A few months ago, I released my first sequel, The Gypsy Pearl 2: Craggy. Writing something that readers were actually anticipating changed the way I looked at the writing process. I had to be consistent. I had to build on what the readers had come to expect after reading book 1.
One of my avid fans after book one actually offered to beta read book 2, and that’s when I learned a valuable lesson. In my draft, I had included some darker scenes, including a scene in which sexual violence was threatened. The reader wrote to me saying she was disappointed that I’d chosen to write such a scene because she would not feel comfortable sharing it with her middle grade children who had so enjoyed the first book. She admitted her standards might be conservative and apologized.
I, on the other hand, did some soul-searching. Did I want other young readers to have to put the series down and never know the ending just because I got too edgy? While the scene was mild by most standards, not graphic at all, it was still not appropriate for tweens. This was when I realized that tween/middle grade and young adult are not always interchangeable. Some stuff is better left for the bigger kids and adults. Ironically, once I’d revamped the scene to take out any innuendo or reference to sexual assault, I saw that the story would still be just fine for older readers. The younger kids don’t need that stuff—but perhaps neither do the big kids or grown-ups!
Tween fiction is targeted to kids in those middle school years. While they may have been exposed to hormonal and/or violent interactions, it’s usually not a norm in their daily lives. Themes that dwell on such things run the risk of flying over their heads at best, or upsetting them at worst. Given that a good book draws a reader into the world of the main character, we need to ask ourselves, “Would I drag my 12-year-old into this?” If the answer is yes, we’re probably not writing for tweens. We’re writing for an older audience who will be able to distance themselves sufficiently not to be traumatized. It’s one of those tricks writers need to have: not only must we be able to get inside the head of our main characters to bring them to life, we must get inside the head of our target audience and consider how they will respond.
Call it a craft, call it a balancing act, or call it magic. It’s a wonder when it works.