Tuesday, August 23, 2011

Women's YA

I write YA, but I'm open to the possibility that some day I'll also write women's fiction. There are certain topics you just can't deal with in YA. And no, I don't mean things like suicide (one of my fave YA books is about suicide: Jay Asher's TH1RTEEN R3ASONS WHY), rape, murder, etc. They are all fair game in YA these days. So what can't I deal with?

Well a teen can't really:

Feel like they're stuck in a dead-end job
Be a jaded divorcee
Feel like they've been a failure for the last 25 years
Do anything for the last 25 years
Jet-set around the world when they get sick of being in one country (unless they're a Gossip Girl teen)
Just drop everything (legally, they're required to be schooled somehow)

It got me to thinking, since I'm not a fan of the execution of adult books: Why can't Women's fiction and YA fiction meet in the middle?

If we look at why people, particularly women, prefer YA then we also see why they don't read adult/women's novels. Here's some of the reasons I came up with:

1. High School. Some people miss their school days. I loved school and I'd rather be back there right now. Ironically, I don't read YA for high school. The Caribbean school system is based on the British system and very different to the US system.

2. Lack of gratuitousness. If you're going to have sex or violence in YA, it's in there for a reason, not as a spice.

3. Possibilities. Life is full of possibilities at that age. You can be anything- do anything. As Natasha Bedingfield once sang, "Today is where your book begins/ The rest is still unwritten."

4. Pace. In children books, the emphasis leans more towards telling the story than revelling in the craft. Children are less forgiving of slow pace, so you'll be hard-pressed to find half a page of description. In fact, the description is almost always mixed in with some action or interior monologue or something.

5. Proximity. For me, MG stories are told like you're there as a part of the adventure. YA ones are like you're the MC or their best friend. And adult tales are like you're watching things unfold on a screen. A side effect of YA (for me) being the closest proximity to the MC is that a reader also feels what the MC feels, and so YA provides the most powerful emotional connection on a 1 to 1 (MC to reader) level.

6. Voice. There may be voices in adult books that are as strong as YA voices. I just haven't read them yet. When you feel a character, you FEEL a character. (Ew, no groping!) Maybe that's why YA books are "so love it or hate it". I feel lukewarm about adult books so much more often.

7. Premise. Maybe it's a result of the possibilities clause, but YA premises are just so much more wide-ranging. (I'm going to throw out that unexplainable buzz phrase, "high concept".) What if a part of your society revelled in watching you fight to the death? (Hunger Games) What if you were a regular, non-descript girl and an impossibly sexy supernatural guy fell for you? (Twilight) What if you started to fall for your dead sister's boyfriend? (The Sky is Everywhere) What if you were an average Jane and you decided to get back at the evil hierarchy of pretty/popular people? (half the cheerleader/jock movies or books in the history of the world- lol)

8. Inexperience. Some YA plots depend on this. A lot of the romance-y bits in YA have misunderstandings where I would have just told the guy stuff flat-out. (Maybe that's just me though. I was like that as a teen too. lol) Also, plot twists happen as a result of bad decisions.

9. Issues. Even though YA plots are fast-paced, many of them deal with huge issues in great depth. Weirdly, in adult fiction, it's often either issues or pace. As a reader, it seems that you can't have both. Maybe this is the biggest reason I don't read adult fiction- many of the literary books get all bogged down in Siglo de Oro style (art for art's sake and choose the most beautiful word over the most understandable or most appropriate) and genre books go off on fun tangents without any deeper point.

10. Living the YA life. I don't know how common this is, but it's true for me. Lots of MC's in adult fiction have careers, marriages, kids, and are generally stable. They haven't been through 10 jobs in 11 years. (Yes, I have. Only 5 were full-time, if that helps.) They don't travel very much. And by travel, I mean go anywhere outside work, home and [insert one social activity here]. Maybe some people don't feel like they life "an adult life."


Of the points I've listed (and I'm sure there are more reasons people read YA)the only thing that's absolutely precluded in a book with an MC above 18 is high school. Why can't I write books with inexpericed adult characters, great all-ecompassing premises, and fast-paced, issue-filled plots? Why can't my MC explore different possibilities for the rest of his or her life? Why can't I keep my book pure and not just have sex and stabbing (not in the same scene, of course) just for the heck of it?

Why can't I write a book for the person who, like me, feels like their life is more YA than adult?


There are a few ideas that I want to write that definitely require adult MCs, but by my one sad attempt at an adult book (MS4RIP) taught me that I'm not one for valuing craft over story, or writing "sensible" characters, who are locked into their lifestyles.

If I ever do write women's fiction, it's going to have a YA feel to it.

Somewhere out there (I love that song) someone's ready to tell me there's no market. I beg to differ. In the first quarter of 2009, Twilight sales comprised more than 16% of all book sales.* It's said that almost half of Twilight's readers are adults. Market that!

Here's to Women's YA, and the hope that some day it will exist.

*I think this is an American statistic.


Marsha Sigman said...

I think you perfectly captured why I write YA...and love to read it.

But I don't live the life except for in my head.lol If I ever write adult fiction it will be brash and honest and have that sort of in your face appeal that draws me to YA.

FYI: I would totally read something that had sex and stabbing in the same scene. Is this wrong????

Claire Dawn said...

Marsha, after I wrote "stabbing and sex" I went hmmm... And then I was like no, I don't dare. lol.

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