Yesterday I reviewed THE VOW by Jessica Martinez. When I asked her to write a guest post and we were debating different topics we both liked the idea of her sharing why she has decided to write YA versus adult fiction.
Don’t tell anybody this, but I fell into YA by accident. That’s not how you’re supposed to do it. Smart writers looking to be published in YA are supposed to immerse themselves in it. They should read it, write it, take classes about it, network with YA authors, and all of that should help them understand the market and their audience, which increases their chances of getting published. Makes sense.
But when I wrote my debut novel, Virtuosity, I wasn’t writing for teens. I thought I was writing adult fiction with a teen protagonist. The only books I’d read that could be classified as modern YA were, um, the Twilight Series, and I thought the book I was writing had pretty much nothing in common with those. So when Virtuosity sold to Simon Pulse (a teen imprint of Simon & Schuster) in a two-book deal, I was a little scared. I had some catching up to do if I was going to be able to produce that second book.
I’ve now written four YA books aimed at older teens (my fourth, Kiss Kill Vanish, comes out next fall) and even though I’ve dabbled in writing for adults, and I read just as much adult literature as YA, I keep coming back to writing YA. Here’s why:
• Voice. I love writing an older teen voice. There are plenty of adult writers who nail characters of any age, so I’m not saying that can’t be done, but in my opinion, nothing beats a well done teenage character. I love reading it, and I love becoming it. If you seek out well-written YA, like Before I Die by Jenny Downham or The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, you’ll see what I mean. That’s what I aspire to. Part of being a writer is recognizing where your strengths lie and where you can push yourself into new territory. YA voice is both of things for me.
• Pacing. I have an English degree and a love for the Classics. I only mention that so you don’t think I’m a barely-literate fool when I say this: I want to be thrilled. I love books that I can’t put down because I’d rather find out what happens next than sleep. But I don’t want to sacrifice characterization or nuance for that. Should I have to? My goal as a writer is to be both riveting and artful. I think YA literature gets this and does this better than most adult literature. Teens (and adults) know that fooling around on the internet or watching TV or gaming will always be more instantly gratifying than reading. I’m not saying reading is dying. I’m not saying books have to be dumbed down to grab the attention of teens. What I am saying is that today’s readers have a lot competing for their attention, so plot can’t be ignored while characters are being developed. Those two things have to happen simultaneously, and that’s definitely something I’ve learned from reading and writing YA because YA publishers demand it. There’s no reason a book can’t have beautifully drawn characters and grip you from page one. That right there is why people flock to bookstores and camp out overnight for the next book in their favorite YA series.
• Hope. I used to think all good books had sad endings. Happy endings were unrealistic, sugared into something palatable for the masses who wanted to be entertained and not enlightened. In a word, I was wrong. I learned that from YA. First and foremost, YA endings must be honest—the characters have to be true to themselves, and the results have to make sense. Within YA you find plenty of both sad and happy endings, but what most YA endings do have in common is hope. The characters, even when they’re left in sad circumstances, have nearly always been transformed into something better. The reader walks away knowing things will improve. The same isn’t always true in adult literature, and now that I read and write YA, it’s something I’ve grown to love about it.