The voice is not only the way kids talk, it is also being able to transcribe the emotions of kids that age and think the way they think.
What a ten or eleven year old look like?
A child who is close to puberty without necessarily having reached it yet, goes through a lot of new emotions. They test boundaries and are not able to describe their emotions very well.
A kid that age may have a BF, but relationships are more changeable, competitive and complex. Peer pressure and body image start to kick in. What they are wearing and who they are with matter more. Boys are very competitive and worry about their status. Girls tend to have up and down relationships with other girls and may be anxious because their body is changing and they may be menstruating.
They become more independent and like family outings less in favor to group outings with friends. They pull away when cuddled or kissed by parents. They rush into mistakes, but refrain from telling others about it. They may hide their first emails or do things secretly. They discover what they can do. They like to create their own websites and enjoy going to places without their siblings. They might reject their younger siblings and find themselves too mature to bother with them, but they can’t get rid of them.
They like to talk about music, movies, books, video games, TV Shows, funny jokes/pranks, sports and what friends do. Girls tend to find boys gross and weird because they like farting and insects. Boys find girls weird because they like glitter and giggle all the time. They are two worlds apart. However, they are starting to have emotions for each other. A boy will tease a girl he likes the way Gilbert pulls on Anne of Green Gables’ braids and thinks he is being funny and interesting. Girls might stalk the boys they like and hit them to get their attention.
“A publisher at the Los Angeles SCBWI conference said that Middle Grade lit is about the protagonist “fitting into” the world at large as opposed to YA literature is where the protagonist becomes an individual from the world. I see this as the difference between a character finding her place in the world and a character making a name for herself in the world.”1
How to write MG?
Use concrete images, concrete emotions, tight wording and humor.
““Your story begins,” Magnin said, “by starting with a really good character kids can identify with. Middle-grade readers won’t stick with a perfect kid.” In addition, there must be a goal, a problem to solve on the inner journey. What the character does or says forms plot and develops voice.”2
If you are writing humor, read authors that make it work like Lisa Yee (Absolutely Maybe, 2010), Michael Buckley and Ethen Beavers (Nerds Series, 2013) or Greg Fishbone (Galaxy Games, 2011).
“Voice is the one thing that I don’t feel, as an editor, that I can fix. It’s too intrinsic to the art, too personal, something that has to be worked on before it comes across my desk. And a humorous voice? Even harder to shape as an editor.”3
How to create a youthful voice?
Read a lot of MG novels. Study everything E.B. White writes.
“Voice: The narrative voice should be what the character notices in the scene.
Children this age often talk in fragmented sentences and half thoughts. Does your dialogue reflect this?
Watch that your character is not too self aware. He or she shouldn’t have emotional maturity that comes with age.”4
The MG voice is the hardest voice to pull off. Keep reading MG novels and listen to 6th graders’ conversations.
1. Danika Dinsmore. “Tropes & Tips for Middle Grade Fiction Writers.” Bob and Jack’s Writing Blog. http://bobandjackswritingblog.com/danika-dinsmore-tropes-tips-for-middle-grade-fiction-writers/
2. Workshop 8: What’s So Tough About Writing The Middle Grade Novel? by ACFW Conference Ezine.
3. Stacy Whitman. “Some thoughts about the middle grade voice.”
4. Cherie Colyer, “Writing for a middle grade audience.” September 2011.
“Middle Grade Literary Agents.” Writer’s Digest. December 2013.
Janice Hardy. “Real Life Diagnostics: Finding Your Middle Grade Voice.” The Other Side of the Story. March 2013.
Penny Lockwood. “The Dos and Don’ts of Writing Middle-Grade Fiction.”
Middle Grade Characters and Voice.