Welcome to the first of many Between the Lines guest bloggers. I will be inviting various published authors and experienced writers to share their points of view and personal thoughts on areas of expertise and concern. My point in the guest blogger is to bring to light people and concepts that I believe writers need to experience. In sharing, we all grow, learn, and are improved.
My first guest blogger is Melonie McLaurin. Melonie loves writing science fiction and fantasy. According to her journal, “I have written more short stories than anything else lately, but my main interest now lies in a book I’ve been dreaming up for quite some time. I also have a new project (just what someone with two or three unfinished projects needs, hm?) but it’s all fun.” She openly admits to being a pen snob and declares that she needs a pocket watch. Take it from me, Melonie is talented, experienced and “on the brink.” You can follow Melonie on Twitter @meloniem or check out her journal. Please feel free to add comments or ask questions following the entry. And thank you, Melonie!
YAda YAda YAda… finding a voice for the Young Adult
As a fantasy and science fiction writer whose current project is aimed at the young adult reader, I am often asked how my transition from writing for adults is coming along. My foray into young adult writing stems from years of young adult reading. I grew up on such classics as The Chronicles of Narnia and The Lord of the Rings. At age 41, I can count on my ten fingers the number of “grown up” books I’ve read, and probably on half of them those which I actually enjoyed. My mid-to-late teen years were filled with reads assigned in high school honors English classes. The Outsiders, The Secret Garden, The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, and other great books introduced me to characters I bonded with strongly in my youth because they were youthful too. They were like me. Today, I’ll be sharing a few words from my experience in hopes that fellow emerging writers will find them relevant.
First off, YA fiction is not elementally different from adult fiction; the same themes are addressed – just in different ways. Unless you’ve read a lot of this stuff, you are limited in your idea of what YA is. I happen to read a lot of YA (and did so before it was given that moniker – back when it was lumped in with children’s literature) and this mostly as an adult. If not for the label, I wouldn’t notice that most of my favorite books had been written for a specific age group. You have only to consider the success of the Artemis Fowl books, Harry Potter, and the Twilight saga to note that YA fiction can be enjoyable for adults as well as young people. YA does not compromise when it comes to a challenging vocabulary, and suffers no deficit in sentence variety and style. YA fiction contains the same elements we all find appealing: highly developed and complex characters facing love, hate, sexuality, death, war, peace, joy, and heartbreak. Young adults are not immune to these things, and are highly curious about them all. They are still young enough not to have experienced most of them, but old enough to have a firm idea of their implications. What sets young adult apart from other books is that the main character is a young adult, and the story comes to us through a youthful lens — limited experiences and all.
Writing from the perspective of a youngster is not something I would recommend to anyone who has ventured too far from Neverland. In order to closely identify with his central character, he’s got be able to see with her eyes, hear with her ears, feel with her heart, and think (or not think clearly) with her mind. I find this to be a natural kind of magic, whether because I am young at heart or because I am a classic case of arrested development, I can’t tell you. But I do believe it takes a special kind of adult to write convincing YA novels. You can tell you are reading a really great one when you utterly forget that the writer is behind the characters in the story, and you can tell you are reading a really terrible one when you find yourself struggling to accept the protagonist’s young age because he sounds and acts more like a middle-aged cynic with a word processor. Children and young adults are able to perceive beauty in places we forget to look for it when we are children no longer.
Although most of my writing to date has been adult-oriented, I recently decided to take a little detour into the YAniverse (sorry) to see what I could do. In my current story, the protagonist is a girl who I was terrible at writing about, but brilliant at writing as. I took on the first person point of view initially to gain a stronger sense of her thoughts. She was very hard for me to figure out before I began this exercise, but once I started writing the story in her words, I felt at home in a way that I never had before. I began to be truly in touch with my YA voice, but it took that transition from an omniscient, remote connection to the immediacy of being the character to get me there. That is how I discovered my identity in this special field of fiction writing, but it’s not the way you might discover yours. Heaven knows there are plenty of great YA stories that aren’t written in first person, but that is what got things clicking for me.