Thursday, January 12, 2012

The ABCs of Middle Grade: G is for Goofy

Even if a middle grade book has serious subject matter at its heart (take Gary D. Schmidt's Okay for Now or Christoper Paul Curtis' Elijah of Buxton as examples), middle grade magic happens when writers weave humor and silliness with very serious issues. But, this is a very tough magic spell to cast because the writer does not want to demean or make fun of the serious issues, and the writer needs to make sure readers know the goofiness is not aimed at the issues.

And because middle graders appreciate goofiness in a very special way, it's super important, I think, to have an element of goof in middle grade writing, even if--or maybe especially if--the story contains serious issues. But in my own writing, goofiness doesn't come naturally. A story builds. Characters show themselves. A setting is clear. But the goof? I have to work on the goof. And since I have to work on it, I have to REALLY work on making sure the goof isn't forced or stupid. Because if it is, a middle grader will say (because generally middle graders are honest as well), "This is dumb."

What do you think? Is goofiness necessary in middle grade? Is it possible to overdo goofiness in middle grade? And . . . what awesome examples do you have of an author weaving the super serious with silliness and humor?

22 comments:

  1. The goof!! You understand it, Barbara: "middle grade magic happens when writers weave humor and silliness with very serious issues." This is a perfect description. I am writing a post about humor in middle grade for Project Mayhem. Would it be okay to quote you?

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    1. Quote me? I'd be honored, Michael. This is what captures me most about certain middle grade.

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  2. I totally agree with your post. It is hard for me to "add the goof" too. And you're right, you want to make sure it doesn't impact on the serious issue in a bad way and you also want to make sure the read doesn't just laugh at you and say, "how stupid."

    The two Bobby books by Lisa Yee are good examples of serious with humor. To Bobby, the MC, his issues are very serious (friendship, relationship to his famous father, etc), but at the same time, Bobby is constantly putting himself in humorous situations.

    I love how you changed your comments on your blog. I'm going to have to see if I can figure out how to do that!

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    1. I haven't read either of those; I'll be looking for them!

      Also, I'm not so smart. Google's been working on blogger and the reply thing just appeared--poof--today!

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  3. "A plant's beauty shines when it's allowed to be what it is." That's the excuse my dad always used for not pruning the trees. :)

    Goof doesn't come at all naturally for me, either. I honestly don't know if it's present in every MG. But I'll be on the lookout when I read.

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    1. I think I'd get along with your dad, Marcia.

      And I'm sure goof isn't in every MG, I think it's a powerful connective element with the target audience. Usually, to me, it comes through voice.

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  4. Goofiness and silliness certainly helps take the edge off of middle grade reads and make them more acceptable to the target audience.
    It could be hard to do if you're not writing a comedy but it's also possible to make it look natural (in a serious story) by playing on circumstances for example.

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    1. I'm not sure I understand this new reply feature completely, like, do you only see this reply if you stop back in? Hmmmmm.

      But I see 'goof' coming out mostly through the use of a writer's voice in the story. Most times goof isn't even laugh out loud funny, it's subtle and intertwined in the story.

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  5. I think younger readers are less able to process the kind of unremitting *DARK* that pervades some YA books, so a little goofy is needed. Comic relief, people. I'm reading Lockdown: Escape from Furnace right now and it's a hard and bleak slog, but even that has lighter moments. I think, in general, the younger the reader, the more of a comic hand to hold they need to get through the drama.

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    1. I think I need the comic hand to make it through the drama too!

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  6. I do like to try to include humour in my MG stories, or at least a sense of quirkiness, because kids do love it. But it's hard to do that if you have serious topic, I find.

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    1. Quirkiness, zaniness--yep, for the purposes of this post it all fits into my goofy category (just to keep my alphabet flowing). It is hard--but important, I think.

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  7. I think you might only see the replies if you stop back in, yes. That's my guess. I like it, though.
    As you know, I love humor in a story, especially for that age group. Essential.

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    1. I like the reply too--really cool is that you can reply to another commenter and get a discussion going based on that person's comment, if you desire.

      Essential. Yes, that's what humor is in MG.

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  8. I'm not good at goofiness or humor but I can see why they would make a book more popular with middle graders. I at least try to include some teasing between characters.

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    1. Middle graders need, I think, that break from the super serious.

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  9. I love this statement "middle grade magic happens when writers weave humor and silliness with very serious issues."

    My impression is that MG definitely has a higher tolerance (and appetite) for not just humor but zany (or as you say, goofy) humor.

    Though I think it's something to be valued outside middle grade too (like the hobbits in LOTR!). I think sometimes writers try so hard to be serious that they create unrealistic interactions that readers can't connect with. Because in "real life" people use humor all the time as a coping mechanism. A touch of humor can make a serious situation more real, and thus more emotionally compelling.

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    1. Hi Deva! Thank you for visiting. And, yes, humor is an important thread through all ages of writing. I like how you bring about humor as a real life way of coping and how adding it makes the serious situation more believable in our writing.

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  10. Great post, Barbara! I'm dealing with this right now, myself. I know my book is too serious and desperately needs those touches of zaniness. But it's a tough thing to add without it sounding, well, like it's been added!

    Also love this new comment and reply form. I've seen it cropping up on several blogs.

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  11. I definitely think goofiness is necessary for MG fiction! Then again, I think it's necessary for all types of fiction, haha. I'm always trying to slip humor into everything I write. It's an especially great way to engage younger readers, IMO. Of course, I may personally think that 'cause if a book can make me laugh, I'm instantly a fan of the author, haha.

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  12. I love Marcia's dad's quote: "A plant's beauty shines when it's allowed to be what it is." Write from the heart, Barbara, write in your own voice, goofy or not, and your story will blossom. Great post!

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  13. Hi, I just googled how to put humor into MG stories and your post came up. I just started writing another MG and it is a little serious. Kids love humor and I am trying to put some neat humor into the manuscript. I love 'Because of Winn-Dixie' and I love some of the humorous sections in it, such as Otis and his jar of pickles and the humorous names. I am going to try to put some of that magic into my manuscript.

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