Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Middle-Grade vs. YA

I've been reading a mixture of Middle-Grade and YA novels lately and I have slowly been able to make a distinction between them.

As a child I devoured books without thinking.  I just read what looked interesting and left what seemed boring on the library shelves.

But as I grow older and start to write my own stories, I realize I have to know and work with these terms.  Do I write middle-grade?  Do I write YA?  Do I write for middle schoolers or teens?  Young adults?

So I thought it would be helpful to take a short look at what distinguishes these two categories (in my own terms).

I would describe Middle Grade novels as follows:

1. Straightforward plot (with maybe one big twist)
2. Simple characters (not a ton of development -- middle schoolers are just figuring out who they are, just beginning to be able to sort out complex feelings and emotions...)
3. One issue/theme

I'm not saying *every* Middle Grade novel has these things, but generally, this is what I've encountered when reading them.  A strong, straightforward plot (few to no secondary storylines), simple characters with more external action than internal monologue, and an overarching, simple theme (if there even *is* a theme) or issue that's solved by the end of the book/series.

I would describe YA novels as follows:

1. Complex plot (multiple storylines) -- told through various characters, times, places, etc.
2. Complex characters (sifting through emotions, thoughts, motives, reasons, etc.)
3. Possibly more than one theme or issue to resolve

Again...this is just general.  Some YA novels may include romance (while MG novels may make the barest hint but rarely take it beyond that), complex issues (motives behind bad behavior, anti-heroes, grey areas, etc.), and more than one MC, but some might not.

So what's the biggest difference?

I think the biggest difference is the maturity of the reader.  It is hard for me to read a Middle Grade novel.  The stories can be terrific, but to me they seem overly simplified, with not a lot of complexity to grapple with.  On the other hand, I don't like YA romance because it can go *too* far.

It all depends on the reader.

But of course, you can't market for one reader.  So you have to make up genres and age groups and hope that other people will find your story.

Honestly, though, the best stories can be told to a wider audience than they're advertised for -- take a Wrinkle in Time, for instance.  Middle school kids, teens, young adults and older adults all love that book.  Same goes for Chronicles of Narnia, Harry Potter, and Redwall.

So maybe the whole point of this exercise is that I think we make too many distinctions between what genre and age group we're writing for.

Maybe we're supposed to write for ourselves, first.  We're the first readers, after all.  Let someone figure out who to market it for later.

What do you think?

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