Monday, January 30, 2012

The Red-Headed Step-Child

Being in the middle never feels like much fun.

There's monkey-in-the-middle, being sandwiched between other sweaty football players during a tackle, or standing dead center among other crazed fans at a rock concert. Can you see the red-headed step-child cringing?

We begin school at the elementary level, where everything is new and exciting. The end of our educational journey consists of high school and post-secondary colleges, at a time we're maturing, planning, and dreaming of what to do with our lives.

But what about the middle - MIDDLE GRADE?

What is it about being 12 to 14 that makes life so different? That is a question middle grade writers must ask themselves whenever beginning a story. So let's explore and give us something to chew on.

Middle grade is:

  • where we have one foot in childhood and one the first step to adulthood.
  • where we're beginning to discover who we are and who we'd like to be.
  • where most begin to mature physically, causing awkwardness in body movements.
  • where attitudes develop, wanting more independence yet still needing to be cared for.
  • where we begin to see we have a place in the world and spend lots of time watching how others fit into their world.
  • where peer pressure, popularity, and structured clicks usually begin. 
  • where realizing there's more in the world then just 'me' is just annoying.
  • where the line between male and female becomes more pronounced.
  • where the world begins to get bigger.
  • where everything is a big deal.
  • where drama begins.
Now, use these prompts to inspire ideas to add to your middle grade manuscript. Not a MG writer? Take a stab at it anyway. 

How could you use these to develop your young adult or adult characters? Can you add to my list? 

To check out more topics about MG literature, click on Shannon Whitney Messenger's badge for more links!!


  1. Middle school is such a critical time in thier development. My son had just started middle school and its been interesting. I have a fantastic idea for a middle grade. Hopefully, I can develop it more fully.

  2. Never in my whole life have I been more uncomfortable in my own skin than in middle school. It was like being spit out of childhood, completely raw, and having to grow a set of armor. I don't write MG, and it might be because I'd prefer not to relive those years! But for folks who are writing MG, capturing the lingering magic and wonder of childhood while twisting it up with the social complexity of adolescence is definitely an important task. Great post!

  3. Those are all true of middle grade. I'd add that it's a time to get more work (homework) and learn that studying is really important, and for juggling a more busy life for some kids who do sports.

  4. You got the drama part right. At that age, most kids are well on their way to being an emotional basket case for a few years.

  5. I have a middle grader, but I'm not interested in writer for his age group. I'm just trying to survive it. The first book I wrote was MG, but then I realized it was supposed to be YA. I started reading more YA (and less MG) and fell in love with writing for that age group.

    I love this list!

    1. Haha...just trying to survive it. I hear you there, Stina!

  6. All great points. It was definitely one of the most awkward stages of youth!

  7. ugh, Sheri. This list reads just like my NINE year old... *ugh!* not looking forward to MS years... But this is also a great list for folks writing MG novels. I think a lot of this continues all the way to 11th grade, too? Yes? When I taught 10th grade, a lot of these things were still happening--with the possible exception of the awkwardness. Good stuff~ :o) <3

  8. Great list! MG is a lot of fun to write.

  9. LOVE this, Sheri! The middle grade years are a blending of wonderful and horrible, active and awkward, shyness and longing for attention... Great list and great post! :-)

  10. Great list! For middle grade writers this is golden.

  11. Middle grade is a magical place, for all those reasons!

  12. Ah the middle, such a tough spot to be and an even tougher spot to write about! Great list, thank you.

  13. I'm adding: Where you begin to suspect that the real nemesis to your life's happiness might be the very ones who brought you into this world.

  14. These are all really wonderful points that can and should be absorbed by MG writers because this can help ensure main characters are developed in ways an MG can totally relate to. If the main character comes across as too adult or too childish, readers won't be able to connect, and that connection is what all writers want to form.

  15. As a redhead who believed (wrongly) that she was a stepchild in Middle School, I agree with your list 100%. As a writer who’s recently tried writing MG, I thank you profusely for your list. As an adult, what I remember most about that era are the horribly painful, confusing feelings, the bad hair, questionable skin and an overabundance of gawk.

  16. That's a very helpful list, Sheri. I hated middle school (actually, I'm old enough that we called it Junior High!). And yet I'm writing MG. But I think I write for the traditional MG age: 8 to 12, not necessarily the "new" MG age, which seems to be 10 to 14.

    Linda Sue Park, at an SCBWI conference in July 2010, said a very wise thing about the difference between MG and YA. She said: Middle Grade readers are reading to find out about the world - the world outside their circle of familiarity. Young Adult readers are reading to find out about themselves.

  17. Wow. GREAT list and something (some things) for me to keep in mind when doing my edits!

  18. I think you've got most of it.
    I think there were two basic categories during those years. The cool kids and the ones the cool kids picked on to make themselves feel even cooler.

  19. I taught middle school and have the utmost respect for these kids. It's a tough age. I'm hoping my middle grade trilogy will get picked up soon. *crossing fingers*

  20. Thanks for the great list! It is a challenging time of life, for sure, but also an exciting one, since kids have a little more independence and can start to do things that are more adult-like.

  21. Middle school was awful! ... But middle grade is still my hands-down favorite genre. Weird, huh? I think I'm scared to write it, though. Your list of thoughts really give me something to chew on ... and make me think of my own almost-middle-grader.

  22. This is a very useful list..bookmarking it!

    Stopping by also to welcome you on board the A to Z Challenge April 2012
    We shall have loads of fun exchanging comments and visits!

    Twitter: @AprilA2Z


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