Saturday, July 14, 2012

Why Not YA?

That's a reference to a post I wrote long, long ago called "Why YA?" At the time, I was working on what I thought was a YA novel. But the words Young Adult infer a range greater than the genre actually encompasses.

Notice I called it a genre instead of a category. This is based in part on the sense I've gotten from reading blogs, reviews, articles and other flotsam on the internet. It's also based on responses I got from an #askagent question on Twitter. (Okay, so I only got three responses from agents, but two of them said genre. One said age group. The non-agent responses were evenly split.)

The expectations for YA fiction have less to do with age group and more to do with the type of story you might expect to find in that corner of the bookstore. If it were strictly an age grouping, it would include a broad range of fully-fledged genres. Instead, it includes sub-genres that resemble their non-YA counterparts, but also have certain hallmarks qualifying them to be YA. What are those hallmarks?

High school is the first one that comes to mind. The characters have to be in high school or at least in some situation vaguely like high school. They must be of high school age.

The protagonist must be in a romantic relationship by the end. Love triangles are common.

The plot and the stakes, however grand or perilous, must not outshine the protagonist's personal life and dilemmas.

The protagonist is usually female. The author is usually female. The readers are usually female.

Probably some others.

There are, of course, exceptions for every one of these. Early on, I was misled by some books I found shelved with YA that seemed quite different. But for each of these, there are ten or twenty that fit the mold perfectly. Also, these books are mostly by well-known authors whose careers began before the rise of YA as a genre. Others were written for adults and changed to YA by the publishers, (who know that it's mostly adults reading YA anyway.)

If you want to write YA, it's not enough to simply write for an audience of young adults. You have to write for the YA audience, which does not include most young adults. (As I've said before, if I were sixteen, I wouldn't be caught dead in the YA section of a bookstore.) There is no age grouping for teenagers and young adults in general.

And maybe that's the way it should be. Good storytelling is good storytelling. There's no good way to divide books into age groups. Some of my favorites are considered middle grade, and I've been an adult for at least a couple years. They have broad appeal. They fit into a genre, (usually fantasy,) but not an age group. And how young is too young to read Ray Bradbury? Nothing he wrote was aimed at juveniles, yet that's usually when we fall in love with his writing. And when we're grown up, we can read it again and see things we missed before. And while I was reading—I mean critiquing—Krista's middle-grade manuscript, I entirely forgot that it was middle grade. It was just good. Anyone of any age could love it.

Books is books. And I don't actually write YA. I just write. Look for my books in the sci-fi/fantasy section. (In a few years.)

p.s. I'm not very widely-read in YA and certainly not an expert. The opinions expressed here are those of myself at the time of writing and not necessarily those of my past, current, or future self. Mileage may vary.

6 comments:

  1. If Young Adult fiction were for young adults, wouldn't they have signs saying 'you must be 21 (or 18) or over to read this book'? There is still a part of me that thinks like a child that would resent being called a 'young adult' by some one who was only doing it out of flattery. I think when I was 16 my first choice would have been a book for real adults, my second would be a book for children such as the Little House books, and I would never have touched a YA book unless I had reason to believe it transcended the category.

    I had not known that romance was essential in the YA genre. I think if I ever write a book for non-adults it will be an old-style juvenile rather than 'YA'. The hero will be 17 but everything else will be the same as if I were writing for adults.

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    1. I find I write best if I don't worry about things like that until I'm done. The only time it causes problems is when you're trying to set expectations for the book in a couple of words, (ie. querying.)

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  2. I've come to accept YA (thank you John Green), but I don't like how nitpicky people get about whether something is or isn't YA. Even if that nitpicking is warranted, since YA is its own genre/category. It just annoys me.

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    1. I know. People get nitpicky about other genres, too. It's a genre, not a formula.

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  3. i guess i had an imaginary friend. he wasn't very friendly though. i saw him a lot more when i was like three. he never told me his name no matter how many times i asked. he always said 'sir' was fine. he was pretty tall and skinny and always wore a suit. he looked pretty normal except he didn't have a face and when he talked to me, i heard him in my head. we never really played games or anything though. he tought me how to draw and how to play the piano. i remember he never let me touch him. every time i got close he'd vanish but i'd hear him say to me in my head that if i tried that again he'd leave me forever. i would see him a lot in my dreams too. he would always call me by a different name in every dream. once he called my by my father's name in a dream and when i asked him why he called me that, he said to take it as it is. what does that even mean?? i'm fifteen now and i see him less and less. the one thing that bugged me was he had people of his own that he could see and i couldn't. he would talk to them all the time but i couldn't see or hear them. i thought it was a game but he said it was just work. i guess even imaginary people need imaginary friends of their own.

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  4. i guess i had an imaginary friend. he wasn't very friendly though. i saw him a lot more when i was like three. he never told me his name no matter how many times i asked. he always said 'sir' was fine. he was pretty tall and skinny and always wore a suit. he looked pretty normal except he didn't have a face and when he talked to me, i heard him in my head. we never really played games or anything though. he tought me how to draw and how to play the piano. i remember he never let me touch him. every time i got close he'd vanish but i'd hear him say to me in my head that if i tried that again he'd leave me forever. i would see him a lot in my dreams too. he would always call me by a different name in every dream. once he called my by my father's name in a dream and when i asked him why he called me that, he said to take it as it is. what does that even mean?? i'm fifteen now and i see him less and less. the one thing that bugged me was he had people of his own that he could see and i couldn't. he would talk to them all the time but i couldn't see or hear them. i thought it was a game but he said it was just work. i guess even imaginary people need imaginary friends of their own.

    ReplyDelete