26 March 2011

Lessons from the Trenches: What the hell...I mean heck...is the difference anyway?

Or, the intricacies of writing for a YA audience.

First, let me apologize. I promised a blog each day this week, but how about three blogs in one day. Extenuating circumstances kept me from getting the posts up, so all three will be up at some point today (Saturday). Again, I apologize. Please forgive me.

Now, on to the post. If you remember, I went to the Virginia Festival of the Book in Charlottesville and had a grand ole time. Tuesday I posted about the first panel I attended, which dealt with publicizing your book.

My second panel was on Young Adult Literature. This was a great panel where five young adult authors read from their works and then spoke on the differences between writing for a young adult audience and an adult audience.

The panelists:

John Connolly (The Book of Lost Things)
Jacqueline Kelly (The Evolution of Calpurnia Tate)
Valerie O. Patterson (The Other Side of Blue)
Tammar Stein (High Dive and Kindred)
Steve Watkins (What Comes After)

The only author I was familiar with before this panel was Jacqueline Kelly and I hadn't read Evolution yet, so I was really eager to hear about some up-and-coming YA authors (since that's what I hope to be in the next year—haha!).

Of course, the most exciting one, in my opinion, was John Connolly. It could be my love of the Irish, or my love of very dry humor that shocks the pants off most Americans, but John had me laughing within the first two minutes and I didn't finish until he was done talking. I mean, who can't laugh when his book misses a famous English book chat because of bestiality between Little Red Hiding Hood and the Big Bad Wolf!

Talk turned quickly, though, to writing for young adults versus writing for adults.

The main points of contention were between the following:


Do you need to curb your writing when writing for young adults? Can you cuss? Can you use inappropriate slang? Is there a consensus? What do you do?

The token Irishman rang in on the side of using language, of course—he's Irish, what do you expect?--but the basic agreement ended up being that you should use language if:
it fits the character
it's not gratuitous
if there's a point to it

Teens use language. As a teacher, in fact, I've picked up a few new words each year I've been in the trenches. However, when writing, if you're going to use it and actually want to see your books on the shelves and in the hands of little ones all over, you need to be wise in your decisions. One or two placed well can make more impact than fifty just thrown willy-nilly through your ms.

Untouchable Ideas:

Sex? Drugs? Rock-n-roll? Evolution? Rebellion? Violence?

Teens lives are full of so many variables. As writers it's our job to capture their lives while also giving them something to think about (if even subconsciously).

Again, the consensus is in favor of discussing these topics. How are you going to reach teens if you're not talking about things that they're faced with, that they're dealing with, every day.

But again, as writers, we need to approach the topics in such a way that we are giving our readers something new to think about rather than just giving them gratuitous fight/sex scenes.

So, what I learned from the trenches during this panel is:

Make any choices you want to make—but be sure there's a reason to it. Shock value is not enough. There needs to be logic and thought behind it. But, this is what drafting is all about, right?

Coming up next...Dancing with your Manuscript.

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