YA vs. MG

Morning, folks!

So, I’ve been thinking a lot about the differences between Young Adult vs. Middle Grade.  Mostly because I want my new novel, Harbinger, to be MG.  But as I’m a YA reader and writer, figuring out how to switch to a younger audience is tough!

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I looked for “middle grade” and got this.  Sure.  I can roll with it. >.>

Here’s what I’ve learned so far:

  • Themes of MG are different than YA.
    • In MG, the biggest themes are friendship, and where the characters fit with their family.  In YA, they’re trying to fit into the world.  That’s the trend teenagers take anyway–as graduation looms closer, they have to start thinking about colleges and jobs and careers.  Preteens don’t care about that yet.
    • Here’s a simple way to break it down.
      • MG characters look to external sources for help.
      • YA characters look within themselves for help.
  • MG doesn’t have to be shorter.  
    • Obviously, books for younger kids will have a lower word count.  But there’s a section of the MG genre, helpfully labeled “upper middle grade,” that’s aimed for 10 – 13 year olds.  Anything where the main characters are in that 10 – 13 year range should be upper MG, which means they’ll break traditional MG word counts.
    • Think of Artemis Fowl, which clocked in at 57,000 words.  Harry Potter and the Sorcerer’s Stone was 77,000.  And The Lightning Thief was a whopping 87,000!
    • So clearly, there’s a lot of diversity in word count here, which is awesome for new writers.  You can take exactly as long as needed to tell the story, provided you don’t ramble!
  • Upper MG and lower YA are basically the same genre.
    • This is my own opinion, but wow, it seems true.  In doing research, I found tons of sites arguing whether or not Harry Potter was MG or YA.  The general consensus is that the series as a whole is YA, but the first book or two were probably MG.
      • (I’m sure this is because, before Harry Potter, the Young Adult genre didn’t really exist like it does today.  So JK Rowling probably steered her novel for commercial appeal in the already established MG, and then switched it over as YA became more popular and her characters aged…)
    • Then again, the same problem arises with Percy Jackson.  No one seems to know!
  • However, MG has one very important difference: the Gatekeepers.
    • You know who they are.  Parents, older siblings, librarians, teachers.  Anyone who picks up a novel and decides it’s not fit for preteen eyes because it references something iffy.
    • Now, a general way to get around this is to pad your novel with age-appropriate things.  No cursing (although made-up curse words–or curses spoken in an untranslated language–seem okay), no references to sex (even kissing is pushing it), etc.
    • This is why MG is softer than real YA.  It’s hard to get to the gritty details of teenage life when there are people controlling whether or not your audience obtains your book.

So there you have it.  That’s my opinion on the differences between MG / YA.  So far, I’m having fun writing to a younger audience, although it’s been really difficult to pin the voice of a younger character.  We’ll see how I fare as I get further into the novel!

PS:  Keep in mind that it’s generally accepted for MG characters in a fantasy setting to act more mature.

PSS:  Be careful with sarcasm if your MC is under 11 years old.  According to this article, “Kids detect sarcasm at about age 6, but don’t begin to see the intended humour until around age 10.”

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No pulling the wool over their eyes.

Do you write MG?  What tips do you have for someone just broaching the genre?  Let me know in the comments below!

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