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Writing, Illustrating & Publishing => The Craft of Writing => Topic started by: eileen-lettick on July 04, 2018, 04:56 PM

Title: Middle grade book language
Post by: eileen-lettick on July 04, 2018, 04:56 PM
I am writing a book with a twelve-year-old female main character. It has a very little bit of language in it and one of the characters is a pedophile.  I'm wondering if this would be YA or Middle grade. Any thoughts?
Title: Re: Middle grade book language
Post by: Debbie Vilardi on July 04, 2018, 08:13 PM
Tough subject. It always depends on how a topic is handled and how true to voice it is. That said, I've heard editors say they expect cursing in YA because young adults curse among themselves. In middle grade, it's usually avoided.

If you can increase the protagonist's age to 14, you might want to. That will put you in solid YA territory, but make sure to carry that change through with anything else that needs to change. Also, you might not need to if you're keeping the middle grade perspective well. It's impossible to judge without being able to read it.

Pedophilia will be a very hard sell at either age group. It's a topic many gatekeepers won't want to expose their children to, even though children live this experience. The topic may make this an adult book no matter the age of the protagonist.
Title: Re: Middle grade book language
Post by: mrh on July 04, 2018, 08:34 PM
I just finished reading a MG with the word “damn” in it. I’d give you title and author if I could remember, sorry, but I’ve just read several in a row and don’t want to name the wrong one. 

Having some language and a pedophile as a character aren’t enough in themselves to make your book YA. For  YA, you need a YA character with YA sensibilities and a YA  plot. You need a YA voice. And I’m going to differ with Debbie somewhat on age. Age 14 is often no-man’s land for a novel as far as market — too old for MG and too young for YA.  If your story is solidly MG, I’d work with language and characters to keep them suitable for MG, not change everything else just to get to use a few words.
Title: Re: Middle grade book language
Post by: 217mom on July 05, 2018, 11:53 AM
I don't know how the current market/marketing considerations would weigh in, because they seem to be changing all the time. But I'm going to give my two-bit spiel on sexuality and middle grade.

The reason I never thought of YA as belonging in kid-lit is exactly this matter. The pre-pubescent reader is decidedly different. Post puberty sexuality is another world.
In one of my MG manuscripts I hint at somewhat creepy behavior on the part of one adult, (any young adult or adult reader would recognize it as exploitative inappropriate sexual advance) but it is written as the sort of thing a kid would just think of as a wee-bit off, and creepy. In fact, for most MG readers it may very well go over their heads. Never described or named, and only there as a realistic detail explaining the motivation of another character's choices.
Personally, I would leave explicit pedophilia out of a MG.  I also would not write in detail about doing tax returns while feeling lost in the long-form maze, or worrying about a job promotion because the boss is sleeping with another employee he might promote instead. These are part of older readers' world.
I know some kids experience pedophilia. But I don't think they have a way of entering the compulsive destructive mindset that propels it.

So as others said, it is a difficult matter.

As to cuss words, standards have changed a lot in recent years. I have a Beta reader who didn't like the word "heck" (the genteel "hell," which I also don't see as obscene as it is part of religious vocabulary IMO) and, conversely, I have friends who dislike the cleaned-up language in MG from years ago because it feels inauthentic. From what has been published in the last five plus years in MG, I think the range has widened a lot.

I personally do not use four-letter words in my real life speech. Never have. I'm not enamored of adult books that are littered with such words. But if you listen to real life eight to twelve year olds' speech and find that it fits there, I would defend your right to use it and would not be squeamish about it. I'd only ask that it be needed and not used for shock effect to rattle readers.

If you have an agent, ask for their opinion, too. Many professional hoops to get through, and they all matter.

Title: Re: Middle grade book language
Post by: Vijaya on July 05, 2018, 12:49 PM
Eileen, it's not the age of the character that defines it, rather the sensibility and topic. Although some children are victims of pedophilia and other abuses, anything that is more than a creepy feeling belongs in YA. You don't have to make your character older necessarily. In fact, it would change the tone of your book. A 12-yr old who is all innocence has a much different experience than a 16-yr old who has probably already awakened to her sexuality.
Since you are drafting this story, I suggest you write it how it comes to you without worrying about whether it's MG or YA. After you've finished it, decide who your audience is.

Ex: What Jamie Saw by Carolyn Coman. It's a slim book and the protagonist  is only 8 or 9 yrs old. But it's a book for upper MG and up (12+).
Good luck with the writing.
Title: Re: Middle grade book language
Post by: Debbie Vilardi on July 05, 2018, 06:22 PM
All of the above posts are correct. It depends on the story you want/need to tell.