Are we, those of us who write for middle grade readers, kids at heart? The answer? Well, of course we are! But that’s not what I truly want to write about.
A more central question for me is do we need to be kids at heart to write for kids. And, do we need to read a lot of middle grade works to write for this audience? Basically, what makes someone a middle grade writer?
The first thing I believe one needs to be is a good storyteller, someone who can create and write down an engaging yarn. I’ve been a professional storyteller since the 90’s, and I can describe from experience what kid’s like to hear. But that is not necessarily what they like to read.
Story is story, plain and simple, but there are as many ways to convey a story as there are stars in the sky. But only so many of these tellings will connect with a middle grade reader. We, as MG writers, need to be able to identify how to write a story as well as what story to write. It is, I suggest, our ability to frame a story such that it does engage a MG reader, that allows us to be successful.
Still, that’s only half of the equation. The other half is to be able to create the stories that MG readers will want to read. Everyone has lots of stories fliating around in their heads. MG writers, I suggest, are abke to pick out the ones that a MG reader will enjoy reading.
How do we do this? Ah, that is a mystery, or at least something better answered by a psychologist. For me, the answer is that we write what we do because of the sum total of our experiences. These experiences can include reading gobs of MG books, but this is not a requisite. In fact, I suggest that you can be a successful MG writer without ever having read another MG book.
Of course, if you do read lots of other MG books, it helps to hone your writing skills, but I do not believe it is necessary for uncovering which stories to write down. We write what we know, and what we know comes from everything that makes up our lives.
What does matter is that given a unique combination of experiences, a writer is able to see through the eyes of a MG reader, such that she can write a story in a way a MG reader needs/wants it to be written. It is the sum total, not the specific elements, of these experiences that matters.
There needs to be a kid inside of a MG writer working hand in hand with the adult writer inside to create a successful MG book.