So until about three years ago, I’d never heard of the term “middle grade.” Young Adult fantasy had always been my favorite genre – or so I’d thought. Until I started researching agents and discovered a whole new freaking genre that I’d been reading all along and never knew it wasn’t YA.
To me, the lines dividing Young Adult and Middle Grade can be fuzzy, although most agents and publishers are pretty firm on distinguishing one from the other when you’re submitting a manuscript. Here’s a little of what I learned when looking to define the two categories. These are the points that matter the most to me in identifying whether a story is YA or MG – like I said, it’s not always clear to my strange little mind, but others might have entirely different opinions.
- Age of the characters. MG characters are around pre-teen age or even early teens, while YA characters are usually 16 or 17.
- Romantic elements. Although there can be romance in a MG story, it’s usually just lightly touched upon, while the main focus is on the action. YA books usually have some sort of romance, with the romantic element being a main theme for many YA stories.
- Story and plot. This is where it sometimes gets fuzzy for me, and I’d think I was reading a YA book when in fact it was MG. Younger readers are smarter than a lot of people give them credit for, and you might be surprised at some of the themes that MG books touch on. A few can get pretty dark, and most are quite complicated. What I think should be the line that divides the two categories is the way the themes are presented. Some particularly dark, violent, or disturbing themes should really be saved until the reader is older and better able to handle them.
Other writing elements, like voice and length, can also define a YA or MG book, but to me the above three are what I look at the most. And I really do have a point to all this rambling: recently I’ve had to look carefully at The Moongate to decide if it’s really the YA book I’ve always thought it was – or if it fits more into the MG category. (I’ll also include Cobalt, because I meant for that one to be MG from the very beginning.)
- Age. In The Moongate, the main character Nissa is 16, and most of the supporting characters are the same age or older. (In Cobalt, Kate’s almost 13. Her friends are a little older, 15 and 16. I purposefully wrote it that way so the story might appeal to older readers as well.)
- Romance. An editor told me the lack of romantic tension in The Moongate (as well as Nissa’s voice) confused their readers as to my intended target audience. She told me that as a rule there should be at least some hint of romantic tension in a YA story. Originally, there was some romantic tension between Nissa and Theryn, which I simplified to just plain tension. I have to respectfully disagree with her on that point, with at least some books. I’ve read plenty of obvious YA series that don’t have any romance until at least the second book, sometimes even the third. What this editor couldn’t know is that in The Moongate‘s sequel, romantic tension suddenly ambushes Nissa like nobody’s business and she’s like what the crud. (In Cobalt, there’s romance between the older characters and even kissing! *giggles*)
- Story. Plenty of action and suspense in The Moongate that could work in either genre, I guess, although I don’t feel some of the violence in the sequel is appropriate for the MG category. (Cobalt gets pretty dark and spooky, but that’s on purpose. Scary stories are fun!)
Because of the editor’s feedback, I’ve planned out a complete rewrite of the first half of The Moongate – I’m not talking your general revisions and junk, but a literal do over. I’m changing the whole story so it fits more into the YA mold, because I’m just digging in my heels where that’s concerned – even if it does seem that MG fantasy is my favorite genre. 🙂 I’m excited about the change, and my toughest critic (besides myself), Lia, also approves.
Here are a few of my favorite stories that are either strictly MG or, in my opinion, sit on that fuzzy line between the two genres:
What are your thoughts on how Middle Grade compares to Young Adult?
Any favorite Middle Grade books, or examples of some that could go either way?
Do you have any opinions on the rule of Young Adult always including some sort of romantic tension?
This time last year:
Cobalt Gets the Lia Treatment – Again – My 8yo was reading out loud over my shoulder, almost doubling up with laughter. “Did you write this?” he gasped. Lia became his new favorite author when I told him who really wrote the scene.
|Happy Steampunk Christmas!|