Middle Grade Novel

by Gia

Question: What is the ideal word count for a middle grade fantasy fiction? How dark could it be, I know there's a limitation but somehow I want to have it in my book.

Answer: Middle-grade novels are generally around 30,000-45,000 words. However, fantasies are often longer (partly because there is a fantasy world to be explored and described.)

Harry Potter and the Philosopher's Stone book is around 77,000 words long and was considered to have pushed the boundaries at the time it was published. However, The Hobbit, which was published decades earlier, was even longer at 95,000.

Some publishers will set fixed limits on length because they are creating books for a particular niche (such as reluctant readers). You should probably look at novels similar to what you want to write and see what the average word count is.

As for "darkness," it is important to think of your readers and what might interest them. Certainly, young people encounter unpleasant things in life, such as the death of loved ones, bad relationships, bullying, abuse, poverty, disease, cruelty, mental illness, trauma, and even violence at the same rate adults do. Consequently, some are interested in such subjects. Reading books about dark topics can help young readers develop empathy for others or cope with situations in their own lives.

However, there are lines you probably should not cross because you will either turn off your readers or upset parents. Lurid, gruesome details of violence and death are as distasteful to kids as they are to many adults. Graphic sexuality will get your book banned from many schools and libraries.

Remember that middle-grade readers have most of their books chosen for them by the adults in their lives, so you have to consider what parents will be comfortable buying for their child.

Young people are interested in romance, but you have an obligation to be authentic in your portrayal of young characters and the age-appropriate emotional aspects of such topics. The type of steamy romances written for 22-year-olds are too far outside the interest and experience of an 11-year-old reader.

Middle-grade readers want to read about characters who are slightly older than them and are having the kind of experiences they are looking forward to having. That might include first romances or crushes, but it doesn't generally include the kind of sexual activity more appropriate to adults.

Sometimes it is wise to consider the principle of "less is more" when writing about disturbing topics for middle-grade readers. A few understated details or hints about what is going on can be more effective than displaying the darkness in full graphic glory.

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