My eighth grade daughter Kelly is an avid reader and will soon be launching her own blog when her mother finds ten minutes to put it together for her . . . she’s well-read in YA, loves historical, paranormal, and contemporary, and has well-formed opinions about a whole host of things, including what makes (and doesn’t make!) a good story. She prefers stories on the darker side, as you can see from her recommended YA reading list below. Like mother, like daughter perhaps? I saw this in her at the early age of eight, however, when she started reading the Lemony Snickett SERIES OF UNFORTUNATE EVENTS books and said she loved them “because bad things happened and they didn’t have a happy ending.”
Kelly is now reviewing YA novels for RT Book Reviews, and she’s taken over my blog today. Last time, I wrote about my take on YA novels. Below is all Kelly with very minor editing by me, her mother. I didn’t even take out the naughty words she used, because as writers and readers know, voice is everything and I think this article shows that Kelly has a very strong voice all her own.
Here is what she thinks you should know BEFORE writing YOUR YA novel . . .
As an avid YA reader, I’ve read a wide variety of YA authors and story plots. I’ve seen vampires, witches, werewolves, romance, history, teen drama, you name it. I’ve been reading YA since I grew out of Junie B. Jones, and I appreciated a lot more when I was younger. But now the YA market is really driving me up the wall! I don’t know if it’s the authors people are choosing to rave about, publishers publishing books in that market that really weren’t meant to be there, or just less respect for the really good novels targeted to my age group. But the biggest fad I’m really noticing, is adult authors writing for YA. Done well, this could be a good thing. But more likely than not, it leaves a lot of young people annoyed. Adult authors, I’ve noticed, who do well in the YA market are the Fantasy type, because their main focus is that: fantasy. But I’ve yet to find a romance writer that can really pull off a fairly decent YA novel. Why, you ask? Well, before you even consider stepping near the YA genre, read this first …
For starters, if your writing successful novels for adults, and ADULTS love them, that’s probably a good place for you to stay. If you find that a younger audience is attracted to your work, than yeah, YA is something to consider. But here are a few suggestions from someone in your target audience:
Don’t Talk Down To Your Audience
One thing that I get extremely annoyed with is when adult authors (usually romance) talk down to their audience. It’s sort of like reading a how-to book in origami when you’ve been doing origami your whole life. Authors often ‘over enunciate’ plots, meaning they will repeat things over and over, and the plot seems babyish. Everything is over described, from what they’re doing at that very moment to every movement and hand gesture they make when talking. Big page filler for sure.
Basically, authors are afraid to really delve into the story and make it interesting, because what’s going through their head is “YA YA I’m writing for YA.” They will sugar-coat life and make it flowery, and sometimes just write it the way they remembered life at that age. They’ll cover the basics. I sometimes would really like to love an author’s story telling ability, because most of the time, it’s pretty good. But it’s this talking down to that really has me at my hair’s end. One thing I can’t stress enough is to not think about your audience! I would, and probably a lot of other readers, rather read an author that is complex and interesting that should be pulled back a little than an author that sounds like they’re writing for 3rd graders. If you think you’ll struggle with this, I suggest writing a smart ‘clean adult novel’ and then fixing it up a bit for YA, or if you think you’ll do better writing for a “lower” audience, market for the younger kids’ section.
Avoid Too Much Dialogue
Again, something you should not do is make your book entirely dialogue based. It usually is boring and uninteresting.
Language Dos And Don’ts
My parents are usually pretty ok with what I read as long as it’s not super explicit, and probably a lot of other parents too. And I’ve yet to find a YA book that shows anything like explicit sex and language. But as writers repeat the mantra “YA I’m writing YA”, what comes to their mind is using language that they think teenagers are more likely to use. For example, instead of saying, ‘bull shit’ they’ll use “bull poopie” or instead of “fucking” they’ll say “effin'” Things like that aren’t terrible, except when they’re overdone. I think most people would be surprised at the language us youngin’s use today. Adults tend to think that they need to modify every word that comes out of their character’s mouth to be ‘acceptable’. That doesn’t mean throwing curse words all over the page, but it also doesn’t mean sugar coating it the way you think teens should talk, because, more likely than not, we don’t talk like that. Instead, think about your character. Are they more likely to swear (big time), use clean swear occasionally, or not at all? If you’re making all of your characters look like little kids trying to be like their big sisters, it not going to be interesting. My one piece of advice about language is to either use it, or don’t use it at all. What I don’t mind is when authors, trying to get their book to be appropriate for every audience, will say lines such as:
As I was about to tell him to go to a place he wouldn’t need that fat mouth of his to go to…
She spat some colorful language and then doubled over…
Or if you’re going to use it, use it:
Shit, that asshole totally fucked with her.
What the hell are you doing?!
You get the idea.
Write Believable Characters
As in any novel, characters are the most important part of a great story. Writing characters in YA books is no different than writing about adults. The worst thing you could possibly do with character development in a YA novel, or any novel for that matter, is to make every character stereotypical to the role they play in the book. For example, making your main character the ‘average’ girl and pushing that factor farther than it needs to go. When there’s nothing different or interesting about the characters and they don’t grow and develop as the book(s) go on, then the plot will go nowhere. Like I said with the language concept, every character is different; they talk, react, and act upon certain situations than maybe another 16 year old girl in the story would. Stamping a label on your characters isn’t real at all because in real life, everyone knows there’s more than just one label on a person. Teenagers change and mature in their lives, so if your series goes on long term, be sure that the reader sees how they’ve changed in a relatable way. They could change by the way they speak, react, and handle situations. Otherwise, it’s just boring, and again, a little babyish. Some of you may be thinking “Well, duh, of course I wouldn’t write my characters like that!” but you’d be surprised at how many books do this. If you’d like an example, here’s an average scenario I’ve seen in too many YA books to count:
Average, everyday girl with long dark hair, doesn’t really fit in, not popular but not geeky either, has best girl friend who is super pretty and popular and gets all the guys. Has cute kind of nerdy guy friend who she is or will fall in love with and thin pretty mom who has done so much that she’ll never do. [insert tramatic experience here] happens and they are trying to deal. Oh, look! Super mysterious super-hot guy comes along! She’d never have a chance with him but she is oh-so intrigued and drawn to him…but look! She discovers she has some mysterious scary power herself!
If any part of your story resembles three or more of the scenarios above, I would consider thinking your story through a little more.
You might ask why authors reuse and reuse this plot, and trust me, it’s definitely not just adult authors who do it. Two words: It’s easy. Not many authors realize this, but it just shows that the author is not creative enough to think of a hard-core, complex story. Why is it so easy? You have the average girl, who can relate to all readers. Every reader can see themselves inside that girl, no matter who she is or what clique she’s in. The reader can relate to not always being in the spotlight, or being in it when she doesn’t want to be. Having a huge crush on the guy friend she’s known all her life, being jealous of other girls, stress with doing well in school, living up to parents potential. All just a part of puberty and growing up. And once you get to the mysterious hot boy aspect, you should do successful with non-avid readers, young adult and adult for sure. Because every person wants to be that girl. To bring themselves up from where they are in life even if it’s kind of hard. Doesn’t everyone want to discover something they would never know could be possible about themselves? Whether it’s power to see the dead, becoming a vampire, getting magic witch powers, and in the end falling in love. That’s what every girl wants to see happen in her life. Basically, it’s her own fantasy, the fantasy no one every talks about with their friends, =is always in the back of her mind, hoping that she will be that Bella Swan and fall in love and make something of herself. It’s human nature.
So, back to book selling, what will happen when girls can relate? It will get published and sell. But it will never stand out from anything else out there. Never give anyone a different ambition. So, this was not to persuade you to write or not write this basic plot, just to show why it sells and why authors do it, and most importantly, why you should step away from that and write something more creative.
If you didn’t realize it after reading this, which you most likely have, is the fact that readers don’t want to see a cut-and-paste life with sprinkles on top. So many YA authors are great story tellers, and I want to love their stories, but just the fact that they’re writing isn’t for the right market brings it down. A lot of it isn’t even the writing itself, just the plot. A lot of authors, even though they can argue otherwise, are following the Twilight suit. More than ever adult authors are trying to make it into YA hoping for the success of Stephenie Meyer (I’m not saying this literally, if you’re a writer, you write to write, not for fame or money) and even though they don’t realize it, most of them are following in her footsteps.
Paranormal Romance is pretty much the genre dominating all things YA. And let me tell you: It. Is. So. Annoying.
Have you walked into the YA section of Borders lately? If so, you’ve seen the huge TWILIGHT-dedicated shelf, and right below, the sign that reads, “If you like Twilight you’ll also like…” and all the not-paranormal-romance-books are crammed into a corner, on their own lone shelf, while everyone rants and raves about the writing that’s just, well, not always as great. My point is, if you really have your heart set on this genre, do it WELL. Make it different from all the other pop culture books dominating the high shelves. If you’re more interested in the romance than the paranormal, write romance. Do NOT just throw the paranormal in as a side note, because a lot of fantasy lovers will be very disappointed. If you love the fantasy aspect, again, do not throw the romance in because it will more likely than not just seem awkward. Make the reader say “Hey, I didn’t think of it that way…” and make it a challenge for yourself. But, if I were writing, I’d step away from that sparkling, inviting market to do something more interesting.
Now my whole point of this blog was not to trash authors trying to make their way into YA, not at all. This is just what I’ve found annoying in a lot of authors that do. I guess you could call them Tips from a Reader Who Knows. If you think you’d be more successful with adults, just stick to that market, but if you’re making your way to YA, make it different, make it new, interesting, and consider some stuff I’ve said here.
Books I like and why I like them
My mom told me I could not post books that I didn’t like and why I disliked them, but that she wanted to me to be positive instead. I’m fine with that (ha ha.) One thing that would be helpful if you’re writing YA, is to do your research and read lots and lots of YA novels, such as the ones I list here.
GOING BOVINE by Libba Bray (class of its own)– This is one of my recently favorite books of all time. It’s a genre all its own. All crazy unexpected twists and turns full of laughs and tears, it’s the perfect YA read. I highly suggest this to anyone looking for a really good novel.
Libba’s Gemma Doyle trilogy (fantasy/historical), beginning with A GREAT AND TERRIBLE BEAUTY, is a great historical/fantasy story, another one of my favorites that I’ve re-read.
UNWIND and EVERLOST by Neal Shusterman (sci-fi/thriller)– Definitely another one of my favorites, his books are placed in a sci-fi fantasy world that perfectly mixes real life issues that teens go through everyday in a smart and fascinating way. Yet they’re so broad pretty much all ages can read them. I highly recommend him.
BLEEDING VIOLET by Dia Reeves (fantasy/romance)– I reviewed this one for RT magazine and gave it 4 stars. This is a perfect example of paranormal romance done right. Hanna is most definitely not your average girl, and the romance doesn’t over power the dark, thrilling, horrific fantasy. Comes out January 2010. Definitely an author to watch for!
LAMENT and BALLAD by Maggie Stiefvater (fantasy)- A mostly fantasy based story, but definitely written in a beautiful, lyrical way, with a little romance thrown in perfectly. Both books in different POV’s, the first Dee, an introduction to the faerie world, and her best friend James, which gets more in depth with him and his relationship with Dee and the fay.
CITY OF GLASS trilogy by Cassandra Clare (action/fantasy/thriller)– an action packed demonic trilogy that’s definitely one of my favorites. A great example because for one, she’s an adult author, and on her website, she says the series was originally for adults, but the characters evolved into teenagers.
Any of Sarah Dessen‘s novels (romance/drama)- If you ever even consider writing anything in the YA genre, you must read her books first. Her books are unique and address problems that any teenager can relate to and understand. Typically, her books have the same idea (girl struggling, meets different and unique guy who helps her through it, finding he has problems of his own) but each one is so unique, and the characters evolve in such a way that her stories are such a pleasure to read; anyone would adore her.
SPEAK and WINTERGIRLS by Laurie Halse Anderson (drama)– If you haven’t heard of her, you must be living under a YA rock. A wonderful and talented writer, her books are wonderfully crafted in a wonderful yet tear-jerking way, the first with a girl struggling to find her voice, the other with a girl struggling with eating disorders after the death of a friend. Must reads.
EVERMORE (The Immortals series) by Alyson Noel (fantasy/romance)- Again, paranormal romance done right. Ever is not your average girl, being a popular blond before an accident that killed her family and gave her psychic abilities. Her relationship with Damen balances the fantasy in a perfect way, never overriding it but combining it. In RT, I gave SHADOWLAND, the third in the series, a Top Pick.
THE FETCH (historical/paranormal) and A CERTAIN SLANT OF LIGHT (Paranormal/drama) by Laura Whitcomb– Great writing and original, interesting stories.
Kelly has to go to school–mid-terms this week!–but she’ll be back tonight after basketball practice to talk more about books and what she likes (and doesn’t like!) Feel free to ask her (or me) questions–she’s very well and widely read in the YA genre (and younger books as well) When considering trying out for the middle school basketball team, Kelly said, “I’m just afraid that practice will take away from my reading time.” Gotta love that girl!