Are Middle Grade Novels and Young Adult Novels Structured Differently?

imagesAs a middle grade author, I get this question a lot. What is the difference between middle grade and young adult novels? Sure, for all of the voracious readers out there, the answer may seem obvious. But I think it’s interesting to review, not only for selection purposes, but also for those who want to write middle grade. For me the question becomes–given that many of the same craft techniques apply to both YA and Middle Grade, how does content affect structure. Does it ever?

Well, we know that the craft of writing picture books is completely different. It’s a medium that consciously marries the visual to written language. And chapter books share many of the same craft techniques but, developmentally, because six, seven and eight year-olds are so different, the form of the chapter book is also different. Chapter books almost always have short chapters, almost no subplots and diction choices are much more limited because children at this age are just learning to read. As a result, plots must be developed much more quickly and there is usually much less exposition. Also, chapter books usually have many more dialogue tags so younger children will not be confused as they read.

So developmentally young adults and children who are reading middle grade fiction are very different as well. Does this mean that the structure of a YA novel will look different? Probably not. Will diction choices be different? Yes, they could be.

Let’s compare other features of YA and middle grade.

YA chapters can be very very long. So can middle grade.

YA chapters can be mini, so can middle grade. YA can alternate point of view, so can middle grade.

You could write an epistolary novel for both ages etc. Use flashbacks, flashforwards and play with chronology. The difference is in content, and the choices therein. In YA you can discuss sexuality in its fullness, as well as violence. As far as I can tell, the content difference between YA and middle grade do not change form. In YA you could curse and be very explicit. You could include scenes of more graphic violence. Now there is an art to writing credible violence and sexual encounters. There are techniques for that…but I’m not sure that on an architectural level, in terms of the form of the novel itself, that anything is different between a middle grade and a young adult novel.

Any other thoughts on this? I’m all ears!IMG_1437

Hillary Homzie is the author of The Hot List (Simon & Schuster MIX 2011) and Things Are Gonna Be Ugly (Simon & Schuster, 2009). She can be found at and on her Facebook page.

Hillary Homzie
  1. Yes, the tolerance level for internal thoughts/description in middle grade seems to less, but sometimes authors are clever and just know how to break up the description so the imagery doesn’t get in the way of the action and cause a static moment. But there can be quite a bit of imagery

  2. I recently posted on this very topic here:

    The two do have the same structure. One difference according to agent Jennifer Laughran is that MG kids test boundaries and have adventures “finding their place within a system” whereas YA teens do the same, while “busting out of the system” and find themselves.

  3. This is a good overview of these two forms. It is certainly something we, as writers, need to think about and keep in mind. I think what Andrea said in her comment is right on as well. Thanks for a thoughtful post.

  4. I read a lot of MG and YA novels, and I think that in MG novels, the pacing is faster. Since they are often shorter than YA novels, there is less space for description and internal thoughts of the characters. Sometimes, in a MG, a chapter might be one scene, whereas in a YA, you might get several scenes in a chapter. But I agree they do have the same basic structural elements.