Monday, May 18, 2015

Dear MG Minded - On MG and Romance

Middle Grade Minded received a really interesting question in our inbox last week about middle grade and romance. It's a great topic to address for middle grade writers, so I decided to share the question and my response with all of you.

Dear MG Minded,
I'm really glad I found this group because I write MG and YA novels myself. Can you guys help me with a pressing question? My character is a fifteen year old girl. I made her fifteen because the story has a strong romantic subplot where she meets her first real boyfriend and gets a first kiss. I thought twelve was too young for that experience and thirteen and fourteen are in the dreaded tween range, which I'm told is hard to market. Still, a lot of people who read my novel think the MC comes across a lot younger, in the tween years. If I move her age down to twelve, can she still have romantic experiences and would any middle graders be interested in that?

I’m glad you found us too! We always love to see more MG/YA writers in this community. As for your question, there’s no 100% straight forward answer, but there’s a couple of things you should consider.

The first thing is the age of your main character. Fifteen can sometimes also fall in the no man’s land in terms of age and fitting in to MG vs YA. Kids usually read up so the characters they read about are usually, but not always, older than they are. That said fifteen typically falls in lower YA territory. If your character is presenting as young, you could consider reworking her to sound more age appropriate at fifteen.

On the flip side, the other consideration is the appropriateness of romance in MG. Middle Grade is very much about discovery and figuring out where one fits into a group. It also has a lot of firsts, especially when you hit the upper middle grade where the main characters are typically twelve and yes, also thirteen. Upper middle grade often deals with those tween/middle school years, where kids are learning to navigate their lockers, their classes, their friends, and their first crushes. In upper middle grade crushes and innocent first kisses can happen.

So if your character does in fact present as a tween and is experiencing her first crush and first kiss, but not much beyond that I would say you are squarely falling in that upper middle grade range. Making her twelve or even thirteen shouldn’t make your book unmarketable. In fact, I had an agent once recommend that I make my main character thirteen and pitch it as upper middle grade. So the market is there for that.

That said, I’d be hesitant to go as far as calling it a full blown relationship even in upper middle grade. A little innocent romance is typically fine because kids are starting to feel that interest and those crushes. Do keep in mind, if the romantic subplot goes much beyond that point of the first crush/kiss stuff, you’re probably heading into YA territory. Romance beyond those innocent first couple of steps is fairly rare in middle grade. As long as you are sticking to that sense of innocence and firsts you should be okay in the upper middle grade realm.

Hopefully that helps as this can be a tough call.

MG Minded

What do you guys think about MG and romance? How much is too much? Where is the line between romance in MG and romance in YA?

Thanks to Chuck for the question and allowing me to post it on the blog!

If you have a question you'd like MG Minded to answer please email


Unknown said...

wonderful blog post, raising interesting points. so glad i found you via Twitter today!

Jamie Krakover said...

Thanks! Glad you found us too :)

Tara Powers said...

Thanks so much for this post. I am struggling with this exact issue. I originally wrote my main characters as 14. But I’ve been told by an agent and editor that my story is definitely MG. They advised I lower the age to 12, which I did. But I have a light romantic subplot that I was worried about including. Now I feel more confident about keeping that in. Thanks!

Jamie Krakover said...

You're quite welcome. Glad you figured things out :)

cleemckenzie said...

In MG I like to stick with just the stirrings of romance: boys look at girls and realize there's something going on, but they're not sure just what yet. Girls giggle and draw hearts with initials. I like this to be the last bastion of innocence--at least in my stories and the stories I give to the MG readers in my family. I leave romance to the YA category.

Jamie Krakover said...

I think that's a great way of looking at things :)

Mirka Breen said...

Crushes are absolutely all right in MG. But sexuality, IMO, is not. These are pre-teens, pre-puberty emotions.

Jamie Krakover said...

That's a good way to differentiate things.

Chuck Robertson said...

Sorry about taking so long to get back to your blog, but I'm grateful for the opportunity to have my question on your blog. You've clarified quite a lot. To me, twelve is my favorite age for a character to be because he or she is just now discovering so much.

Metaphysical Poetry Society said...

I liked the response to this question that Jamie Krakover gave, and I think the responses so far are spot on. It's interesting how the MG range of literature is so tightly constrained. Just a little lower and you have picture books; just a bit higher and you have sex and swearing. But in the middle grade range it's like the best of all possible worlds. I sometimes see it as human existence at its best.

Of course I realize it's not always that way, and there can be a lot of dysfunctional kids and situations. I mean, Aileen Wuornos was a prostitute at eleven and grew up to be a serial killer who was ultimately executed by the State of Florida. That situation notwithstanding, I think middle grade can be the best time in human experience.