Tuesday, November 16, 2010

A Genre Doesn't Have an Age Suggestion

I have a HUGE pet peeve.

The Young Adult (YA) genre.

Ha! Didn't see that one coming, did you?

But here's the thing: YA isn't YA. Seriously. YA suggests an age limit--that these are books written for, designed for, and appropriate for young adults...only.

And that's not the way of it.

Jack Martin once said that "Teen books are like adult books without all the bullshit," and truer words have not been spoken. My point is: YA is a genre, not an age suggestion, and as such YA is a misnomer.

So--what is YA if it's not an age suggestion? It's a genre. Genre, by definition is a literary style.

So, what makes YA...YA?

It's not a matter of the characters being a certain age. I'd argue that the characters being a certain age has the least to do with the style. It's not a matter of "dumbing down" language (or censoring it) for an appropriate age group--after all, we're not talking about an age group, we're talking about a style. And besides, people who think they have to dumb down for teens are typically jackholes who shouldn't be writing anyway.

But that's all the things YA isn't. Here's what YA is, as a definition of the style that is the genre:

  • Fast-paced plot
    • Remember the whole YA-is-adult-books-without-bullshit thing? There's a definite lack of wasted space in YA, because YA authors aren't going to blow smoke around. Let's just say Proust would not have cut it as a YA author.
  • Interesting characters
    • YA readers won't put up with characters that aren't interesting--and they place particular value on characters that are interesting. Consider how many "ships" you can have in YA--that's proof that even the side characters tend to be interesting (interesting enough so that people will fan fic them).
  • Evocative emotions
    • YA must make you feel. To paraphrase Shepherd Book talking to Captain Mal in SERENITY: I don't care what you feel as long as you feel something. It can be funny, it can be romance, it can be tragedy--but a YA book will make you become emotionally involved in some way.
  • Story above tradition
    • YA doesn't care about the rules. The YA genre is one of the few genres where you can have a contemporary romance beside an action-based sci fi and no one bats an eye. YA books care about telling a good story, and the rest of the rules don't have to apply. In adult books, you have someone like Nicholas Sparks, who always writes one type of book. In YA books, you have someone like Laurie Halse Anderson who can write a contemporary novel about rape and a historical fiction about the American Revolution and they can sit side-by-side on the shelf. Adult authors who genre bed are rare (Neil Gaiman, I'm looking at you), but since YA is, by definition, genre-bending, authors get to place the story over the genre tropes (since there are no genre tropes).
It used to really bother me that YA is labeled with a name that implies an age suggestion. But then I realized that writing YA was similar to when I was teaching--when I was a teacher, I was 100% happy when the principal would just leave me alone and let me do what I want. So, I don't care any more that my writing has a YA stamp on it, even if the stamp's not an accurate label--as long as I get to do what I want and write the cool books, I'm happy.

From your point of view, what’s the difference between writing for children and writing for adults?
This is actually a hot button for me. I don't differentiate in the way that the genre creators want differentiation to be made. I feel that I have never written children's or YA stories particularly. What I write, if you have to label it, is crossover, and I think that much of the stuff that is called children's or YA is in fact crossover and is equally valid for anyone who likes to read fantasy. Is Huckleberry Finn a YA novel? I don't think so. I understand that some form of genre labeling is necessary for people who are in a hurry or people who don't themselves like fantasy and want to give a gift to a twelve-year-old niece or nephew. But as a label to stick on a book, I'm inclined to think that it does more harm than good, because people take it too literally.  ...
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