I ran across an article about John Steinbeck and am writing these notes on my ‘ideal reader.’ You know, just in case you’re wondering “who is supposed to be reading Jackson’s work?” Steinbeck gave the following advice to Robert Wallsten, a young man who was “experiencing a kind of stage fright about actually starting to write a biographical work.”
Forget your generalized audience. In the first place, the nameless, faceless audience will scare you to death and in the second place, unlike the theater, it doesn’t exist. In writing, your audience is one single reader. I have found that sometimes it helps to pick out one person—a real person you know, or an imagined person and write to that one.
Yes, authors from John Steinbeck to Stephen King are famous for telling you that you should know who your reader is – what makes them tick, what do they care about – if you’re going to write successfully for them. I’m in full agreement of this philosophy, but who is my ‘ideal reader?’
Middle grade fiction isn’t just for kids in the middle-grades. Many adults eat up middle grade and for good reason. WritersDigest reports they ‘found authors telling complex character stories with situations that, while literally relating to children, were not difficult for me to draw parallels to in and around my own life as an adult.’
But never mind that now – who is my ideal reader? I decided to ask ChatGPT: Here is what it said in response:
Your ideal reader for middle-grade sci-fi would typically be children between the ages of 8 and 12. This age group is often referred to as “tweens” or “middle graders” and represents a significant portion of the target audience for books in this genre.
Here are some characteristics and preferences of your ideal reader:
- Age: Your ideal reader falls within the middle-grade range, typically between 8 and 12 years old. They are transitioning from early chapter books to more complex narratives.
- Reading Level: Your ideal reader is likely an independent reader, comfortable with longer texts and capable of understanding more advanced vocabulary. However, it’s important to keep the language accessible and avoid overly complex concepts.
- Interest in Science Fiction: Your ideal reader is enthusiastic about science fiction and enjoys exploring futuristic or speculative concepts. They are intrigued by technology, space exploration, aliens, robots, and other imaginative elements commonly found in sci-fi stories.
- Adventure and Exploration: Middle-grade readers are often drawn to stories with exciting adventures and a sense of discovery. They enjoy following characters who embark on thrilling quests, explore new worlds, or encounter intriguing mysteries.
- Relatable Protagonists: Your ideal reader is more likely to connect with main characters who are around their age or slightly older. They want protagonists who face relatable challenges, overcome obstacles, and grow throughout the story.
- Engaging and Fast-Paced Plot: Middle-grade readers appreciate stories with a strong narrative drive, filled with suspense, action, and unexpected twists. They are eager to be captivated by a compelling plot that keeps them turning the pages.
- Themes of Friendship and Self-Discovery: Middle-grade readers often resonate with themes related to friendship, self-discovery, and personal growth. They enjoy seeing characters navigate social dynamics, learn important life lessons, and develop their own identities.
- Age-Appropriate Content: As a middle-grade author, it’s essential to ensure that the content of your story is suitable for your target audience. Avoid explicit or overly mature themes, and present any challenges or conflicts in a way that is appropriate for younger readers.
Remember, while these characteristics can help you understand your ideal reader, every child is unique, and there is a wide range of reading preferences within the middle-grade category. Tailor your writing to engage and captivate this age group, but also trust your own creative instincts and unique voice as an author.
Huh. Lot to take in, there. I’ve read, and re-read this list over and over again. ChatGPT’s feedback is interesting, but … something’s missing. Am I the only one who sees it? I did some more Google-fu and came up with this quote:
Afoma Umesi: My favorite thing about middle grade literature is how hopeful it is. It is very unassuming. I mean, it’s supposedly books for kids, but it can cover a wide range of emotions and a wide range of topics as well. Literally anything you can think about happening in real life is touched in middle grade literature. There are middle grade books about a variety of topics, whether you’re thinking about addiction, domestic violence, travel, death, and grief. And then there are also feel-good books as well, sibling relationships, everything. It covers all of this.
This is helpful but ultimately it’s a data point of data points. My ideal reader will fall somewhere in that Venn diagram of the eight items … but who are they? What’s going on in their lives? What makes them happy? What makes them sad? What drives them to turn the page? We’re getting closer to the answer, but we’re not there yet.
I’mma break this up into a two-parter – stay tuned for more details.