I absolutely refuse to make a post about tips for writers, so this isn’t one. I taught writing, and I’ve taken classes on writing. Some tips are relevant, yes. Ending a story with “it was all a dream” is a terrible idea. That’s a given. But aside from having good punctuation, having a structure, and a strong character the rest is just what worked for one person. (I read something about how you don’t put “the end” in your writing, because the reader should know it’s the end. Not true in terms of manuscript formatting, I’m afraid.)
I gave up on NaNoWriMo after I sat down with an outline and rules on how to create a scene, and froze. Now I’ve moved on to something else and the whole racing to get a word count in each day has just gone out the window.
I’ve realized in the past three years that I’m really impatient. Steve, bless him, is the one who’s pointed this out to me. I have lived with the “Well, what are you going to do? You’d better do something!” mind-set all my life until I moved here. Now I understand that if something’s not working, don’t keep trying to push it. (As someone said on Twitter about my outline, “If it’s blocking you, ditch it.”)
I’m back to another story idea in the same world I had started early this year. I’ve been reading a lot about Middle Grade versus Young Adult because my subject matter doesn’t revolve around the character’s love life. (Crushing, yes, but details of a romance, just no.) Also, my sentences are shorter (again, what I learned in college short story writing: “Get in and get out.”) and my vocabulary doesn’t include a bunch of SAT words. I’m totally uncomfortable with the romance issues, and even when I’ve thought of good YA books that deal with such topics, I know they can potentially get into uncomfortable territory. (I know how my friends talked in high school and college. I don’t have any desire to try and stomach that in my own work.) I’m way more comfortable with a younger main character because I feel like I can concentrate on the story.
But in a few months I may change my mind. Who knows?
So here’s a few links I found regarding how MG and YA are categorized. One thing’s for sure, the age of the main character is a small part of it. Who the audience is, is what I have to keep in mind.
Middle grade novels are characterized by the type of conflict encountered by the main character. Children in the primary grades are still focused inward, and the conflicts in their books reflect that. Characters are also a key element to young adult novels, but these books often have more complicated plots than those for middle grade.
My advice? Get out of that gray area! If you read a lot of MG and YA books, you can easily isolate the difference. MG books are shorter than YA, deal with any “issues” or “content” (edgy stuff) but only secondhand (like the kid’s mom is an alcoholic, not the kid herself), have less darkness and often a sweeter ending than most books for older readers, are sophisticated but still accessible for reluctant readers, are more open to curriculum tie-ins and educational content, and are written to appeal to 10-12 year-old readers, at their heart.
YA books are longer, darker, edgier, less about education and more about a riveting story (though MG should have one, too, of course), and written to appeal to readers 14+.
Middle grade novels tend to be more outwardly focused: Their plot of events, of things happening to the character, is more important over the course of the book than what happens within the character. (Though that matters very much to the climax of the book, when the outward events trigger an inner change.)
Teen novels tend to give as much weight to the interior mechanics of character dilemma and change as to the outward mechanics of plot and event. That is, how a character feels about what is happening is as important as what is happening.
Teen novels tend to be less a simple-upsetting-of-a-status-quo (the world as it the reader knows it) and more the realization that the world is more complex than we suspected as children. (Its mysteries are legion.)
MG: protag’s personal struggle is the focus. Anything that happens is viewed in light of how it affects him/her.
YA: protag focuses on other people’s struggles as well – whether or not he/she is affected by them.
These all helped me get a better idea of what middle grade books really are instead of just thinking they were one step up from chapter books. There are some beautiful MG books, like When You Reach Me and Liar and Spy that really influenced my love for MG stories. Right now I’m reading How I Live Now. While Daisy is 15 and the novel is shorter, there is an underage romance (with her cousin) going on. However the war is only dealt with in terms of how it effects her life. That seems to be a bit more MG than YA for me. There’s that gray area again.