One would think it would be easier and more simplistic to be a writer of middle-grade fantasy, but as I get into my writing, I find myself encountering several challenges along the way.
Middle-grade fantasy is usually written for readers around 8-12 years old, so it’s essential I keep a balance between creating a fantasy world and keeping the content suitable for my younger readers. I need to be conscious of the complexity of the plot, themes, and language used in my story.
I read middle-grade books to help me with writing for this age range. One great thing about these books is that they are shorter and easy reads. It also helps that I am a mom and grandmother, and I volunteered at the middle school when my children were younger.
Middle-grade readers are often drawn to relatable and well-developed characters. However, developing characters that appeal to this age group can be challenging. So, it’s imperative that I create characters my middle-grade readers can root for and connect with.
Again, reading middle-grade books has helped me with this. Here are some examples of books with strong protagonists I have read; Diary of a Wimpy Kid, The Lightning Thief, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, Owls of Ga’Hoole, The Incredible Journey, and The City of Ember.
Balancing imagination and realism
Like any fantasy, regardless of age, magical and fantastical elements need to be consistent with the rules of my fantasy world. But because I have young readers, these elements need to be grounded in relatable emotions and experiences they can understand.
To help with this, I try not to go all into the “politics” of my world; instead, I make it as simple as possible and not complicated. Plus, I have found that kids have more of an imagination than adults and can quickly grasp fantasy. It does not need to be over-explained.
Middle-grade readers can follow complex plots but may need help with overly complicated storylines.
This one is relatively easy and, like above, does not need to be over-explained. With this said, I find it essential to maintain a clear and readable plot structure with a simple and understandable narrative. Including too many subplots or intricate explanations may alienate my young readers.
Themes and lessons
Middle-grade fantasy usually explores friendship, self-discovery, bravery, and resilience. However, it’s important to handle these themes with care and avoid being overly sermonic.
To do this, I need my lessons and messages carefully and naturally written into my story, allowing my young readers to draw their own interpretations.
Balancing action and pacing
In fantasy stories, middle-grade readers frequently appreciate a hefty dose of action and adventure. But, maintaining the suitable pace of my story and balancing the action scenes with calmer moments is challenging. Too much action without time for reflection or character development can overwhelm the reader.
For this, I do a bit of a “roller coaster” with my action scenes throughout the story. I definitely need to give my readers a break from the action, but not too long. When writing down in the valley of reflection, I try to make it as emotional as possible before we head up that hill to the next adventure.
Besides, all kids know they can’t play and have adventures all day, and neither can my characters. Like my readers, my characters need time to reflect and talk with their friends.
Most of all, overcoming these challenges requires me to write with my target audience in mind and seek feedback from young readers. There will be a time for the adults to read it, but ultimately, I must ensure my middle-grade fantasy writing resonates with my intended audience.
Christa Vande Vegte has been passionate about storytelling since she was a child. She writes middle-grade fantasy and fiction. She also writes other children’s books and short stories. She is currently working on books two and three of the Little Bay Series.