Keeping it Tween

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.

 Craggy cover

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.

What themes do you think are best left for older audiences?

Emblazon headshot

Learn more about Lia London and her writing (some tween, some young adult, some adult) at or follow her on Twitter at @LiaLondon1

9 thoughts on “Keeping it Tween

  1. Wonderful advice in this post, Lai, but like the Harry Potter books which started off tween, then after a few bools hit young adult, the characters had to deal with a lot of dangerous obstacles that helped them grow and develop. I understand your position (and mine) as a writer for tweens, but our characters must grow, and sometimes it’s out of the adversity we throw at them. Cheers!

    1. That is a super good point. A series definitely allows for growth, and brings the reader along. Since it isn’t Neverland, we would want our protagonist to grow up. In stand-alones, though, we need to be wary.

      I think, in the case of Harry Potter, we knew the character was aging a year with each book, so we expected more mature themes to attend that. In my book, she’s only a couple of weeks older in book two, so readers may not anticipate that kind of content jump. That’s why I was more conservative.

  2. Having written about slavery for tweens, I struggled a little with this as well. How much is okay for young kids to “experience” through story? When are we sheltering them too much? It is a balancing act. In a related series, I’ve decided to go YA, to have my historical arms a little freer. There is definitely a difference between the two age brackets.

    I’m glad you made the choice you made. I love Gypsy! (Isn’t reader feedback fantastic? Oh, those priceless beta readers.)

    1. I think your Divided Decade books are so well done. They allow fear without terrifying the kids. But yes, YA lets in a little more “dark”. Shelter/expose…gaak! How to know what’s right? How to let kids be kids just a little longer!

  3. Like another commenter, I’m also glad you made the decision you did. I think a lot of the violence and sex out there is not necessary for a gripping story. Some people like it, but some don’t, and I wish writers/editors/publishers would make sure that if they include it, it’s there for a reason! I”ve got a MG time travel with some mild violence, but I want to keep it light and any serious stuff (there’s some in #2) will stay off stage.

    Since I’m also on #2 of a series, I know what you mean about writing changing with an audience who is already vested in the character. And me, with deadlines! Which means it’s time to get back to work. 🙂 Thanks for a thoughtful post.

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