Monday, October 6, 2008

Conference Notes: Alan Gratz on YA vs. MG, part 2: Challenges in YA and MG

This is a continuation of my notes on Alan Gratz's workshop on YA vs. MG. For part 1, click here.

The easiest age to write for, according to Gratz, is adults. Anything goes with adults; there are no limitations or restrictions. The next easiest is young adult—these characters can still drive, have access to money, are able and expected to go to places on their own. The hardest age to write for is middle grade because these characters are restricted. They have limited mobility, money, and access. MG books reflect this: The Westing Game takes place within a single apartment building.

In addition to this, with both MG and YA (but MG particularly), you have to answer the believability factor. Why, reasonably, is a kid the hero of the story? If you could end your story with your kid going to an adult, then it's not a good story. Don't just invent excuses for why the kids don't bring in the adults—you have to make a believable situation for why the kids take over the story.

A further challenge for MG books are the question of where the parents are. You must answer this question to some capacity. It's one reason why there are so many dead mothers in MG literature. But whether dead, missing, or neglectful, the parents must be dealt with in some manner. And once the parent question is answered, you also have to consider how the character operates in the world on his/her own. For example, a MG kid could take the subway in the city to get from place or place, but this wouldn't work in a rural setting.

For YA, any topic is fair game, and a YA author should be aware of the trends in the genre from the hardcore to the softer novels. Hardcore novels with themes of sex, drugs, and rock 'n roll are always popular with teens as a way for them to live vicariously through the characters. However, we as writers need to be aware that "we're past the days of the after school special" and that if we chose to write about such themes, we should portray them realistically, not in a preaching manner. Don't include a Full House lesson at the end of the story. Life doesn't wrap up in thirty minutes.

So, where should a YA author draw the line? At his or her comfort level. While it is essential that a YA author be aware of what's being published, it is also essential for the writer to write what he/she wants to write. A kid can spot fakeness a mile away, after all, and not every kid wants hardcore.
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