Middle Grade Horror: What Makes It…It

About a week ago, I finished the first draft of my middle grade horror manuscript Nightmare Garden.

I know. I like the title too.

The beginning of my middle grade horror manuscript Nightmare Garden

So what makes my words middle grade horror? Do I even know what I’m doing?

Yes. Mostly. And these are all my opinions, for I’m no expert.

I love reading middle grade, so why not write it? I wrote Nightmare Garden because my first adventure into the land of MG was so much fun. Well, fun…and painful…and frustrating…and fun.

Middle grade, my happy place, the age of family, friends, and school, where relationships with parents, grandparents, siblings, teachers, friends, and even not-friends drive the story. Beyond the small world of a middle grader, a greater world lingers outside. Let’s face it, middle graders imaginations have yet to be squashed by that gigantic outside world.

What makes my manuscript MG?

Middle grade exists in the adults-are-still-in-control area, and though my main character Evv doesn’t have parents, an “adult” hovers (literally) around, making Evv’s existence pretty lame. So many rules, lessons, and things to do. With helicopter parents and lawnmower parents, some kids can feel a bit…confined. They want to be free.

Evv’s thought from my middle grade horror Nightmare Garden

Just like, Evv, who simply wants a choice, to be in control and climb out from under the shelter and experience anything other than the same thing being handed to them.

So a few rules get broken. Bah.

In the demolishing of how-things-are, Evv feels very powerful.

However, when stepping out and being in charge of one’s existence, things happen. Not-so-great things. Suddenly there are consequences. Evv’s power wavers a bit under this new feeling. Fear. A strange concept, for up until then being afraid didn’t exist.

Here is where the horror in middle grade horror enters. There isn’t only light, but dark, and Evv is drawn to the shadows.

In the beginning, Evv faces everything with interest, so the reader experiences the horror first, seeing the possible danger. Will one of these nightmares get Evv? Will it hurt Evv? When will it strike?

And the Pale Skitterers do strike, do hurt, do make Evv question everything.

Experiencing fear for the first time changes Evv, forced to decide how to act and who to be. Carrying that great boulder of gray fear can be tough, it can steal your power. Not an easy thing to conquer, but every kid everywhere must eventually step out into the world and choose their own scary adventure.

In my middle grade horror, I use creepy images, like a jack-in-the-box, a version of Slenderman, a flying demon, flickering lights, eyeball flowers, and long halls. And sounds. Clicks and clacks. Squelches and pops. Hisses and ticks.


I love atmosphere.

My middle grade horror touches on the thought of being wiped from existence and the idea of darkness spreading, having no control and being swallowed by it.

There’s dark and light in everyone. No need to hide or deny it. We choose to nurture one or both to make us the best us we can be. Those fabulous middle graders need to know that adults can try to shelter them, but ultimately, it’s up to each kid to choose their path and each way holds the unknown.

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