Middle Grade vs Chapter Book

Middle grade novels like these have subplots.

Last week I blogged about where middle grade novels fit into the “book with chapters” spectrum.   On one end, you have chapter books.  Chapter book readers have just mastered reading on their own.  Because of this, sentence structure is straight forward.  Internal dialogue is kept to a minimum.  You have a plot and no subplots.  Chapter book characters may venture into the world to have adventures but they return home.

Unfortunately, about half way through my first draft I realized that my characters are not in the chapter book sweet spot – 8 years old.  They acted 10 and as soon as I realized that it just felt right.  But character age isn’t the only different between a chapter book and a middle grade novel.

Chapter books tend to be from 4500 to 7000 words long.  Middle grade?  Younger middle grade like my book range from about 10,000 to 20,000 words long.  Gulp.  How on earth am I going to take a story from one range to another?

Back in August I did a study of the balance between action, dialogue and narrative.  Chapter books where almost 50/50 dialogue and action.  There were only a few lines of narrative on each page.  In the middle grade novel I sampled, dialogue was still about half of the total.  Action and narrative were each about 1/4 of the total word count.

This means that I can use more of my word count to build up that world and color in the setting.  I also have space for a flashback or a bit of inner dialogue.

But wait!  There’s more.  I can also add a subplot.  Thank you to Mary Kole’s post “Writing a Novel Subplot.” She is definitely responsible for sending my thoughts in this direction.  As she explained in her post, a subplot can take several forms.

A secondary story for my main characters.  This could work rather neatly as they gather scientific evidence on their find while trying to get back to their family.

A story driven by one of the secondary characters.  I don’t see this working.  Unless I make another change.  Right now I have a buddy story with two cousins as the main characters.  If I make on of them the main character and the other a secondary character, that character could have his or her own plot line.  Not sure I want to do this but it is a possibility.

A story driven by the antagonist.  That won’t work for this book simply because there is no “bad guy.”  Circumstances conspired against them and I can’t see giving circumstance his own plot line.

Something going on elsewhere in the story.  To an extent, this is happening but it is more of the series story arc than a story arc to be explored in one particular book.  Thinking forward, but first?  I need to work through that subplot!


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