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Question about dark MG,

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Just going by Saving Mr. Banks and Mary Poppins, it seems like middle grade can be quite dark.

But that brings up a question. How dark can you go if your writing a middle grade novel based on some aspects of your life?

Roald Dalh wrote some Grim stuff, though it seems like the trend now is more like Star Wars and Dora these days. Large part why I didn't want to do MG at first.

This is more in reference to older works like Brother's Grim, Peter Pan, Mary Poppins. Stuff like that.

Got a copy of Moon Over Manifest, but I'm not sure if the rules are different for historical over say science fantasy and transrealistic fiction.
#1 - January 05, 2015, 08:17 AM
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MG (like YA) is actually all over the place with the darkness level. I consider Harry Potter middle grade. There's also The Series of Unfortunate Events, the Ranger's Apprentice series, and one could even argue that The Mysterious Benedict Society has some pretty dark edges. I wouldn't worry about dark so much as making sure the adventure/character development is written for your target age group. In my very reductionist opinion, MG fantasy character arcs are about finding some personal power/finding a place in a family or group and YA is more about using personal power for the greater good/finding a place in the world.
#2 - January 05, 2015, 09:28 AM

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The Thickety is an example of a very dark recent MG fantasy. But are you looking for dark MG fantasy, or looking dark MG that is NOT fantasy? It's not clear from your question which you prefer. (I'm not sure what transrealistic fiction is -- I've not heard that term.)
#3 - January 05, 2015, 10:40 AM
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You can go quite dark. Another recent example is SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS, which won a Newbery Honor a couple of years ago. I consider it a MG/Adult crossover (with no YA in sight).
#4 - January 05, 2015, 11:01 AM
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Mrh, there are quite a lot of books I consider MG/adult crossover!  MG in the upper range often has more similarity in voice with adult fiction than YA. Splendors and Glooms is a perfect example, along with The Peculiar by Stefan Bachmann or Rooftoppers by Katherine Rundell. They'd fit comfortably on the shelf next to Jonathan Strange and Mr. Norrell or Fingersmith.
#5 - January 05, 2015, 11:24 AM
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I had never considered the MG-Adult crossover possibility, but yeah.

What makes a story MG (or adult or YA) is voice. If you are true to the voice of your main character, you can go as dark as the story needs. Few topics are truly taboo, and those that are should be. It's okay to explore the dark side of the force and even have it win once in a while.
#6 - January 05, 2015, 12:10 PM
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Yea, that's what I was thinking as well, it depends on the voice.

I'll put SPLENDORS AND GLOOMS on my library list.^^

Also transrealistic is basically a juxtaposition between fantastic and science fiction aspects into an otherwise almost biographical narrative, or with characters based on people you've known. The difference between this and something like Life Of Pi, would be a book like A Scanner Darkly.
#7 - January 05, 2015, 01:12 PM
« Last Edit: January 05, 2015, 01:18 PM by SarahW »
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I've often wondered this myself, so thank you for posting and for the informative answers.

As soon as you said dark, The Thickety also came to mind. I, personally, think it was very dark and probably wouldn't give it to a younger MG reader. Many parents and teachers had the same feelings in Amazon reviews. On the other hand, I love The Giver...but the baby scene!  :bluesad I think the difference, for me, is if the character is involved in "dark" actions-- a sort of possession in The Thickety--  or if the character is really a step away from it, like Jonah in The Giver.



I've never heard of transrealism, so thank you for that! I write MG sci fi and find that interesting. 
#8 - January 07, 2015, 02:06 PM

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Kate Milford writes spectacularly good dark MG fiction, particularly The Boneshaker and The Broken Lands.
#9 - January 07, 2015, 03:30 PM

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Roald Dalh wrote some Grim stuff, though it seems like the trend now is more like Star Wars and Dora these days. Large part why I didn't want to do MG at first.

If that is your impression of current middle grade, you need to read more of it! There has always been a considerable range in middle grade, not least because what is relevant and appropriate for an 8-year-old, at the lower end, is QUITE different from what will appeal to a 12-year-old, at the other end...

But right now, in particular, there is something of a mini-trend towards rather dark folktale/fantasy middle grade, with The Thickety, already mentioned, a good example. Chat up your local children's librarian! Ask them about some recent dark/edgy middle grade...
#10 - January 07, 2015, 03:32 PM
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Anne Ursu's Breadcrumbs and The Real Boy also fall into the realm of dark MG. Creepy fantasy-ish stuff, and beautiful writing to boot. 
#11 - January 07, 2015, 03:47 PM
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Yes! And Jonathan Auxier's The Night Gardener...
#12 - January 07, 2015, 06:01 PM
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I want to read them all. These titles sound great.

Ree
#13 - January 08, 2015, 03:56 AM

Ditto. And yes I've read more current work. Though I'm not sure how current Blood And Chocolate is, or Harry Potter is for that matter. (I read a very little bit of the former.) As well as currently reading Moon Over Manifest.

Yea by dark, I mean more like not twinkling and singing. I'm less averse to singing. But no spoon fulls of sugar.

I'm actually wanting to do more Dark SF, rather than fantasy. Which reminds me, how current is Animorphs?
#14 - January 08, 2015, 12:37 PM
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Agents and editors often advise writers to read books published in the past five years. That will give you a sense of what kinds of books are selling in the current market.

#15 - January 08, 2015, 01:31 PM
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Animorphs and Blood and Chocolate are 18-19 years old by now (eek, time flies!). Which doesn't mean you can't enjoy them anymore! But Kell has a good plan: read as many books published in the past five years that you can. Haunt the new book shelf at the library. I thought the new MG I read last year was quite a bit more varied than the YA. There's a wide age range within MG, like Harold said, plus there's also just a wide genre/topic/interest range. I thought Holly Black's Doll Bones, as well as Kimberly Griffiths Little's The Time of the Fireflies, had their creepy moments. And I agree with Splendours and Glooms being creepy, too. And what about Neil Gaiman's The Graveyard Book?

Of course you can use things from your life in your writing. But *how* you do it differs between MG, YA, and adult. Each age brings different perspectives to the situation.
#16 - January 08, 2015, 06:50 PM

Actually anything by Gaiman for that matter. *cough Wolf In The Walls. Though that's a picture book.
#17 - January 08, 2015, 08:45 PM
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Totally agree with olmue--there are a lot of interesting things going on in MG. More interesting to me than the boxes a lot of YA gets put in. And this time of year, with end-of-year lists out and the ALA Notables to be announced soon, should give you lots of reading suggestions.
#19 - January 09, 2015, 03:24 PM
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I notice P.L. Travers (I guess you could call my idol) speaks highly of Brother's Grim.

Which leads nicely to the Cavevendish Home For Boys And Girls.

I'm not specifically looking for sad all the time. Rather than perfect balance between always happy, and always sad. Ideally something that straddles the line between both.
#20 - January 09, 2015, 04:10 PM
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There's some great books mentioned here. My MG stories tend to stray towards the darker side of things. Any other recent recommendations?

Just noticed this :trenchcoat creepy. Lol.
#21 - May 29, 2015, 05:41 PM

I'm actually reading through Doll Bones at the moment to see if it has the tone I mean. Not dark as in gritty, but rather (think goosebumps, though that can get gory at times) where the emphasis is an inferring.
#22 - June 02, 2015, 08:07 PM
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This same question came up in my critique group. I did some research and found an interview with JK Rowling after she'd completed the series, if I recall correctly. The interviewer asked, "What is Harry Potter about?" JK Rowling responded, "Death."  Also, consider RED KAYAK, a novel just mentioned at SCBWI FL conference during the middle grade track sessions. I haven't read it. But the discussion about it at the conference gave me the chills.  Another person in my critique group, who just lays his heart out when it comes to writing, had this to offer, which made me really think: Many kids have experienced the loss of a pet or even a relative and somehow they survive. Kids are more resilient and are better able to deal with life's realities than we give them credit for, perhaps. And, also, it may be that you’re thinking of the publisher instead of the kids themselves and that’s legitimate, but if so, you’ve got to decide if you want to write in that kind of self-censored atmosphere. 

Hope that helps.
#23 - June 24, 2015, 06:28 PM
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Yes it helps a bunch!^^

My own preference is to write based on what the kids (not the publisher) wants. I don't so much want to be a guiding hand, so much as another peer metaphorically speaking. Being there when times are tough.

I'll be sure to check out Red Kayak!^_- Sounds fantastic.
#24 - June 25, 2015, 08:25 PM
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