Wednesday, July 21, 2010


I was reading yesterday about the difference between the so-called genres of young adult fiction and adult genre literature, and while it all seems pretty vague, I did find some guidelines and links at Atsitko's Chimney that were very helpful.

The first thing was that AG (fantasy, sciFi, detective) literature is quite specific while you can put anything in YA literature: in that way, it's probably less like AG literature and more what the bookstores put in literature, except that so much YA is fantasy/SciFi/Romance ... The point is not moot because when you're writing something and you're not looking for the great American novel, but a place on the bookshelf, then you have to identify your audience and your "place." I conclude that if you write YA literature (more below), then you can mix and match "genres" and just write literature. Clearly a lot of adults (like me) read YA literature and some young adults read adult literature. For my purposes, the goal would not to get too entangled in the literature v. genre trap, since I really like all the genre literature, and I like things that are literary, as in, well-written. A statement I like to this effect is from Carrie Ryan who is writing post-apocalyptic zombie romances. 

I found this helpful list of characteristics of YA literature on the Suite100 site:
  • a teenage protagonist
  • adults characters as marginal and barely visible characters
  • a brief time span (the story spans a few weeks, yes, a summer, maybe, a year, no)
  • a limited number of characters
  • a universal and familiar setting
  • current teenage language, expressions, and slang
  • detailed descriptions of other teenagers' appearances, mannerisms, and dress
  • a positive resolution to the crisis at hand (though it may be subtle and never in-your-face moralistic)
  • few, if any, subplots
  • about 125-250 pages in length (although many of the newer YA books are much longer)
  • a focus on the experiences and growth of just one main character
  • a main character whose choices and actions and concerns drive the story (as opposed to outside forces)
  • problems specific to adolescents and their crossing the threshold between childhood and adulthood
I think this is pretty much geared to the realistic side of YA fiction, the kind that Yuma likes. I disagree with point 2 about adults because there are lots of parents, teachers et al. in YA fiction of all sorts. I also disagree that they are single-character focused: there are all sorts of dyadic/triadic relationships, multiple narrators, ensemble structures. If you include the fantasy/sciFi YA fiction, you could make these corrections/amendments: a "universal" but not familiar setting, a good deal of made-up language and idiom, more subplots often leading to other volumes, resolution to crisis (though with the proliferation of series, the resolution is partial), and non-realistic YA works can be much longer. Also, there is a moralistic element to almost all this in perhaps the best notion of the novel as moral art. This is especially true in sci-fi/alternative history novels which have commentary about social values etc.

Of the 2010 Alex Award winners for YA literature (none of which I have read), there is 1 biography, 2 "true-story" novels, 2 memoirs of awful childhood, one realistic romance, and five novels with SFF angles, including vampires and impending comet strikes. The Morris award seems to highlight realistic teen relationship novels. The Michael J. Prince awards feature 2 of 5 SFF titles in their winners and nominess, though all of them seem more Middle School than high school. The ALA list seems to consciously to take a Chinese menu approach. Interestingly, the Amazon Top 10 consumer's list features more than half SFF (series), with some romance on the side. The editor's much prefer the realistic, serious mode: there is only one cross-over: Suzanne Collins's Fire, the sequel to Hunger Games. All the SFF title suggested by both are part of series, and none of these it the first installment. If you look at the adult fiction/literature section, you find nothing that is not realistic or historical. If you look at just the bestsellers list at BandN, there's a lot of SFF, a lot of crime fiction, a lot of current non-fiction, a good deal of romance, and not much "literature." So if you wanted to make money, or get a publisher, you would want to write something that someone might buy, and read.

But what I wanted to say was that what I was thinking of writing - Dazkiikewin -- seems clearly in YA category.: teenage protagonists, coming-of-age themes, story direction driven by character choices, moral viewpoint, current relevance, potentially "happy" ending (in which the protagonists save the world). It is in an alternate world so it would be longer probably, there will be more than one character (but that's an invalid criterion), etc. I can write it like adult SFF or even adult literature, but because of it's YA qualities, it must be accessible to that audience. 

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