’s still uplifting and positive without
necessarily having to have a tone that comes in and makes little jokes all the
time that’s really a different type of story which was also nice because if you
are seeking to do a middle grade that has a different tone that’s tackling
more serious topics you don’t have to feel like you need to shoehorn in all
these little jokes to fit into the age category you can still bring that
entertainment value to readers without necessarily having that tone which I
liked so that was cool the next book I’m going to talk about is
The Jumbies by Tracey Baptiste so this is a story about a girl who lives on an
island I’m not sure whether they specify which, where in the Caribbean it is but
it is a Caribbean inspired fantasy or Caribbean fantasy just sort of straight
off but it incorporates Haitian folklore and Trinidadian, Trinidad and Tobago
folklore together but it’s about a girl and her mom has died a while ago and she
lives with her father and then there is a Jumbie that shows up which is like
basically a catch-all term for like ghosts or spirits or monsters in
Caribbean folklore and she essentially has to try and save the island with her
friends and save her father from the wrath of the Jumbie and yes that’s that’s
pretty much it summary wise something I definitely noticed about the writing of
this book in opposition to the other books is that there was a really stark
difference between the way children of the same age were being portrayed so in
all of the books I think the kids are roughly 12 or 13 they’re all kind of
upper-middle grade but I found that in the Jumbies they read as a lot younger
so that really showed me there’s a broad kind of spectrum in the way the voice
and the children are portrayed depending on their age I personally like to skew
it I don’t really like when it feels a lot younger but I understand how some
middle grade books end up with a younger voice because as I mentioned before kids
read up so it’s you’re setting your main character as 12 years old but you may
find that it’s actually a lot of like 8 or 10 year olds that are actually
reading this story so I understand how some, how it can have that broader range
in which kids are feeling a bit younger than the age that they are put in this
book and in the story in The Jumbies that also brought in that plot theme
that I remember from back in the day when I was reading middle grade books
when I was actually middle grade aged in that whole plot idea of kids fighting to
save their parents or save adults which I kind of forgotten about but when I
think of things like Harry Potter like in the first few books or even kind of a
series of unfortunate events in a way there is this sort of plight in which
kids are taking on the responsibility to help adults and maybe the whole point of
that theme is just kids taking on more responsibility and that idea of changing
into an age in which you have more responsibility and so that was something
interesting that I noticed as I read I also noticed a much different vibe in
pacing with this one Furthermore was quite a bit longer than
The Jumbies even though they were both fantasy and so because of that I found
that The Jumbies was a lot faster paced it had more chapters that were shorter
so that you were kind of turning over that faster and
it was a shorter book and so the pacing was a lot faster in that way I’m kind of
getting mixed feelings about how long a middle-grade should or shouldn’t be or
what works but that was just something I noticed in this one that you had that
contrast of a fantasy that was longer and a bit more drawn out versus this
fantasy that was a lot faster paced and shorter which was interesting to note as
well something else that came up was that whole character conflict of
friendships coming together and breaking apart and when I was a kid I remember
that being a big part of my childhood as a middle grade aged child was having all
of these friendships where we’d like break up with one friend and then we’d
get together and then we break up with this friend and then we’d get back
together and break up with this friend and then we’d go back together and how
consuming a part of that experience was and so reading this reminded me of that
as part of a middle great experience what I found in reading the Jumbies in
particular was getting reminded of those sorts of themes and conflicts that come
up in middle grade that I remember from when I was younger those themes of
friendship get-togethers and breakups and taking care of adults gaining that
extra responsibility and so reading the Jumbies was good and reminding myself of
those different themes in middle grade that were available to play with as I
wrote my own now I’m just gonna talk about some general observations writing
craft wise that I noticed in reading middle grade overall these past sort of
like eight books that I’ve read in the in the last couple months and one
big thing that stood out to me was the tenses there’s a lot more third person
past tense and I do remember reading a lot more third person past tense when I
was a kid too but if I think about like Harry Potter third person past tense
series of unfortunate events was third person past the Jumbies was third
in past Furthermore was third-person past I read a bunch of The School for
Good and Evil books those are all third-person past, Amal Unbound was
the only one that I had read it was first person that was also past and so I
started to notice this theme of a lot of third-person past tense books whereas I
think in young adult it’s a little bit more mixed up and in young adult I find
that I noticed a lot more first-person stories which is usually how I write my
stories and so that was something too for me to really keep in mind as I wrote
as to whether third-person past was gonna actually be more appropriate
considering the age category so that was an observation ,something else was also
the length but lengths felt all over the damn place that’s what I can say
about middle grade I was reading a lot of these I read on audiobook and there
were some of them that were five to six hours and I was like okay that feels
like middle grade and then there were others that were like 10 to 12 hours and
I was like okay what is happening all the 10 to 12 hour ones were fantasy
which is something to note but it really didn’t help me lay out and figure out
what should be the size of fantasy of middle grade fantasy some people say you
can go into like seventy thousand and it’s normalized because of Harry Potter
I had recently gone on an agent website when I was looking up, I’m not looking
for a new agent, I was on the agent website because I was looking up middle grade
word counts and then one of them said 50,000 words was the absolute maximum
and so it’s all over the damn place and reading these books did not help me pin
down how big a middle grade book should be so that was unhelpful in that way and
the second sort of the last sort of general observation was really the range
in how voice was in which case sometimes the voice was really fun and like happy
and that playful and that was really the tone of it sometimes the voice was a
little bit more it could speak plainly about things
the way I’m more used to in young adult sometimes the voice seemed like it was
okay this is spot on in my mind what I think a 12 year old sounds like and
sometimes it was like this is a lot younger than I think a 12 year old
sounds like though none of them felt much older than they were supposed to be
which was something definitely interesting to note and so that range in
voices really helped me decide what kind of voice I would like and what I would
like to keep – for me the fun playful voice that feels smack on like this is a
12 year old is really what I liked and what I would be aiming for and that’s
what was so helpful about going through these books and reading them and looking
over them is that I really got a sense for what I would like also I just
realized I lied I did read one where they felt a lot older than 12 but it was
a really strange book and it was an uh it was just like there were too many
different factors like there’s factors of things like when you’re a
best-selling author and the rules that you’re allowed to break with age
categories etc in that case so that was unhelpful and that’s really it for this
section of writing by reading please comment below if you like this series if
you were interested in this if this was helpful and also if you have any
comments about what you’ve noticed in middle grade books that have helped you
with writing have you ever considered writing a middle grade book comment with
that as well and if you like this video please give it a thumbs up and if you
haven’t subscribed to my channel already please subscribe below and thank you so
much for watching and look for next week to my writing vlog in which I’ll be
talking all about doing middle grade and thanks for watching bye

4 thoughts on “Writing by Reading: Insights About Writing Middle Grade Books [CC]”

  1. I have a middle grade premise I’ve been marinating for years so I’m loving this content since I don’t know the first thing

  2. I"m going to pick up Furthermore, I liked the sound of it! My personal favourite MG books are the Gregor the Overlander series from Suzanne Collins and the Fablehaven series from Brandon Mull.
    Also, you might want to take a look at some of the Rick Riordan Presents Imprint series, they're MG fantasy books that centre around folkloric myths from different cultures. http://rickriordan.com/rick-riordan-presents/

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