Last winter, I registered for a MG/YA webinar taught by literary agent Mary Kole. Having already taken a picture book webinar taught by Mary and being curious about writing for an older audience, I thought this online class would be perfect. And it was. After taking the class, I became interested in writing for this genre.
Though Mary offered a 500-word critique as a part of the webinar, I could not decide whether to submit. After all, I had only written picture books. But as time drew closer to the deadline, I realized it was an opportunity to have my work evaluated by a well-respected agent. So, I wrote the first two chapters of a story which was based on actual events that took place in my life many years ago.
Weeks later when I received the critique, Mary pointed out that she liked the voice and the images. This inspired me and spurred me on, but still I did not know what I was getting into. I’m a picture book writer, you know, books that are well under 1000 words. Middle grade novels were at the very least 15,000 words!
And that was scary. So, I started by planning the story in my head, daydreaming about my main character and her unusual quest. As the plot became more apparent to me, I made notes on index cards to flesh out each chapter and then arranged the cards in the sequence in which to tell the story. When the chief details and scenes were finished, I had close to 30 cards. I figured I could write 500-word chapters. Then I did the math: 500 words x 30 cards = 15,000 words. Now this goal was achievable.
When I began to write the chapters, more characters popped up (more than I had realized were necessary to the story). Those characters took control and showed me how they would handle a situation (often much different than I had imagined). Hence, the plot became layered with subplots and twists. Thus, more note cards! In the end, my novel weighed in at a hefty 43,000 words—which still blows me away!
So, even if you’re a picture book writer, never let word count scare you about writing a children's novel. If you’re curious about MG or YA, take a class, a webinar, and read books to get a feel for writing for an older audience. Armed with knowledge, you’ll have the basic tools to get you going. Keep in mind that middle grade can run as little as 15,000 words, but tends to run 30,000 – 60,000 on the average. So, use note cards to give you the confidence to help plan your story. Before long, you will find that the unthinkable journey of writing 15,000 words or more will become an achievable reality.