Thursday, November 21, 2013

Ignoring your inner editor

Over the past three weeks or so, I've been completely wrapped up in NaNoWriMo- National Novel Writing Month. It's been more of a challenge this year to get to 50,000 words in just 30 days, but luckily I'm stubborn, so I'm going to keep going until I get there.

As I was getting some writing in this morning, a hot issue in the writing world came to mind: Diversity. Embracing diversity is important for a lot of teenagers, so it's also a pretty hot topic among those of is who write for teenagers.

Diversity is a wonderful thing. We're all so different, and it's always great to come together despite our differences and include all sorts of characters in our stories. But a few months ago, I read a rather unsettling article from a rather well-known author (who, for obvious reasons, I won't name). In an otherwise good article about diversity in YA fiction, said author told all of her fellow authors that if we didn't have at least one character in each of our novels who was in some sort of minority-race, sexual orientation, anything else that set them apart from the "typical" protagonist-we were in the wrong.

As an author, I find this tremendously unsettling. We're always taught to be authentic, to tell a story that needs to be told in the way it needs to be told. And it's great to include characters in a story that are different from you. But I'm bothered by the idea of sticking a "token" minority character in a story just to fulfill a quota for social acceptance in the writing community.

I being this up under the topic of inner editors because this is something I've gotten pretty good a turning off. When we sit down to write, we often hear voices in our heads-our peers or friends or family telling us our writing isn't good enough. I thought I had learned to shut these voices out, until I read this post all those months ago. Now every time I write about a character significantly different from me-whether they're a different race, gender, sexual orientation, whatever-I wonder if I'm writing them that way because that's who they are, or if I'm afraid of being labeled dismissive or close minded if I don't write them this way.

The protagonist of my NaNo novel is an attractive blonde teenage girl. Her love interest is a Native American boy, and her (former) best friend is Hispanic. I love that her new love interest is so different, both in looks and personality, than her jerk of an ex (who also appears on the story). And I cheated a little bit on NaNo this year, and am expanding a short story I wrote years ago, before I was aware of the diversity in YA issue and how big it was. So I know I'm not writing them this way because I want to subconsciously fulfill some socially acceptable quota. Yet I'm the scene I just wrote, where my pretty blonde protag gets chosen for a date over her equally pretty Hispanic friend, I wonder if some people will think I'm being close minded, dismissive, or maybe even racist.

I guess I still have some work to do on shutting up that pesky inner editor voice. How do you deal with your inner editor? Whose voice do you usually hear?

Friday, November 8, 2013

Young Adult Fiction 101

The world of young adult (YA fiction) is sort of small. Most people who don't read and/or write it aren't always sure what it really even is. It's always been sort of a "you know it when you see it" kind of thing. Except it isn't. Publishers and literary agents have a pretty clear idea of what constitutes YA -- and what doesn't.

I talked to a guy last night who was not only upset that most of his favorite novels were considered YA, but had no clue what YA really even is. He thought any novel that didn't have sex was considered YA, and was genuinely shocked when I told him otherwise. I mean, really shocked. He had the same stunned look on his face I had at the end of MOCKINGJAY.

Prim does WHAT?!

This guy also talked about one of his favorite books that was apparently shelved with the children's literature only because it involved talking animals. Which leads me to believe that readers don't know who books are targeted to because booksellers, the people who put the books out there for them to see, don't really know either. Which is kind of disheartening -- but up until a few years ago, I didn't know this stuff either! But from spending several years in the writing world, I can tell you three major things that make a novel YA.

1.) YA novels have a teenage protagonist. Even though the rest of the world thinks of "young adults" as people in their 20's, in publishing terms, YA covers the 12 to 17 age range. Sometimes a book will be shelved as YA if the protagonist is a little younger but the subject matter is darker. But a YA protagonist is usually high school aged.

2.) The protagonist goes through a "coming of age" experience, has a problem that is genuinely associated with teenagers, and/or has to solve a problem largely without the help of adults. The protagonist is always the center of the story, regardless of your target age range. So it makes sense that a novel geared to teens has to have a teen solving teenage problems. First love is a really common theme for YA novels (TWILIGHT anyone?) because a lot of people experience their first love as teenagers. This is probably why paranormal romance in general is so popular in YA. First love is scary enough -- what if you threw in a twist and your first love was a supernatural creature?

3.) In general, YA novels (especially debut novels) are shorter and more fast paced than adult novels. Teenagers these days are facing 8 gadzillion distractions that can so easily pull their attention away from books. Not just television and video games and smartphones but homework and after school activities and hanging out with friends. A novel has to have stuff happening in a short time frame or it'll lose its audience to the next popular app.

And that's pretty much it. YA novels do tend to have less dark subject matter than adult novels, but they're not all clean as a whistle either. But when I'm looking at a book, these are the criteria I tend to go to to determine if it's YA, adult, or even children's. Don't assume a book is not for teenagers because it has sex or violence. Teenagers are much less sheltered than we give them credit for. And if you ever meet someone who has some warped idea of what YA really is, don't be afraid to -- gently! -- correct them.

Anything else people should know about YA fiction?