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MG Horror Guidelines

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Does anyone know of an article that explains what's expected in middle-grade horror? How scary is too scary for kids who grew up watching The Walking Dead?

Also, if you have kids who like to be frightened, I'd love to know what they think are the scariest recent MG titles!
#1 - September 13, 2017, 10:48 AM

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Hmm. I don't write or read horror, but I do write MG. My suggestion is to immerse yourself in what is already out there and see how far other published writers have taken things. I did just read a scary MG that was more of a scary Halloween story than outright horror, but it was still pretty scary, though not graphic. It had also had a mixture of humor and sweetness, which really helped balance out the tension and fear factor in the story.
#2 - September 13, 2017, 05:52 PM
ROYALLY ENTITLED (inspirational/historical YA) and OOPS-A-DAISY (humorous MG) out now.  http://www.melodydelgado.com/

Thanks, Melody. I am trying to read as many recent scary MG titles as I can. Do you remember the title of the one you read?
#3 - September 14, 2017, 09:56 AM

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Meddling Kids by Edgar Cantero is a great example of a recent MG Horror! Others I can think of are Doll Bones by Holly Black, The Jumbies by Terry Baptiste, The Night Gardener by Jonathan Auxier, and the Lockwood & Co. series by Jonathan Stroud. Classic past titles might include Coraline and The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman and ParaNorman by Elizabeth Cody Kimmel. I hear Katherine Arden is coming out with a new title called Small Spaces for middle graders...not sure about the pub date but it's supposed to be brilliant!
#4 - September 14, 2017, 11:03 AM
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Thomas Templeton and the whispers of Branson Manor
#5 - September 14, 2017, 01:14 PM
ROYALLY ENTITLED (inspirational/historical YA) and OOPS-A-DAISY (humorous MG) out now.  http://www.melodydelgado.com/

Thanks for all the suggestions! Some were already on my TBR list, and I've added some   ;D

Small Spaces definitely looks amazing! It's pitched on Goodreads as The Walking Dead meets Stranger Things, but no pub date I can find either. I followed the author, so hopefully, we'll find out soon!
#6 - September 15, 2017, 06:28 AM

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Hi MG Mystery,

I thought you might find this article interesting. It mentions Holly Black's Doll Bones and Robert Beatty's Serafina and the Black Cloak: http://whatswriteaboutthis.com/whats-write-in-middle-grade-horror-doll-bones-serafina/  The big horror MG series I remember was R.L. Stein's Goosebumps. Looks like he is still writing, for example, Young Scrooge, The Little Shop of Monsters ... One story that always creeped me out was Neil Gaiman's Coraline!
#7 - September 18, 2017, 08:36 AM
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Thanks, Susan! I saved the article and keep adding to my list. I'm not sure how I missed it, but I had no idea Serafina was so spooky!
#8 - September 18, 2017, 09:29 AM

Thanks, Susan! I saved the article and keep adding to my list. I'm not sure how I missed it, but I had no idea Serafina was so spooky!

Also keep in mind Middle Grade can be split between lower middle grade (that's often only twice the size of a chapter book) and older middle grade that is just about the length of an early young adult.

I had to look this up, as I'm still considering a middle grade Cyberpunk/Biopunk/Spypunk at some point.
#9 - September 19, 2017, 06:02 PM

Yeah, the lower/upper MG thing is another mine field for me to worry about. Did you find anything very specific?

I'm thinking my word count will be 35k-40k, and the content will be scary--but my MC is 11 yrs old. I'm hoping to just pitch it as MG.
#10 - September 20, 2017, 06:14 AM

Yeah, the lower/upper MG thing is another mine field for me to worry about. Did you find anything very specific?

I'm thinking my word count will be 35k-40k, and the content will be scary--but my MC is 11 yrs old. I'm hoping to just pitch it as MG.

Nothing beyond "read your target market" unfortunately. Which isn't real helpful when looking for Middle Grade Cyberpunk.
#11 - September 20, 2017, 07:54 AM

I bet. If it's one of those situations where you're thinking MIne's almost like that, but... And the part that makes it different is where you're probably breaking rules, I'm right there with you.
#12 - September 20, 2017, 10:06 AM

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I'll second Doll Bones and also Lockwood & Co. As an adult, I found elements in both of them quite scary! But they were also handled in a very middle grade way.
#13 - September 20, 2017, 10:27 AM

I bet. If it's one of those situations where you're thinking MIne's almost like that, but... And the part that makes it different is where you're probably breaking rules, I'm right there with you.

Well that and while I consider myself a middle grade writer, a lot of my aim is to subvert the Disney children's story stereotype. Even when I hadn't wrote middle grade, it was early teenagers taking on the responsibilities of adults, and how while children would like to be thought of as older, the idea of them actually being adults is ... well quite dark indeed.

Think of it less like a dystopian novel, and more like an Urban Mobster/Espionage novella, with a very slight element of Lord Of The Flies and fairies.

Hence while not horror, I see myself in a similar situation with horror middle grade writers.
#14 - September 20, 2017, 10:35 AM
« Last Edit: September 20, 2017, 10:41 AM by SarahW »

Well, your situation makes mine look easy.  :umm Good luck!
#15 - September 20, 2017, 10:41 AM

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Dan Poblocki writes interesting MG horror--upper MG. He's written quite a few books. (is quite a few an oxymoron?) I'd definitely check his stuff out.
#16 - September 28, 2017, 08:27 AM
Keith McGowan, www.keithbooks.com

Just finished a flash fiction Upper Middle Grade called Mother's Sea, a science fiction. It's perfectly fine if you're main character sounds intellegent, even more than their age, as long as in general they ... paradoxically, sound like their age.

In other words, there should be other clues to indicate their age.

When carried over into mood, while whimsical and adventureus, it should still convey the darkness that carries over into the horror or dystopian genre.

Hope that helps.

Example. When I wrote Nymphs Of Winter Fire, while there was beheadings referenced throughout, main characters still indicated their voice by saying things like "You mean I have to take out the pale?"

For me, I use this contrast between childhood tone and adult horror to effect.

I can't emphasize enough the importance of, while the parent (if not absent) may be preachy, it must be obvious this is the main character speaking, and not the author.

Your milage might vary.
#17 - September 28, 2017, 03:46 PM
« Last Edit: September 28, 2017, 03:54 PM by SarahW »

 Ha! Quite a few might be an oxymoron, but I use it all the time.  And Dan Poblocki is now on my list.

Sarah, my dialogue is definitely staying in the MG range and I've added a background that suits some of my MC's extra knowledge. I've started drafting and it seems to be working nicely.
#18 - September 29, 2017, 12:23 PM

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I'll add THE AVIARY by Kathleen O'Dell to your list!
#19 - October 07, 2017, 04:50 AM
BLACKOUT -- available now
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SISTERS DON'T TELL -- available now
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Hi mg mystery,

I know this is late, but I read The Hunt for the Seventh, by Christine Morton-Shaw. 6 murdered children and the seventh goes missing. A suspenseful, scary at times, creepy and totally engaging read!
#20 - December 06, 2017, 11:53 AM

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