Friday, May 27, 2011

Writing Middle Grade vs. Other Genres

I'd like to welcome back MG Author Kari Lee Townsend, who's been gracious enough to share with us her thoughts on writing middle grade as opposed to another genre.

What it’s like to write Middle Grade books versus Cozy Mysteries
Thanks so much for having me, Sheri. It’s great to be here. A big hello to all you folks in bloggerville J I’m here today to talk to you all about what it’s like to write middle grade books opposed to cozy mysteries.

For any of you who don’t already know, I am an author of two very different series. I write the Samantha Granger Experiment books about a teenage girl who touches a meteor and then takes on the powers of her cell phone, becoming a techno superhero called Digital Diva as she tries to find a way to reverse her “uniqueness.” I also write the Fortune Teller Cozy Mystery books about a fortune-teller in a small upstate NY town who uses her psychic gifts to work with the local detective to solve murder mysteries.

Both of my series are “tame” and appropriate for all ages and have fun, quirky characters, but the structures are different. When I’m in adult mystery land, the pace is slower and the focus is on solving the mystery. The books usually take place in a small town with a lot of fun colorful characters and an amateur sleuth playing detective. While with middle grade, the pace has to be much faster, filled with lots of action and adventure.

I am an at home mom of four children (3 boys and 1 diva). Their ages range from 8-16 which has really been a huge help to me writing wise. The biggest challenge for me has been in keeping the language authentic. My adult books have to sound like adult books, which let’s face it, is a lot easier for me since I am an adult J Where the middle grade books can be tricky. You have to be careful not to talk down to kids. They are a lot smarter than most people give them credit for. At the same time, you don’t want your characters sounding like an adult trying too hard to sound like a kid by using slang that will be outdated in a nano-second anyway.

Some of the best things I did to really get a feel for how kids talk and act is to watch Disney and Nickelodeon movies and TV series. Really listen to not only what the kids say, but how they say it. Many times I will read something in a MG book and think the piece of dialogue is a perfectly acceptable and correct piece of dialogue, but not at all something a kid of MG age would say. When in doubt, I ask my kids.

Really put yourself in the mindset of a 10-13 year old and carefully look at each sentence you write. Remember, it’s not just the dialogue we’re talking about. If you are in a kid’s point of view, then even the introspection, descriptions, analogies, etc. would all be from his or her pov. They wouldn’t describe the scene the same way an adult would. Save that for when an adult character is speaking in the book.

Lastly, don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s easy to slip up and think and talk and describe things like an adult because that’s what we are. Just make sure when you edit you look closely for those things. Ask yourself honestly, “Does this really sound like something a kid would say or do or think?” And then get a great critique partner to help you spot when something doesn’t sound quite right. Also, choose some kids from your target audience who read a lot and have them read it for you as beta readers.

Trust me, kids are totally honest and have no trouble pointing out your lamo parts that no kid would ever say or do...or at least mine don’t J

Good luck to you all. Happy reading and writing. To find out more about me and all my books, go to my website.

Thanks, Kari, for sharing your wisdom with us. And to top it off, she's offering up a First Five Page Critique of any MG or YA manuscript to one lucky Alleywalker!!

TO ENTER: simply leave Kari a comment below of why you enjoy writing either MG, YA, or both. Don't forget to leave your email addy. A winner will be chosen by and announced June 7th. There's plenty of time to enter, so tell all your friends. No extras necessary, but if you share via social media, just let me know in your comment with the link and I'll give a +1 for each, +5 for a blog post, +3 for sidebar. And yes, for this one you must be a follower. 

Thank you!! Have a safe and enjoyable Memorial Day Weekend! See you on Tuesday for PART 3 of the process of REwriting as I report on Progress.


  1. Great post Kari. I agree with you that middle grade has to be written at a fast past. That's one of the things I love about middle grade. And middle graders are pretty smart and you're right, you have to get the dialogue right and not make them sound like little kids. Because that's not how they talk.

    Your books sounds great. Good luck.

  2. What a great post! I write both YA and adult, and I recently had to do revisions on the YA while I was in the middle of finishing an adult romance. My agent sent notes back on the YA revision saying, "You didn't do this before, but this inner monologue sounds really adult." And I thought, "uh oh." It's harder to switch back and forth than you'd think!

  3. Great post! I love YA because teens are at a threshold in their lives. A point where they're about to discover new things. I like going along for the ride as my YA characters do. :-)

  4. I've thought about writing adult romances, but I just love living through my teenage characters that much more. I can relate to them better. :D

  5. AWESOME post! I love how you describe the difference in genres so succinctly and clearly.

    I enjoy YA and MG because of the fast pace and vibrant emotions of childhood and teenage-hood. ;)

    PS--I tweeted about the contest and it'll show up on my Facebook feed.

  6. Not commenting to win, but glad your kids help with your writing, Kari.

  7. How cool is it that you can do both? It takes skill and practice to write from the teen and MG mindset--and your mysteries sound great too! Also thx for saying we should give ourselves permission to slip up--betas are great for pointing that out too! :-)

  8. What a great idea, and what a timely post for me. I am thinking of writing an MG, and I've been scouring the internet for tips on how to write MG. Thank you so much! I'm totally in for this contest, as I'd love to have an expert read any MG I might spew forth.
    Going to put this on my sidebar. Thanks Sheri and Kari!

  9. I write MG and YA which is a good transition for me. I wish I could write the adult stuff because I love reading all genre, but the voices that come out of me just are young. Great post :-D

  10. Great post! And I love writing MG for all the great action and storytelling, but you are so right about getting the voice right. Very tough. I think that's one reason why MG books are actually more difficult to write than many other kinds.

  11. Isn't it wonderful to have your expert resources under your own roof? I have to visit malls and hang out in school hallways.

    Lovely interview.

  12. This was a very insightful interview. Both of the series sound delightful, original, and very entertaining. I used to write MG, but switched to YA because I found the MG technique too restrictive.

  13. I wrote a YA girl book with my teenage niece in mind and I'm writing a MG boy book with my 10-year-old son in mind. Hopefully I've got both voices right - I guess time will tell! Thanks for the post, it was great!

  14. Okay, I am going to try this again. This is Kari, but darn blogger does not like me today! So I am posting as anonymous :-)

    I love writing both MG and adult because it really does keep me from getting bored. It can be tricky, but it's so worth it when it's done well. And I truly think anything can be fixed, you just have to keep bettering your craft and editing. We ALL are never too old to learn something new in helping to better our skills.

    And thank you guys so much. I love both my series :-)

    Since you made my day, how about we make the prize a whole chapter critique instead of just 5 pages. Good luck everyone. You can do it. The only people who never get published are the ones who give up!

  15. Great post! I watch Nick and the Disney channel too to get the voice just right! I also listen to how the high school students talk when I'm working with them. I write both YA and adult, but my YA's seem to have so much more emotion in them, probably because I was such an emotional teenager. :) I'd love a critique!

    loucks (dot) lindsey (at) yahoo (dot) com

    I also posted this on my blog! Thank you for the contest!

  16. To everyone: thanks for making this such a lively conversation. I love it!!

    Kari - WOW!! A full chapter critique!! Awesome. Thank you so much. Sorry Blogger is all wonky on you, today. That happened to me the other day. I had to go in a empty my cache. Um...until then, I thought a cache was a purse. lol ahahaha...

  17. Hi Kari ~

    Great interview and fabulous tips! I swear Disney or Nickelodeon is on 24/7 in my house. You're right, it's a great place to get a feel of today's lingo.

    Because I have a 9 & 13-year-old in the house, it's easier for me to write MG. Who knows, a few years from now when I'm immersed in teenage angst, my writing might reflect that instead.

  18. Thanks for the great post and the contest. Wonderful tips. I love writing MG. Such a great and fun age. Ready to examine the world and conquer it. Thanks for the winning post!
    C.K. Volnek
    ckvolnek at yahoo dot com

  19. MG and Cosy are so different. I don't write YA or MG novels so I never knew the differences, however, having four children will be helpful.

  20. This is such a fabulous post! I write two different genres and it's so nice to see that it really does work for a lot of writers as long as they are able to perfect their craft in both.

    I love writing Fantasy YA but I also love chick lit. The beauty is that the voice changes!

    Happy Friday!

  21. Thanks for the tips, Kari. I've found these to be the challenges with writing MG. But that's why I like it ... I get to think like a kid again, which is tons of fun. :)

  22. Ah! What a great post you guys! I love the tips.
    Have a great weekend!

  23. Thanks Kari...

    These are great tips. I had quite the challenge writing my first m/g fantasy. It's mostly in the pov of an eleven-year-old girl. Thinking like a little girl was certainly interesting. It took many revisions to get the voice right, but the final is fun and believable.

    Thanks Sheri for the great interview and contest. I will put it in my sidebar right now.

    I hope you have a fantastic weekend too!


  24. Me again,

    I forgot to leave my email address..... mculi at aol dot com.

  25. I love the advice to watch what kids watch. Now my hours spent watching Spongebob are justified! :)

  26. Awesome info! I love writing and reading YA and some MG because those ages are so interesting.

  27. It seems like the younger the age of the reader, the faster the pace has to be. Wonder if some of that i because of TV and commercials and the shortening of attention spans.

    I write for both adults and YA, although I do have an idea for a MG series that I haven't started yet. And I have written a few PB but I have no idea if they are any good or not.

    Would love to win a critique! :)

  28. Great guest post! I write YA. I think I like it because I like to include romance, and young love just seems more exciting. I have two teenagers and a pre-teen at home, and they are the absolute best source for trying to get dialogue right.

  29. Oops - forgot my email. It's susanfieldswriter(at)gmail(dot)com.

  30. I don't have anything that needs to be critiqued, so I'm not officially entering-- just here to say great post & that I'm going to go hunt down Kari's books!

  31. Thsis is a great post. I love my MG project. I like that I can create funny characters that act like my son and his friends at that age. It brings back fond memories and writing kid characters is a lot of fun. Thanks for the great information. memelynne(at)yahoo(dot)com

  32. yay! What a fun interview--"1 diva" LOL! And super tips. I can so understand how it would be easy to slip into adult dialogue after working on a mystery. Challenging! But the books sound great! Powers of her cell phone... :D

    Best of luck to Kari!

  33. I really enjoyed this interview because I write both adult and YA so it varies and I think that there are differences that I can just go from one mode to the next and get to switch it up. I guess that is what I like most about it. Not being bound to just one.

  34. Thank you for such a wonderful post, Kari. And thank you, Sheri, for making it happen. So informative! It seems there's a lot more buzz related to middle grade recently, given comments from publishers that they're flooded with YA submissions and not enough MG. That's exciting!:)

    I've fallen for middle grade writing because it's such a memorable time in a young person's life. I have extremely vivid memories of how I felt and viewed the world during my tween years. I'm fortunate to have a little sister who was a tween just a few years ago. She gave me opportunities to take off my grownup hat and hang out in the tween world with her. Spending time with my sister and her friends was – and continues to be - a gem to me because it’s a real reminder of coming-of-age joys, struggles and often more complex worries than we recall as adults. It’s loads of fun, too, of course.

    Being close to my younger sister has inspired me to dig out the happy little fiction writer I thought I had to hide away once I was officially branded a grownup. I'm very much in touch with my inner tween and that makes voice for this genre come more naturally to me.:) I love it.

    Thanks again!

    I’ve spread the word:
    There’s a sidebar on my website about it:
    jodymarielamb [at]

  35. Great post! I agree - to write to a target age-group effectively, you really have to immerse yourself in their world and watch what they watch!

  36. I love writing YA because I think those teenage years are the most exciting years of your life. It's the time where you figure out who you are and who you want to be. Your tastes develop, your choose and reject ideals as you learn more. It's a time for learning about love and how to love someone else. In short, it's the most dynamic period of life to delve into.

    Uh.. yeah. I'm rambling.


  37. Excellent post, especially the part about mg voice. I write middle grade and I too find it easier having a middle grader in the house (and having Nick and Disney on TV!).
    I love middle grade writing because it is such a pivotal time in a person's life. They want to be independent, yet depend on their parents. Plus lots of emotions!
    Thanks for the awesome contest!!
    kpolark at yahoo dot com

  38. I write YA and Picture books right now...but once my kids get to the tween years, I'm sure I'll be writing MG too. I love writing for YA because I love reading YA. To me, it seems like there's so much more promise and imagination in YA lit. than in adult. (I'm sure that's not necessarily true but it often feels that way to me.) Emotions are so strong and new in youth and it shapes who we become as adults. Every day is raw potential and it's exciting to revisit those days through writing and speak to young people who are living it. I wouldn't want to write anything else. :)

    sarahjperry9 (at) gmail (dot) com

  39. Writing for me is breathing, and since I never grew up... YA is all about discovering the world in a near (but not quite) adult capacity. When in a person's life is there more tension, passion or drama? For active imaginations there's no other place to be.

    crcoll49 (at) yahoo

  40. I love writing and reading mg's because it allows me to feel the innocense of an 8-12 year old. I love books that show creativity in its characters...

    Great post, Ladies!


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