Sunday, March 22, 2009

How YA is different from adult

(cross-posted at Verla Kay's board)

Every once in a while writers will cross, not genres, but age brackets in writing. While I definitely have favorites and can back them up with reasons, I think it's probably fair to say that one age bracket is not inherently better, harder, or more valuable than another. Adults read kids books, kids read adult books, but I think it's a given that you are going to get different perspectives depending on what age group you're reading. That said, I've read a number of books by successful authors for adults who have tried their hand at books for the kids. Some of them are pretty successful (Rick Riordan comes to mind as a great YA writer; haven't read his adult books yet). Some of them...well, not so much. So if you are a world-famous adult writer and think it's easy to write for the younger crowd, please keep a few things in mind:

1. Don't talk down to the readers. YA isn't dumbed-down adult.

2. Stay in the head of the teen MC and let them solve the problems. Sometimes I've read books by adult-turned-YA writers where the POV is just too much from the eyes of the surrounding adults.

3. Don't throw a bunch of stuff in just because it's educational. Even if it's fun (let's cover every interesting historical period on the planet! Let's include all known mythological creatures, just because!), if it doesn't have a reason integral to the character and the plot that emerges from that character, it doesn't need to be there.

4. Heart. In YA, I think this stems from the core developmental change that occurs during the teenage years, ie, becoming an independent person. Whether you rebel against what you've been taught or decide to embrace it, all of your own free choice and no one else's, you're on your own. You might have friends, you might have family, but there is only one person making those choices, and that is you. That's a bit of a difference from MG, where your "MC" might actually be a group of friends, or from adult, where those choices have already been made, where you already have power that teens don't have. So I think some of the heart in YA is letting your MC actually make those choices they need to, with all the fears and consequences and triumphs that come along with it. Doing that pulls the readers into your character's head and emotions and lets them identify with and fall in love with your MC. Which, I think, is ultimately what captures teen readers.

Structure/plot: chapters

In the interest of plot structure I'm sharing my current way of looking at chapters. I think it works best as a revision technique, but I suppose if you're first an outliner you could use it from the start. I've adapted it from a variety of sources and by no means claim it for my own--but I'm throwing it out in case it helps someone else.

1. What is the point of the chapter? (Why are you including it in here at all?)

2. What is the MC's (main character) goal (whether or not they know it)?

3. What does the MC do to meet and/or fail this goal?

4. What is the outcome? How are the stakes higher? To what new plane/complication has the MC come?