re: How Old Should My MG Protagonist Be?

in Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

How old would my protagonist have to be to be considered “tween fiction”? My critique group thinks I’m in the wrong genre.

Sincerely,
Yvette

Dear Yvette…

In tween fiction, more technically called “middle grade fiction,” protagonists are usually tweens just like their young readers, putting them in the 9–14 age range. That range includes both older elementary school kids and early high schoolers—which is quite a wide range when you think about it. The maturity levels therein can be all over the map. Consider the sophistication of your concept, themes, and storytelling style as you determine where your project falls. The shift from tween to teen sophistication generally starts happening around age twelve, when they shift from focusing inward and struggling to find out who they are, to looking outward and realizing that they play a role in a bigger world. (Insiders call these books for older tweens “upper middle grade.”) That’s as important to consider as your protagonist’s age, which should match the age of your target reader or be just slightly above it. Young people like to read “up.”

Happy writing!
The Editor

10 Comments

  1. It can be hard to decide if the topics in an ms are MG or YA. The advice here is great, and there are blogs and articles on the net that are helpful, too. Good luck! 🙂

    • The fact that he’s in ninth grade is the trumping factor to me, Rick. He’s into a whole new set of life challenges and social relationships, moving in the teen world as opposed to the tWeen world. More likely you’ve got a YA on your hands. The YA age group is 12-18 (or 12 and up); there’s an overlap in the 12/13/14-year-old range for fiction for young people because physical and emotional development is so varied among kids these ages. Some of them are reading “up” into the YA realm, others are still happily immersed in MG fare. You really need to consider your themes and the sophistication of your characters, narrative style, and story. At the risk of sounding like too much of a shill for my book, I sort through this in great detail in the “Targeting Teen Readers” chapter of Writing Young Adult Fiction for Dummies, particularly in the “Choosing your age range” and “Understanding teen and tween sophistications” sections.

  2. Thanks, Deborah, for answering my question in such depth. You’ve really helped a lot to clarify the matter. FYI, I’ve decided to make my protagonist 11 at the start which will age him to 13 at the end of the last book. That way it still falls within middle grade fiction range, but maybe more “upper middle grade” in the finale. Thanks again!

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