Wednesday, April 24, 2013

The Dos and Don’ts of Writing Middle-Grade Fiction

by Penny Lockwood

Writing middle grade fiction is different from writing a picture book.  I’d like to share with you some of the things I’ve learned to both do and not do based not only on my writing career, but also on my career as a line editor for MuseItUp Publishing and Damnation Publishing, and an acquisitions editor for 4RV Publishing.

  1. Do start by reading middle grade fiction written by other authors.  Be sure to read both those which have won awards as well as those with poor reviews.  Look at the differences to determine what makes one book a winner, while the other is only mediocre.

  1. Don’t be afraid tackle difficult subject matter. Young people today are very savvy about what’s going on in the world.  Middle-grade fiction can include content on lying, bullying, jealousy, sibling rivalry, divorce, peer pressure, drug abuse, domestic violence, and suicide. These are all subjects many kids have had to deal with either directly or with family members, friends, or classmates.  Just be sure to deal with these subjects in an appropriate manner.

  1. Do make your characters slightly older than your targeted audience. Kids like to read about other kids a year or two older than they are. When I taught a writing class to 4th, 5th, and 6th grade students, I was always surprised by how old the characters were in the stories they chose to write. Growing up intrigues this age group.

  1. Don’t preach to your readers or talk down to them. They aren’t toddlers or preschoolers. These are kids who know a lot about the world they live in and are exposed to so much through television and the Internet. Treat them as they want to be treated.

  1. Do create three-dimensional characters. Know what your character looks like: keep a descriptive page handy so your character doesn’t have red hair in chapter one and brown in chapter five. Know what they’re good at: keep a list so you’ll know if you’re character is a computer whiz or can hit a baseball to outer field. Know what flaws your character has: make a chart listing things like easily angered, a poor student, too thin or overweight, etc.  Know what quirks your character has: list things like a stutter, eye rubbing if she’s tired, allergies which make him sneeze, an eye twitch, etc.

  1. Don’t forget to use the five senses: sight, smell, hear, taste, and touch. Bring your story to life with vivid descriptions: enticing aromas or horrific odors, owls hooting or cars crashing, Mom’s yummy spaghetti cooking or the moldy sandwich the homeless guy pulls from the trash, and the soft velvet fur of a puppy or the slimy trail of a slug.

  1. Do inject humor into your story, even those dealing with difficult topics. For example in Ghost for Rent, while our characters are adjusting to the fact their parents are separating, my main character’s brother teases her by putting fake spiders in her sandwich and fake worms down her back. 

  1. Don’t leave your characters hanging.  Move your story forward by creating obstacles for your characters to solve by themselves, without an adult’s help, and be sure they solve those problems by the end of the story.

  1. Do spend time with children in your targeted age group.  Listen to their conversations. Observe their clothes and their behaviors. Without this first-hand information, it will be difficult for you to create a story and characters to which your readers will relate. Even if you don’t have children in your immediate circle, volunteer at a school, community center, church, or scout group.

  1. Don’t ignore guidelines.  After your story is completed do a search for publishers who might be interested in your work. Check out their catalogs to see what kinds of books they are publishing. Read their submission guidelines carefully. They are there for a reason. If they want Times New Roman, font size 12, be sure that’s what you send to them. Edit your rough draft. Put it away. Edit it again. Ask unbiased people to read the manuscript and comment on it. Take their comments and make necessary adjustments. Let the manuscript sit for a week, then re-read it and make final edits. Be sure the manuscript is formatted to the specifications of the submissions’ guidelines and send it off.
If you’ve followed my suggestions, you have a good chance of finding a publisher for your work, but remember, it takes patience, a well-written and grammatically correct manuscript, and above all, being in the right place, at the right time, with the right story. Good luck!                                          

About Penny
Penny Lockwood Ehrenkranz has published more than 100 articles, 75 stories, and a chapbook, and her stories have been included in two anthologies. She writes for both adults and children. Her fiction has appeared in numerous genre and children’s publications, and her nonfiction work has appeared in a variety of writing, parenting, and young adult print magazines and online publications.  She edits for MuseItUp Publishing. Visit her website at http:// Her writing blog is located at

Penny's Book Giveaway 
Penny is currently on a blog tour for her recent picture book release, Boo’s Bad Day, available from 4RV Publishing. She has two middle grade novels scheduled to be released later this year, Ghost for Rent and Ghost for Lunch,  through the same publisher.

At the end of the tour, Penny will pick out one commenter’s name and send an autographed copy of Boo’s Bad Day to a United States address only. If the winner is someone who lives outside the U.S.A., she will send a PDF copy of the book. Be sure to leave contact information when you comment! If you missed yesterday's blog stop, check out Tomorrow, she'll be at  Remember to leave contact information to be entered into the drawing for a free book.


  1. Great post Penny. Words of Wisdom to follow!

    1. Very nice article and I am Obat Aborsi very happy to meet with your blog, the articles are very interesting, thank you for share very amazing article and I wait for the next quality articles...

  2. Maggie, thank you so much for hosting me today during my blog tour. I appreciate the support. Penny, glad you stopped by and found my essay useful

  3. Very interesting and right on, Penny! Thanks for posting this today, Maggie. All us MG writers really need reminders of what kids need!

  4. I have my copy of Boo's Bad Day, but I need an autograph. *sigh*

  5. Hi Penny,
    You offered great advice that I'll have to remember for my own WIP.

  6. Hi everyone, thanks so much for stopping by. I'm glad you found some pointers to help in your own work. Viv, I guess you could send the book to me and I could send it back. Or, I could send you my mini Boo bookmark signed!

  7. Penny, re book signings, Jo Linsdell's blog today features Authorgraph, a company that makes virtual book signings easy. You may want to look into this service. This is the link to Jo's blog -- And authorgraph's website is at

  8. A great article, Penny. MG is such an interesting age. Congratulations on Boos Bad Day. Best of luck to you.

  9. Patricia, thanks for the kind words. Wendy, I've heard of Authorgraph before but I haven't tried it yet. Thanks for the link. Bev, thanks for following along. It's always nice to "see" you during a tour.

  10. Great post with helpful information!

  11. Hi Victoria, thanks for stopping to comment. I'm glad you found the post useful.

  12. Congratulations to Susan York Meyers! She's the winner of an autographed copy of Boo's Bad Day.

  13. This was very insightful. Thanks for sharing your wisdom on writing MG!

  14. I'm very glad you found this post helpful, SA - and everyone else who enjoyed reading it.

  15. Writing books for school kids and teenagers is a little delicate compared to writing for adults. They should be written in a manner that would not only educate their young minds but also keep them entertained to encourage them to read further and not get bored. These pointers you shared are a great help indeed! Thank you!
    Shelley @ Y\'all Twins?

  16. Great info! I recommend a book by Jim West called Libellus de Numeros (The Book of Math) that makes math and science relevant and fun in a story of magic and danger. The story is about Alex, a young precocious girl, who mysteriously gets transported to a strange world where Latin and Math combine in formulas and equations with magical effects. With a cruel council leading the only safe city of its kind in this world, she will have to prove her worth to stay as well as help this city as it is the target for two evil wizards who seek to destroy the city and its ruling council. To help the city and also get back home, she will need the help of the greatest mathematician of all time, Archimedes. In a world where math is magic, Alex wishes she paid more attention in math class. Search for the book on Goodreads for reviews. A review mentioned, “A lot of the books that have educational elements embedded in the plot feel forced. Libellus de Numeros is just the opposite. The math, science, etc. are natural, organic, contributing parts of the plot that fit in seamlessly." My 11-year-old daughter just finished reading it and she learned math in a fun way.

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  18. Your writing ideas very good now my many writing concept clear i easily understand your publishing massage thanks for share it rephraser .