S.R. Johannes: “The Challenge in Writing for Tweens”

Today, we’re delighted to share a guest blog from S.R. Johannes, the author of the YA adventure Untraceable and a new middle grade book, On the Bright Side. Thanks for stopping by, Shelli!

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The Challenge in Writing for Tweens

Tweens are a special group of girls.

They hold that space in between middle graders and teens. Usually 12, 13 and 14.

To me, writing tween is hard because you have to squeeze somewhere in the middle. Middle grade plots are simpler that young adult. Romance does not exist in middle grade. Yet tweens want more complicated books with some talk of boys.

Lets look at MG vs Teen books. Clementine is a middle grade books vs. Twilight is a young adult.

Middle Grade

  • Simpler plots – more one dimensional
  • No romance
  • Internal motivation – “all about me”

Young Adult

  • Complicated plots – layered with sub plots
  • Romance galore J
  • How they fit into the world

Tweens don’t want to read middle grade books for a couple of reasons. 1) They are not advanced enough so a book appropriate for a 9 year old seems “babyish” to a 14 year old. and 2) they don’t want to be caught browsing into the kids section at a bookstore.

However, YA addresses more mature issues a tween may not be ready for. Not to mention, YA is closer to the adult section. Parents don’t want kids reading young adult because of subject matter combined with romance and violence.

So tweens are caught in the middle.

Middle Grade assumes an 8 year old and a 13 year old can read the same books because they think the same. Young Adult books target teen issues that tweens haven’t even thought about yet. There is a hidden space in this range of 8 to 18.  The tweens who have outgrown Middle Grade books but who aren’t ready for the mature “young adult” series.

Making Gabby a tween was tough. She has those moments of childlike behavior yet the issues of a tween. Wanting to grow up to fast yet still under the wing of her mom. Adding in her snarky humor while balancing likability was hard. It is hard to write a lovable character that is selfish in motivation – but that is where a tween focuses more.

In OTBS, Gabby starts out with an internal motivation. About a girl winning a boy she wanted and refusing to let someone else she hates take him away. But as the story moves along, her motive becomes about something more. About something bigger than her. It becomes about what is right and wrong, about growth, and about acceptance. In the end, her actions have larger consequences than she imagined. And she begins to see how her place fits into a larger picture. A little MG with a little YA.

So hopefully, OTBS finds that sweet spot in the middle and keeps people laughing yet teaches the core message about acceptance and moving on.

2 thoughts on “S.R. Johannes: “The Challenge in Writing for Tweens”

Add yours

  1. Shelli, you bring up such a great point. MG really doesn’t (typically) appeal to the actual middle grades ie: middle school. I think MG is often much more appropriate for, and well received by, the upper elementary grades. My 6th graders certainly weren’t ready for lots of the more “adult” content in YA novels, but they also needed more drama and romance than they were finding in MG. I can’t wait to check out your tween novel, OTBS!

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