Writing Small

6:00 AM

The first book I ever wrote was 453 pages long. I've estimated that it's around 92k, but I'm not sure, given that I wrote it by hand. Once I did get around to typing it up, it came out at 97k words. As I grew more serious about my writing, I wrote an 85k draft which morphed into a 124k monster. The book I wrote with my cousin was 137k. Our sequel to it is already at 110k, and we're not even done yet.

When I set out to write my first middle grade novel, I knew I needed to write smaller. That didn't really work however, and I ended up with a 94k novel. I thought that was doing well, until I figured out that Middle Grade books were supposed to be 30-60k.

Even now, it's hard for me to imagine such a small book. I think reading so much young adult fiction has made my brain work on that wave length.

You see, I realized after writing that first Middle Grade book--which was The Dream Walkers, by the way!--that plotting for Middle Grade novels is not the same as plotting young adult novels. Young Adult novels are much more complex and intricate. There are multiple plot threads weaving together, lots of characters with lots of issues, and lots of high stake conflicts happening.

Middle Grade is different. It's not that Middle Grade is less intelligently written. Middle Grade writers don't have to dumb stuff down to be at "kid level". Kids are much smarter than most people realize.

But. In order to write a book of appropriate length that will keep children's attention, cutting is required.

My first successful children's book (word count wise) was my July nano novel last year: The House at the End of the Lane. It was a spooky little novel, one that was simple in my mind and didn't require a ton of plotting. I wrote it, and it was 36k. Thirty. Six. That's under half the size of my shortest work.

But it didn't just happen. I planned for this. I read Coraline and took extensive notes, analyzing structure and pacing. I figured out the guidelines of a smaller plot, and I fit that book to those lines.

And it worked! I wrote a short novel! I wrote a Middle Grade book. And I loved it. I can't wait to dig into edits. This month, I'm writing another short and spooky Middle Grade novel, and so far it's going great. 

So what does all this boil down to? 

The structure of a Young Adult novel is very different from the structure of a Middle Grade novel. That's why the sizes are so different. You don't just drop 50k to make a book a "children's book". The entire core of the story has to change. 

If you're struggling writing smaller Middle Grade books, or longer Young Adult novels, read. Read and study the structure of the story. Study the pacing and flow of it. Get familiar with what a 30k word book looks like, vs. a 130k word novel.  

Once you know what the book you want your novel's size to match looks like, go and plot intentionally. With writing small, I had to stop myself from throwing in exciting plot threads that were fun and cool--but would make my word count shoot up. I have one big plot thread and a few tiny others, and that's what my story hinges on. There's not a ton going on behind the scenes. There simply isn't the page time to afford it. 

And lastly, just write the book. It's always nerve wracking for me to write a book with what feels to me like very little plotting. I'm afraid I'll run out of content and the story will end at a meager 20k, and I won't know how to beef it up. But I can, and you can too. That's very important to remember. How can you write fearlessly without first knowing that you can always go back and change things? Writing is different than real life. You can always go back and edit. There's always another draft. 

What's your target audience? Are you doing Camp Nano this month? If so, what are you writing? If not, what are you up to? 

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  1. My first novel was 55K Most of them since have stayed at that or a bit less.
    I really want to try my hand at a Middle Grade book. You're right the structure is completely different.

    1. Aw! That's like, the perfect size! *high fives* And yes, you totally should try Middle Grade. It's so much fun!

  2. Ooh this is so interesting, I never thought about how MG might be structured differently! It makes sense now that you've brought it up. xD I'm so excited to see how DW progresses, and your new stories too!! *hugs and sends chocolate*

    1. I hadn't either! Until I sat down at really thought about how to write a book that was so small. Cause MG IS SO SMALL O.O *accepts hugs and chocolate happily*

  3. This is SO helpful!!! Thank you so much!

  4. Great post! Wow! You have written a lot of words! :)

  5. Your such an inspiration. Well written blog. Keep it up!

  6. Wow! 453 pages long would not be consider as writing small for me lol. Great blog tho!

  7. Wow! You really are driven with your writing talent. Those number of pages, words and drafts are really huge. Keep it up!

  8. Writing is really your passion. Continue what makes you happy.

  9. Thanks for sharing your knowledge regarding writing post. It's nice to know your thoughts.

  10. Thank you for these tips. I got so much information. And I realize its not easy to be a writer.

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