Monday, October 10, 2011

Why I Write YA

I never started out to write for young adults. It never actually occurred to me to do it on purpose, though you'd think it would have, since I'm a child psychologist. The first book I ever wrote sort of straddled the line between adult and young adult, which doomed it from the start (that my writing just wasn't ready for primetime yet might also have had something to do with it).

Somewhere along the line, someone told me that the story would be better if it was just straight-up YA. Huh. So I started reading YA and was astounded--it was some of the best written stuff I'd read. Passionate. Intense. Poignant. Exciting. Elegant.

Elegant?

Are you picturing ballgowns and pearls now?

There's more than one definition of elegant, so let me clarify which one I mean: pleasantly ingenious and simple.

Good YA is elegant. It's not a dumbed-down version of adult fiction, no more than teens are dumbed-down versions of adults (more on this later this week). Instead, YA is a type of fiction and style all its own. It makes the intricate and complicated world of teen characters understandable, relatable, and riveting without stealing the authenticity.

I write YA because of the challenge of it. I have to write smart. I have to distill every ounce of emotion so I can render it on the page in its purest form. I need to capture the characters at the perfect moment in their development--they have to ring true but also powerfully vivid and raw--life, heightened. I must accomplish this while rolling a story forward with ruthless efficiency.

YA has boundaries adult fiction doesn't have. It must be faithful to its audience. Their concerns are not adult concerns. Their world is a different shape.

I'm not sure if being a psychologist has made me a better writer. Maybe. Probably. But I know writing YA has made me a better psychologist, in that it gives the phrase developmentally appropriate a new, vibrant meaning, one I carry with me into my work. It strips the technical from it and makes it real.

Do you write YA? If so, why?

Don't forget to visit Lydia for her Medical Monday post and Laura for Mental Health Monday!

18 comments:

  1. You've nailed the reasons, Sarah, I write YA. Originally, I wanted to write historical romances, but no way could I capture the necessary style and voice. At first I thought I would write MG (because I was reading Harry Potter), but it was my characters who convinced me to write YA (they wanted to make out and couldn't as MG characters). I started reading YA novels was was hooked.

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  2. excellent post. I've started a similar one a zillion times and couldn't seem to get it right. I started writing YA b/c that was my favorite genre to read for a while, but now I'm being encouraged to bump it up to adult. I'm conflicted b/c I still love YA--and now you've helped me define the reasons! ;p <3

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  3. Wonderful post! I love to read and write YA because of the heady emotional possibilities and the fun and torment that comes from remembering how amazing and challenging that period in my own life was. I hear you about how reading and writing for teens makes you better at working with kids. This is actually something I'm pretty good at...understanding the kid's perspective and explaining where they are to the stake holder adults in their world (and, actually, explaining adults to kids as well.) It sometimes feels like being a mediator between generations.

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  4. I totally agree. I hate the YA fiction that's dumbed down for kids. It's condescending and disrespectful. But YA done right is the best fiction there is. Great post!

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  5. This is such an amazing post! I love it. You put it so eloquently. If someone asks me what YA is, I may just point them to this post. :D

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  6. I think I write YA because that's the genre that made me want to read. Babysitter's Club, Sweet Valley High, RL Stine, LJ Smith and Christopher Pike books were like mothers milk to me and I guess I just kind imprinted on the genre. I love the intensity of emotion- the lot of 'firsts' - everything is new and heightened. great post!

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  7. Love. This. Post. It's so true!!!!!! :D

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  8. Great post Sarah. There are so many great life experiences and revelations to tackle, but in YA there are a few that are particularly special--like love, kisses, and seeing the world as an adult for the first time. I love that. I can't get enough of it!

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  9. This is great! I hate it when people believe YA novels need to be "dumbed down" for kids to get the concepts/motifs. My students hate it as well. They can sniff out an author who has written something like that from a mile away.

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  10. What's funny is that I didn't start writing YA, but my stories kept ending up there. I'm not even sure why I resisted. I loved teaching high school, still help with a few extra-cirrucular activities, so I just love it. Love the age, love the energy. Love it.

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  11. "life, heightened"

    Yep. You just nailed it. As usual.

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  12. Well said! Writing YA definitely requires it's own unique skill set.

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  13. Your stories must be really good, Sarah. Well put.

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  14. I write YA because that's where my "voice" exists. Strange, but true.

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  15. Love the way you explain YA, it makes total sense. And those emotions, so raw and compelling, ARE reality for teens. Anyone who's raised a child or hasn't completely blocked out what it was like to be a teenager knows that. I don't write YA and don't think I'd be able to, that's just not what happens for me on the page. You made me wonder, are 'coming-of-age' novels YA?

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  16. Love it. That's the name of my blog. Why I YA. : )
    http://whyiya.blogspot.com/

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  17. I think I did a blog post on this subject, too, at some point. For now, let me just say, Brava!

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  18. Good reasons to write in this particular genre. I write YA as well, just haven't had any of it published as yet. Like you, I believe that writers do not have to dumb down for teen readers.

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