Middle Grade Novel Characters for Enthusiastic Readers

Sunday, March 13, 2011
Middle grade novels are fun to write, and I believe there are two reasons why. The first is that the readers, which are generally between the ages of 9 and 12, love to read. They love the characters, the series and the writers. They can devour books like no other. When I taught fifth grade, some of my students would finish a book a day. They'd go home and read, read, read. Remember those days? 

The second reason why middle grade novels are so much fun is the characters. I LOVE middle grade characters. Take the series by Gennifer Choldenko pictured here. How can you not fall in love with Moose from page one? There are famous characters like Margaret from Judy Blume's Are You There God? It's Me, Margaret or Stanley Yelnats from Holes. And there are even money makers like Harry Potter. The wonderful thing is the characters are complex, lovable, flawed, brave and usually under 12--an age we all couldn't wait to grow out of, but an age we want to back to if we could. 

What characteristics does a middle grade main character need?

They can be a boy or a girl, and they should be about 11 to 13. Kids like to read about kids their same age or older, as a rule (of course, there are always exceptions). If you are a new author, try to follow this rule. In my middle grade novel Finding My Place, my main character Anna is 13 and her younger brother is 11. I hope to appeal to both boys and girls with these two characters. 

But besides age and gender, I think that readers are looking for ordinary kids who can do extraordinary things with their ordinary talents. Look at Harry Potter. Even though he's a witch, we don't love him because of that. We love him because he is smart, brave, and good. He stands up against the fiercest evil and wins, again and again, and for his family and his friends. That's chivalry. That's what kids want.

If you are writing a middle grade novel, one of the best things you can do is read other middle grade novels. Look at the main characters. Make a list of their personality traits and why they are so likable. Then look at your character. How does he or she measure up? 

What are some of your favorite middle grade characters and why?

Join Margo Dill on May 11 for her online class, Writing the Middle Grade Novel. To see a syllabus and sign up, check out the class listing. If you have any questions, feel free to contact Margo at margo (at) wow-womenonwriting.com. You can find out more about her at http://margodill.com/blog.


Becky Mushko said...

I really enjoy reading MG novels. Many have strong plots and interesting characters. I just finished Kathryn Erskine's Mockingbird and loved Caitlin. Caitlin's ability to cope, despite having Asberger's, made her especially endearing. I'm now in the middle of Clare Vanderpool's Moon Over Manifest and also love Abilene.

My MG novel, Stuck, will soon be out from Cedar Creek Publishing, a small press. A former middle school teacher, I know the age group and enjoyed creating my 11-year-old main character and looking at life through her eyes.

Betty Craker Henderson said...

Although I've written for adults for years, I'm in the middle of polishing Junkyard Bones, a juvenile mystery about a 13 year old boy who finds a skeleton in an old car in his grandfather's junkyard and thinks his grandpa has murdered someone. High Hill Press is waiting to publish it and I'm really excited as I worked for a number of years with kids and have a bunch of teen grandsons so wish me luck.

Margo Dill said...

Becky and Betty,
Thanks for sharing a little about your work, too. The best of luck to you. Betty: I am a big fan of Lou and High Hill Press. She is doing some great things. Thanks for the comments!


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