Today we have Lara Morgan doing a guest post. Lara’s book, The Rosie Black Chronicles is published by Walker Books. We’ll be giving away a copy of Lara’s book, so watch out for the give-away question at the end of the post.
Writing for young adults wasn’t something I naturally fell into. Everything I’ve written previously has been for adults, but I found myself with a gap of time a few years back and I thought, why not write a story specifically for young adults? I’d been working on a complex fantasy trilogy for some time and I was really looking for something totally different to that and since I’ve often read a lot of YA I thought I would have a go at writing it. For some reason, I thought it might be easier.
Well the simple answer to that is, of course, it’s not easier, but it is a little different.
Firstly, and this is something I had pointed out to me by a fellow writer early on, it is vitally important that you don’t let any of the adults take over the story. It sounds bleedingly obvious really, but as a writer used to having older characters as the focus, this was a lesson that had to be learned quickly.
In The Rosie Black Chronicles I have two fairly prominent adults, Rosie’s aunt and a man called Riley, and at one stage in an early draft Rosie’s aunt began edging onto centre stage. I almost didn’t realise it until my mentor told me that Essie was becoming more interesting and getting better lines, than Rosie herself.
How to solve this? Well, in time honoured YA tradition I had to hurt her. Aunt Essie, that is not Rosie. Yes, I found one of the best ways of scaling down any adult involvement in the plot is to maim them. It was very freeing. Suddenly I felt the story begin to come alive and it allowed Rosie to step forward and show her true heroic colours. It was the most important lesson I learned about writing YA and it’s something I stick with now as I’m working on the second in the series.
The three other things that differ in YA are:
Word count – novels generally max out at around 85,000 words, which as a writer of door stopper size fantasy was a challenge for me.
Language and Sex.
Those last two, language and sex, depend on how young your audience is and your publisher, but also very much on the kind of book you’re crafting. Generally there is a less is more approach for swearing and its pretty much assumed that graphic descriptions of sex aren’t appropriate for YA.
In Patrick Ness’s The Knife of Never Letting Go, he cleverly masks the swearing of his main character in a way that is absolutely logical in the terms of the story, so that when a swear word is actually used once, and only once, by a character that scene resonates in a way that would not have been possible had swearing been commonplace throughout the book.
That’s not to say bad language can’t be used in YA. I have read many books where it is present but it is clear from the outset that it is part of the characters and a reflection of their world and it not being there would make it seem as if the author were being coy and not telling the truth.
Sex in YA is a bit more difficult. One the one hand there is a certain view that as these books are aimed at a teen audience sex should be portrayed as responsibly as possible and something that is not casual or without consequence and I think, as a whole most YA novels tend toward this. Graphic descriptions of sex are irregular but references to characters having sex are generally just that, references without the actual act occurring or just plenty of heavy petting. I don’t have sex in my book, but sexual attraction is certainly present as I feel it would just be dodging the truth to pretend that characters in their late teens don’t have any such feelings. Because really, in writing YA, it is as important to tell the truth about people’s feeling and developments as it is in any fiction, regardless if you’re writing science fiction, contemporary fiction or paranormal romance. That’s all I hope to do with my stories; tell the truth about the world and the people in it and hope those who read it enjoy it.
How many years in the future is The Rosie Black Chronicles set? (hint: watch the book trailer for the answer)
We’ll announce the winner in one week’s time, on Thursday the 21st of October.