Friday, September 13, 2013

Jumping from YA to MG

The Young Adult category blew up over the last few decades. YA writers have been coming out of the woodwork like crazy because it was such a successful category. I'm one of those writers. I got sucked into the category because, well, it's awesome. I got my passion for writing through a YA novel, but things change, including me, and I decided to try something else. Middle Grade. 

All the research, all the reading I did in the YA category I had to do over in Middle Grade. Some things translate, some don't. In some ways they’re similar, in some ways they look more like a distant cousin. So I've asked around and got a great list of advice from a number of sources about making the jump from YA to MG. Some are about what you should do when making the switch, some are just about the major differences in YA and MG but all of them will help you when making the switch. 

Brenda Drake Author of Library Jumpers and repped by Peter Knapp
This summer my writing has switched from writing or editing young adult stories to rewriting my middle grade novel. The differences between young adult and middle grade is the focus. Young adult tends to have a more outward focus while middle grade has a more inward focus. My young adult stories feature two determined teen girls trying to find their place in the worlds I’ve created for them. In the middle grade novel, I’m writing a pre-teen boy who’s exploring self, trying to figure out who he is.

There’s higher level of romance in young adult than there is in middle grade. Middle grade tends to be low key and sweet. The first blush of romance where the characters aren’t aware that their feelings are more than friends. It’s that time when you were in middle school, and you had a crush, but it never gets physical as it does in young adult. Romances in young adult can get hot.
Young adult tends to delve into the issues like drugs, drinking, sex, rape, and abuse, where as middle grade doesn’t (well, rarely).

Going from writing my young adult stories to my middle grade ones, I tend to just get into character. It does take me a bit. I have been known to walk around the house talking like a twelve-year old boy to get into my character’s head. As I write, it helps to read what I’m writing aloud in the voice of my character. It can get tricky since my middle grade setting is Victorian and the young adults are in modern times.

Just remember, it’s all about the attitude when writing young adult or middle grade. A twelve-year-old will handle a situation very different from a sixteen-year-old. Whereas someone younger might need his friend’s help to destroy a monster, an older character will pick up the sword and fight (poor example, but you get what I’m talking about—I hope).  

Lindsay Cummings: Author of THE MURDER COMPLEX ( HarperCollins '14) and THE BALANCE KEEPERS (HarperCollins '14)
I like to switch reading YA and MG according to which age I'm working on! MG is adventure and fun. YA often angtsy

Benji : YA and MG writer
At the end of a MG story, the MC is still able to see the world through the eyes of a child. In YA; however, the MC passes the point of no return and no longer sees the world through the eyes of a child

Smish: Absolute Write Moderator.
I write both, though I write more MG than YA. It's tough to pinpoint the exact differences, as they're sort of you'll-know-it-when-you-see-it. I think the biggest difference is voice, though. Pre-teens and teens have different concerns and interests, and their voices are different. In general, you should be able to read the first page of a book and be able to tell whether it's MG or YA, simply based on the voice and tone.

MG also focuses more on the character's present. What are his problems right this moment? His primary concern is usually going to be how he fits in with his friends and family. Will he survive the 6th grade? MG is also about firsts. First best friend, first crush, first pet, first cell phone, first death in the family, etc.

YA focuses more on the future, in my opinion. Sure, a YA character is going through something right now, but he's also concerned about the future. MG focuses more on how the character fits within his own small world, while YA characters want to figure out what makes them stand out. They often distance themselves from family and friends so that they can figure out who they are and where they belong in the world as a whole.

Paula Stokes Represented by Jennifer Laughran of Andrea Brown . Author of THE ART OF LAINEY: June 2014 from Harper Teen.
Use different, MG savvy, crit-partners, focus less on figurative language, keep the action going, and use humor if possible. View it as an experiment so it's failure-proof. If it doesn't work, you tried, you learned, you move on.

Debbie V: YA and MG writer
Voice came to mind as the first big difference. After that, themes. A YA can cover more themes and in a broader way. The characters in YA have a broader view of the world. They are trying to find their place within what they see and adjust to the evolution as they learn more about how the real world works. Limits are overcome - freedom achieved. Remember the first time you took the car solo? All of this new freedom has a cost though. And that defines what they believe and who they become. That, to me, is the core of YA.

MG characters have to explore within the limits. Of course, they don't always do so. Sometimes they go through a wardrobe, but they learn about who they are much more than deciding who they will become.

Pam van Hylckama Vlieg: Agent with Foreward Literary.
I think YA and MG go together naturally. The biggest difference for me is the coming of age. In YA you come of age and no longer need your parents/parental figures. For MG you come of age in a different way, still needing that support system for a few more years.

Understanding the differences between Middle Grade and Young Adult is important before you decide to jump in. Think about your audience and what they want in a book. "Kids read up" is the assumption when it comes to Middle Grade, so your twelve year old protagonist will likely be read by ten year olds. Young adult is read by 13-18 year olds (and older, but always understand that the target audience is who you write for). The biggest thing you need to do before and during your switch in categories (ANY category) is READ.

Read, read, read, read, read.

What do you do when you write MG? Are any of you awesome readers MG writers who also writes YA? I'd love to hear how you made the leap into kidlit and how it went.  Do you have any more advice?


  1. Great article and helpful perspectives.

    After writing four YA novels (no takers :( I think I developed my voice and a deeper understanding of the various nuances of writing. When an idea for an MG novel came along, because I was already versed in the act of committing to a story line and characters from beginning to end, doing the same, but in a shorter and "lighter" format was made more accessible for MG.

    Thanks for starting this conversation. It's very timely for me. Cheers!

    1. Thanks for stopping by! Glad you liked it :)

      I'm in a similar boat. Have written 2 YA novels and just finished my first MG. Its a fun switch. Trying to catch up a little on all the MG reading. Got a list of like 20 books to read lol

  2. YA often favours first person narrative whereas omniscient narration is more common in MG.

    Primary relationship in YA is almost always romantic or sexual. In MG friends take centre stage - though often sweetly it hints, as there is usually a girl and boy protagonist, at romance. There is often an elderly mentor - more so than in YA.

    In MG parents are pains, obstacles to be got around, rather than a relationship in flux, as independence is sought. Rather than lying and sneaking out the window, they confront, question and defy.

    YA topics are likely to be about your mc's place in the world.. who am I, why am I here, where am I going... even the recent surge of Paranormal and the emphasis on epic destiny explores this at its centre. Whereas in MG the protagonist is more likely to be caught up rather than an integral piece of the problem. Take HP, in the first books he solves problems which have no direct link to himself, saving friends or objects from other people's plans. Simply because he is a good kid who cares. By the end now in YA territory, he has become the focus and the only means by which to defeat Voldemort.

    1. Nice points! Thanks for stopping by

    2. some atrocious grammar in there! This is why I shouldn't try to do eight things at once!

  3. My major issue with my YA wips is the romance part, or the angst (if I don't have any romantic relationships). I know I seriously struggle with that and when I write MG I don't have to deal with it.
    One of the things I love about writing MG is the adventure, the virtually unlimited possibilities balanced with the presence of parents, curfews and such.

    Choosing to write one or the other wasn't really a conscious choice for me. I tend to start my stories with a main character and based on their age the story becomes YA or MG.

    I'm saving this post for future reference. :)


    1. Awesome!

      I agree with you. I don't often make a conscious decision to write one category or the other, but once you learn what it is you're writing, it's best to know what you're getting into :)

      Thanks for stopping by!

    2. I agree! there is something so free about MG. You can just be whimsical and fun and silly. Its like bouncy castles - apparently when you grow up you're not supposed to want one (especially at your wedding), but I miss them. MG is a trip back into a time when anything was possible.

  4. I've heard it said that YA main characters are trying to find themselves outside of the system, while MG characters are trying to find their place in the system.

    I think that is very true.

  5. Yeah, that makes sense. Teens want to stand out, pre-teens often just want to fit somewhere.

    Thanks for stopping by :)

  6. Great post, great comments. Thanks. I want to stay in the realms of MG because my inner child loves it there even though I'm being nudged by an editor to work on adult fiction too. Maybe when I've written fifty MGs. Hee hee.