I’m writing a middle grade novel. I’m hearing that it’s problematic to start with the old woman in the story. Fine, I’ll move the kids to get them in the opening scene earlier, so that readers would get to know the kiddos quicker. The thing that’s tricky is I want the old woman’s perspective but she disappears in the next chapter and the kids don’t know what’s happened. Also, I’d love for this to be a series and want her to have a point of view in the future books as well. I’m not sure about the balance of this in MG. How much “adult” can you have? In this book, it is going to be from three kiddos perspectives. But if I write a sequel, can it be from just the witch? Or would that book have to have child protagonists as well?
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.