Tuesday, April 9, 2024

The Differences Between Middle Grade and Young Adult


logo for "Middle Grade vs. YA: What's the Difference" session at the San Diego Writers Festival 2024, with Chris Baron (showing a photo of Chris and the cover of his middle grade book "The Gray" and Lee Wind (showing a photo of Lee and his young adult novel "A Different Kind of Brave")

This past weekend I had the opportunity to be in dialog with middle grade author Chris Baron at the San Diego Writers Festival, in a session sponsored by Anatasia Zadeik called "Middle Grade vs. YA, What's the Difference?"

Using Chris's most recent middle grade novel The Gray, and my own recently published young adult novel A Different Kind of Brave we covered so many things that come into play, and that are different, between the two age categories, including:

  • Character age
  • Inner journey
  • Outer journey
  • Voice (for your characters, as well as the voice of the novel's narration/POV)
  • Role of family
  • Intensity of opposition your main character faces
  • To kiss (or not) – how far do your characters go?
  • To curse (or not)
  • Reader age/maturity
  • Who you're promoting the book to once it's published (parents, teachers, librarians, and in the case of YA teens themselves.)

Some resonating takeaways for me included:

Middle grade are books you might imagine a young person reading with their family.
Young Adult might be more a book a teen would read on their own, so it's more personally theirs. Not that they need to hide it from their family, but books better enjoyed independently.

We also had a fun exercise, challenging attendees to do one-sentence pitch for their middle grade or young adult current manuscript and then do it again but this time for the other age category.

The one-liner pitch for Chris's middle grade The Gray (from the copyright page) is:

Sasha has been bullied at his middle school and his anxiety, which he called the Gray, is growing, so his parents and therapist suggest a summer in the country with his aunt might help him.

Chris's new pitch to make The Gray young adult raised the stakes and the drama, and there was talk about aging the characters up as well.

The one-liner pitch for my young adult A Different Kind of Brave is:

My Gay teen love letter to James Bond movies has two main characters: Nico, living a life of adventure that's pretty terrible, and Sam, who lives a life of privilege and wants to be just like James Bond–when they meet and fall in love, everything changes.

What I learned when I tried to make the pitch for A Different Kind of Brave middle grade was that the whole premise of the book didn't work younger. The opposition was too intense, the whole opening sequence of Nico escaping from a gay reprogramming center and then fleeing on his own down to Peru and then Mexico--none of that felt middle grade. It's a book that had to be young adult.

Finally, we offered some tips to get published, both speaking about working on your craft, finding your community, and Chris spoke eloquently about writing your best book (not someone else's) with these words:

"Be your own breakthrough." —Chris Baron

It was a great discussion, and hopefully these notes can help you with your own middle grade or young adult work in progress.

Illustrate, Translate, and Write On,

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