How Much Page Time Can Adult Characters Have in Middle Grade Novels?


Dear Balance Seeker…

I must admit, my hand instinctively reaches for my editorial Red Flag when you say you want the old woman’s “perspective” before she disappears. Given that we’re talking about the opening chapter, could the real problem be she’s a tool for delivering backstory or story set-up? Can you get the info she’s supposed to reveal into the story another way, perhaps through flashbacks, or via kids scouring their memories of her for clues after she disappears? Or this: Do we even need that info before the kids’ storylines kick in? Gotta be careful about story set-up in the opening pages, as it can fail to grab readers. But let’s consider this as an issue of balance. There’s a rich tradition of including sage, mature, reflective older characters in MG fantasy. So your older character would be welcomed. That said, a satisfying adult/child “balance” usually puts the weight of the story on the kid characters’ shoulders. Why? Because of the target audience’s interests. Middle graders choose MG fantasy because they want to read about kids like themselves doing fantastical things. Young readers relate to the less experienced, less reflective sensibilities in a young protagonist’s point of view. Both are moving through the same developmental phases, processing the world and their places in it from an equally deep well of experience. Older people\characters have deeper wells. They have more already-learned lessons to apply to the plot problems, and they anticipate and weigh consequences differently. That means they resolve the external plot differently than a child protagonist would, and it means you’re asking kid readers to relate to an elderly person’s internal journey through the book. So really, the issue here isn’t the balance of page time for old characters and young characters. It’s the balance of the external and internal arcs with your kid readers’ desires. Will Book 2’s older, wiser star satisfy the kids who cheered on Book 1’s three-kid cast? My gut is talking to me again, and it’s hoping you’ll carry the trio into Book 2.

Happy writing!
The Editor


  1. Great question. That said, when I’m writing, I try and put my head back to when I was the age of my young characters. Remembering my thoughts, feelings and viewpoints towards older (not necessarily ‘old’) individuals in my life at that time.

    Great information given for me to keep in mind as well. Thank you.

    • It’s an interesting task to mute or otherwise step away from our adult perspectives while we adults inhabit child characters and put ourselves in the shoes of child readers. Fun and rewarding!

  2. I am struggling with this issue as well because I want to have my protagonist be half-Japanese but I am not half-Japanese, so I was thinking of including a mother POV to base the story in both perspectives. Any thoughts?

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