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Help! Writing YA

If Fiction is your forte, this is the forum for you. This is the place to share information and get help on the road to writing the next great novel.

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StacyA
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Help! Writing YA

Postby StacyA » Wed Dec 10, 2014 2:08 pm

Hi! I'm sorta a newbie on the forums (have been a member for a long time, but haven't participated much), and I've been wanting to get more involved, so now the perfect opportunity has come up.

A couple of months ago I submitted my novel manuscript to an editor, after 7 years or so of writing, re-writing, polishing, etc. She finally got back with me this week, and was incredibly encouraging. She loved the story and characters, but of course, there is a ton of work yet to be done.

Because of the age of my characters (teens), she assumed the novel was meant to be YA. I hadn't intended to go that route -- while I'm still 15 at heart, at age 52, I'm not sure I qualify to write YA. I had intended the story to be for the Women's Lit genre, even with the characters as teens. (I've read several well-done books of this type.) But the editor was so enthusiastic about how my story could be really helpful to teens (it deals with emotional abuse and friendship), so now I'm seriously considering converting it to be aimed at the YA market.

I have some concerns, and the number one is that, as I mentioned, I'm 52, and while I have a son (21 now), he was never a "normal" teen in the sense of hanging out with lots of friends, spending a ton of time texting and socially interacting, etc. (He's a geek, spent most of his teen years playing computer games, and didn't really blossom socially until he hit college. Didn't even have a smartphone until 2011!) My story takes place in the 1990s, so the kids in my novel don't have the same kind of constant connectedness kids nowadays have. This is intentional, because that level of connectedness would mess with bits of the storyline. So I don't know how to be a teenager in the 21st Century!

The characters, though, are quite relatable, and their situations are NOT dependent on what kind of technology the world has at any given moment. So I believe strongly the general core of the story and the characters would resonate with teens.

But if I'm going to do this, I need help with adjusting this novel for a YA audience. My editor gave me some great suggestions for content, but I still feel uncertain how to actually WRITE it. I've read some articles, and most of them say NOT to pander to their age (i.e., don't "write down" to them or preach), and since I started this project with adults in mind, I don't think that would be a problem in general. Still, I know there are things that a YA novel probably needs to include ...

Any guidance, direction, hints, etc. would be GREATLY appreciated.
“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” -- James Michener

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Deb Porter
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Re: Help! Writing YA

Postby Deb Porter » Wed Dec 10, 2014 8:11 pm

Hi Stacy. Welcome back.

First of all, age doesn't mean anything when writing YA, but you definitely should have a finger on that age range to really connect with the reader, and an understanding of what is and isn't acceptable in YA. If you are not a YA reader, then you possibly won't be a YA writer.

YA writing shouldn't be childish, though. The Hunger Games is anything but childish, and the characters definitely don't act like contemporary teens (because they aren't). However, if you are writing a contemporary YA book, then you would need to be connected with typical teens. They can tell when something isn't authentic, as can teachers. I may be reading something thinking it sounds fairly right for teens, only to have Jan Ackerson poo-poo it as completely unbelievable. That's because Jan was a career high school teacher up until about four or five years ago. So if you can't be authentically YA, and yet have written the framework for something that appears to be YA, that may be a problem.

Setting it in the 90s probably does make it more of a nostalgic read for adults than teens, but it will really depend on whether the kids are believable for that era and not too childish for the adult reader. (If that makes sense.)

Literary fiction does have child/teen protagonists at times. For example, To Kill a Mockingbird had a child as the protagonist, although her role was really to show the world going on around her. So writing with a very young main character is not necessarily an issue.

I haven't read this one, but The Lovely Bones also had a young main character (albeit a dead one). That fit the Fantasy/Paranormal genre, more than the YA genre.

And here's some more with young main characters:

Did you know that Scarlett O'Hara in the book Gone with the Wind was just 16 at the start of the story (and when she got married and had her first child). So there's a teenager as the protagonist, but it's not YA.

Shakespeare's Juliet was just 13, although often portrayed closer to 16. Even so, not sure we would say Romeo and Juliet was YA, although who knows? Written today, that may be the case.

Icky literary fiction many of us had to read in High School, The Lord of the Flies has all school children as the characters, but it isn't YA. It is a disturbing social commentary.

So it really depends on the story you want to tell. You need to identify your target reader and then stay focused in that way. Without reading your manuscript, it's very hard to advise you.

If your editor is experienced, the fact she picked it as YA is fairly telling--unless she only said that because of the character's age. It really depends on whether your editor is skilled in recognizing genres or whether she's just a writer who is a very good copy editor (and I don't mean that "just" as a put down). If she is someone with years of experience assessing manuscripts, then it is quite possible you have unwittingly written something leaning toward YA more than adult.

A good test would be to give your rough manuscript to some unbiased teens and adults, and ask them whether they think it is better suited for YA or adults. That may give you a clearer idea.

In the end, if you are not really comfortable writing to that YA genre, then you will need to make sure that your story is crafted in a way that has stronger appeal with adults.

Love, Deb
Deb
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Breath of Fresh Air Press

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StacyA
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Re: Help! Writing YA

Postby StacyA » Wed Dec 10, 2014 8:46 pm

Deb, that is very helpful ... thank you!

My editor writes YA dystopian, so I think she did feel there was a strong YA feel to the story. I like your idea of giving it to a couple of teens and adults and seeing what they think. On the one hand, it would be lovely not to have to adjust my genre focus. But I'm not averse to the challenge, either. I just want to make sure this story lands in the right place. (And, of course, God will put it where He wants it, as long as I listen to His guidance!)
“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” -- James Michener

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Deb Porter
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Re: Help! Writing YA

Postby Deb Porter » Wed Dec 10, 2014 9:05 pm

Ahhh ... so she may have been predisposed to thinking YA. It will be interesting to see what you end up doing.

Love, Deb
Deb
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Breath of Fresh Air Press

Breath of Fresh Air Press - a little publisher with a lot of heart

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RoadkillsRUs
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Re: Help! Writing YA

Postby RoadkillsRUs » Sat Apr 04, 2015 8:38 pm

My first reaction in a case like this is always to find some people in your target market and ask them to read it and give feedback. It can be invaluable.
I know this is a few months old, but for anyone considering the YA market who isn't connected with teens who can do this, ask a youth pastor. In fact, if you want to get to know some (more) teens (an excellent idea, BTW) you might see about either working with the youth group directly, or opening your home up to them for whatever they could use it for. An awful lot of teens respond well to loving adults. And an adult who cares about their opinions? Oh, man!

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StacyA
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Re: Help! Writing YA

Postby StacyA » Sat Apr 04, 2015 10:06 pm

I'm re-writing now (very, very slowly -- life has intervened a bit too much lately), have moved it up to the current day, so not really ready for anyone to read it, but yeah, I will have to get some teen/young adult input for sure, once I have enough to share.

Kinda just discouraged about the whole writing thing in general right now. But that's another story ...
“I love writing. I love the swirl and swing of words as they tangle with human emotions.” -- James Michener


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