Guest Blogger: Jeff Faria on Writing YA Fiction
August 27, 2012
Guest Blogger Jeff Faria is the author ofThe Patriots of Mars: The God That Failed, which is is the first installment in a YA series with an adult theme. His presents this essay to explain a concept that may seem like a contradiction.
There are two keys to reaching a YA audience. The first is comprehension. It’s fairly self-evident that if an audience doesn’t understand a book, it has failed. Young adults simply have not had the experience that an adult might (or should) have in parsing complex prose, and a YA novel must take that into account.
Style yields for ideas
Ernest Hemingway wrote for mature audiences, yet he believed that simpler, older and well-worn words in short sentence structures were the correct approach. Writing for ease of comprehension need not preclude an adult audience, so long as the underlying concepts are worthwhile. Hemingway’s intent was to build a framework in which fundamental human concerns could be examined.
My approach with Patriots is to present ideas without the prose ‘style’ getting in the way. Writing whose cleverness calls attention to itself is, for my purposes, counterproductive. (Though it can be immensely entertaining in other contexts.)
Reaching a Young Adult audience (2)
The second key to reaching a YA audience is the same as in any other genre: Hold the reader’s attention. Many YA offerings, unfortunately, try to do this by pandering to their audience. While there is value in writing to and about the issues teens face (and much good work has been done in this vein), the tendency is to expect too little of teen readers.
I’ve seen three approaches to creating Young Adult literature. The first centers on teens’ immediate issues – school politics, friends, parents, adolescence, and being an outsider in an adult world. In this approach, the protagonists exist within a strictly Young Adult world, where the larger ‘adult’ world is barely acknowledged. The second, what I’d call the Harry Potter or Polar Express approach, places them in a fantasy world (often not unlike the strictly-YA world) that is likewise geared to them. Both tacks can be effective.
The third approach is to place the Young Adult protagonists squarely in the middle of the adult world and its problems. This approach is employed less often, partly because the result may not ‘feel’ like typical YA fare to a bottom-line-oriented publisher (bear in mind that most writers see a publisher, rather than a reader, as their client). But recently, this method was proven to great success with The Hunger Games. This is the approachThe Patriots of Mars takes, and its advantage is that the book (if done well) can be compelling to both an adult and a YA audience.
The challenge of placing young protagonists in an adult setting
The great challenge for a writer taking this third approach is to keep the young adults naturally at or near the center of conflict. They are, after all, engaging an adult world, and it’s easy for either their importance to seem ‘forced’ or to resign them to second-class status – Robin to the adults’ Batman. That is why this approach is rarely employed. But Hunger Games demonstrated a way in which young adults could occupy the center of an ‘adult’ story, and stay there.
Young Adults as a moral metaphor
Besides being the book’s main protagonists, Patriots uses its young adults the way Charles Dickens often used children: As a moral compass, demonstrating how far wrong the world has gone. They become the prism through which we see the world, and the focus of our concern. (As they should be.)
E-books’ advantage for the study of social history
As an eBook, Patriots is heavily linked to contemporary online articles dealing with many of the issues in which our world – the world young people will inherit – is now embroiled. A future classroom edition, both in iPad form and in print, will leverage the book’s popularity and help structure discussion and education in these areas.