Monday, December 19, 2011

Risky but not reckless

I recently went looking around YA Confidential for some thoughts on how teenagers think about romance and relationships and I believe that's where I saw a comment about how difficult it can be to let your teenaged characters make teenager mistakes. How difficult it is to keep the experience and that longer-range view you earned to yourself.

But for the life of me, I can't find the post to link to. I still recommend the blog, though. I don't write YA, but my fantasy characters are mostly teenagers and it's been a long time since I was a teenager.

I'm one of about three writers (it seems like, sometimes) who does not write YA, does not read YA, and to be honest doesn't see why such a thing needs to be separated out onto its own shelf because teenagers are perfectly capable of reading and enjoying "grown-up" books. Teens want to read about teens? Sure, but there's no need to make the story any less complex or compelling than if you were talking to a 40-year-old. Heck, look around the YA-writing blogosphere -- a lot of people say the same thing.

I remember reading an article in which Madeline L'Engle explained she wasn't sure why so many of her stories were classified as children's books -- they were about children, true, but the stories weren't aimed at children. I'd still hand a 10-year-old (or a 40-year-old) A Wrinkle In Time in a heartbeat, though. It's a good story.


National Geographic had an article about the current research on teenaged brain structure (now that you can study that without cutting said brain open) and how the current thinking is that the non-conformity and risk-taking of the maturing mind is an evolutionarily advantageous stage to go through. It has its risks, of course, but few risks generally bring few rewards.

I particularly found the anecdote the article begins with interesting -- the author's son was pulled over for speeding on the highway and freely admitted that he'd been breaking the law, was willing to take the consequences, etc. But the son took exception at his speeding being labelled "recklessness." He explained that he'd been very careful about it, in fact.

I think the author is right about that encapsulating a lot of things about teenagers. That little anecdote's been on my mind a lot recently as I've been writing.

As the writer, I need to think about all the long-range consequences that my teenagers aren't thinking about -- but I need to let them do something that looks reasonable to someone who isn't thinking about five or ten years down the line. Someone in the grip of hormones and curiosity and who is starting to realize just what s/he can do.

It makes for some headlong action... until they smack into a brick wall of reality, at least. That's what drama is all about, right?


Huntress said...

IMO, YA books have become cookie-cutter, same old stuff. Dialogue sounds the same, reads the same, and the angst is boring. Maybe I’ve grown up?
Some YA novels buck the trend like Vampire Diaries and Divergent but they are in the minority.
Why the agents/publishers/editors designated Hunger Games as YA is beyond my capabilities to reason.

MKHutchins said...

I read a lot of YA (and adult) fiction, and at least what I find doesn't pander "down" to teens. The biggest difference (IMO) is pacing. It seems like there's more room for gradual worldbuilding and sideplots in adult fiction, and in YA, all of those things are done very tightly. Hunger Games is a great example; so is Leviathan.

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