Middle Grade vs. Young Adult Fiction

On a recent Writing Excuses podcast, author EJ Patten discussed Middle Grade fiction writing, and put forth a fascinating comparison between Middle Grade (fiction for grade 4-6 students) and Young Adult (fiction for grades 7+ students).

He said that Middle Grade fiction is all about supporting or maintaining the establishment. The characters in these stories are trying to learn to become part of the world, both by learning its ways and finding a way to support the status quo in some way.

So, for example, in Harry Potter (the first book is Middle Grade, the rest quickly become YA), is about Harry learning his way around Hogwarts Magic School and the Wizarding World (learning the rules), and trying to find the Philosophers Stone to prevent Valdemort from returning and disrupting this world. (Maintaining the status quo.)

It makes sense when you think about it, young people that age are trying to figure out their place in society, so they respond to characters who are also trying to figure out their place in a society. Finding your place means becoming a part of that order, and taking a responsible role in maintaining that order.

Young Adult, fiction, on the other hands, EJ says is all about new beginnings. It’s about tearing apart the status quo and starting fresh in some way. The characters are trying to break out of their traditional world and start something new- disrupting or changing society in some way. (Pretty much the complete opposite of Middle Grade.)

So a YA novel like Hunger Games is about Katniss Everdeen living in her highly stratified and oppressive society and then tearing it apart. Even the Paranormal Romance novels that dominate YA are still about the young heroine breaking out of her traditional world (by hanging out with vampires/werewolves/etc) and starting something new (romance). In fact, one of the big differences between Middle Grade and YA is that Middle Grade has little to no Romance, while YA often has it as a major element of the story.

Of course, these are general patterns that these types of fiction tend to follow, and not the word of God on the subject, but they do make a lot of sense. I’d always wondered what the difference between the two was (beyond the age range) and this look into the psychology of writing them is fascinating.

Oh, one other thing the podcast (which I recommend giving a listen to) brought up was that for some reason around Grade Six, boys just stop reading Middle Grade/YA fiction and will tend to jump right to Adult (General Audience) works. They said this is why the YA market is mostly a girls market, because the boys literally aren’t interested in reading YA fiction for the most part.

This last point is something I would argue with a little bit. I would argue that the boys are indeed “reading” YA voraciously, but not in the form of prose. They’re consuming it in the form of comic books (mostly manga, these days) and anime, which still follow the patterns laid out above. You could even make a case that they’re also taking it in through video games, which tend to have the same stories of carving something new out of the world, but are more interactive.

Rob

Superman vs. Tony Stark

I didn’t come up with this, it’s from Tumblr, but it was so brilliant I had to grab it and share! 🙂

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Ascension- A Novel of the Twin Stars Is LIVE!!

Ascension Cover

My very first novel, based on the Parsec Award Nominated Podcast (which has had over a Quarter of a Million Listeners)  is now up and available for Amazon Kindle. Check it out!

Attack on Titan (Shingeki no Kyojin) Review (Spoiler Lite)

So, I finally got around to watching Attack on Titan, one of the new hit anime of the current season, and I’d have to say my feelings about it are mixed.

For those not familiar with the story- in essence, the story takes place in a post-apocalyptic world where an army of semi-indestructable giants called Titans appeared and killed off most of humanity. What’s left of humanity lives in a walled-off territory preseumably somewhere in Europe. Since most of the Titans only operate on the level of a typical zombie, the wall strategy worked pretty well, and things have settled down into a natural stalemate. That is, until the Colossal Titan appears, and begins knocking down the walls, throwing humanity into a desperate fight for survival as their walls are being slowly breached.

The main character is Eren Jaeger, a young man who is determined to avenge his family and joins the military to fight against the Titans. Aided by his childhood friends Mikasa Ackerman and Armin Arlart, and the other members of their squad, they struggle to fight against an incredibly tough foe. The only way to kill the Titans is by making a deep incision at the base of their neck, and so they must master the 3-D Maneuver Gear which basically lets them move around like Spiderman. (And allows for some visually astounding fight scenes.)

Despite this, the situation looks really bleak for humanity, unless a miracle can happen…

So, my thoughts.

On the plus side, the animation and presentation of the whole thing are just spectacular. Like really spectacular. The thing looks like a film, and it really raises the bar in terms of dynamism- expect a whole lot of other shows (and American movies) to be copying the hell out of this series in the years to come. The world is also incredibly well detailed and presented, and it seems like a place more than just a generic setting.

I wish I could say the same about the characters, but I find them to be pretty generic overall. I know some people love them, but I think that’s because they’re so generic you can pretty much project anything you want onto them. The three leads are the classic spirit (Eren), body (Mikasa) and mind (Armin) dichotomy, and while there’s nothing wrong with that, they don’t deviate much from those roles. Most of the story is around them dealing with their own weaknesses in the face of overwheming odds, which seems to be a running theme of the show, but its done in a really standard fashion. Every show about teens struggling against overwhelming odds does this, from Ashita no Joe, to Naruto, or even Aim for the Ace and Gunbuster. It’s an anime standard, and they’re not doing anything new here.

I find the dialogue pretty stilted, and people tend to do what they always do in stories like this. It’s all very by the numbers.

The story itself is fine, and well presented, although it mostly feels like method for getting the characters from one epic action event to another. (It’s based on a manga, so I can forgive it for this.) It has just enough mystery and intrigue to keep you interested, and it rewards you for your interest. It also goes from happy to astoundly bleak and horrific at the drop of a hat, so if you can’t handle horror and gore, this is abosolutely not the show for you!

That said, having watched the first Nine episodes, I have to say I like it overall. What’s not to like about watching a team of young Spidermen fight an army of Hulks?

I give it 7/10.

Oh, and a few major-spoiler-heavy thoughts below…like really major spoilers….

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Okay, sadly I was spoiled before going into it by accident, but what we’re watching is essentially a post-apocalyptic Ultraman. We have our team of anti-giant fighters, and our hero who discovers he can turn into a super-giant when the chips are down to fight the other giants one-on-one. It’s a super-dark take on Ultraman, but at heart that’s what it is. Not that this is a bad thing (I love Ultraman), but it does take some of the drama out of it when you realise this.