If you write middle grade fiction, it helps to have a good picture of the life of a nine- to twelve year old. One big part of that life is rules. There are rules for home, rules for school, rules for friend’s houses, rules for sports, rules for games…Everywhere they go, kids have to follow rules.
Explicit rules. There are rules that kids hear around them all the time, like “Homework before computer” or “No talking during the quiz” or “No friends over when a parent’s not home.”
Implicit rules. Some of the “rules” kids follow might not be stated but are learned from the reactions of other kids in social situations, for example, “rules” about how to dress or where to sit in the cafeteria.
What are some key things to know about rules if you’re writing MG?
Think hard about which and how many rules a character will break. Some kids might enjoy reading because the characters in books can escape some of the rules in their lives and do things the reader themselves might not be allowed to do.
On the other hand, parents are still a big part of the lives of middle grade readers and may still be helping to make choices about reading materials and book purchases. Characters that break too many rules might be frowned upon, or depending on what the rules are, push your book more towards YA.
Take a kid perspective. Adults have a totally different perspective on rules than kids do. Have you ever tried to explain your logic in making a certain rule only to see a blank stare from your child? Because adults and kids value different things, there are some rules that kids just don’t get (e.g. Why do I have to keep my room clean again?)
Kids use rules too. Because they are still figuring out how rules work and which ones apply to them, rules are big in kids lives. They care about whether other kids follow the rules in the games they play. They also compare rules and use them to try to influence parents (e.g. “Well, Sophie is allowed to….”)
Rules can be a great way to bring in some tension and conflict in MG novels. Think about your main character’s attitude towards rules. Do they try to break them, maybe in a creative way? Or grumble about them but mostly go along? Which rules bug them the most? Does your story world have any unusual rules?
Do your characters have any rules to follow? How have you used rules in your stories?
Books where following (or not following) rules creates tension:
*If you can think of any others, please let me know and I'll add them to the list.
The Total Tragedy of a Girl Named Hamlet by Erin Dionne
The Girl Who Owned a City by O.T. Nelson
The People of Sparks by Jeanne DuPrau
Sorry, I couldn't find any on this topic. If you come across a related link, let me know and I'll add it for our reference.