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» Hatrack River Writers Workshop » Forums » Fragments and Feedback for Books » YA novel conundrum

   
Author Topic: YA novel conundrum
Jack Albany
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You might think that after more than forty years telling tales around the camp fire and makin’ stuff up my Writer’s Journal would be chock-a-block with story ideas. It isn’t. Don’t get me wrong, there’s lots of snippets of tales and yarns and stuff that can be inserted wherever into a story to make it one thing or another. But a whole story; short or long? Nope, not happenin’.

Well, that’s not entirely true. There are a few outlines for novels, but anything older than about ten years is not worth a cracker. They’re simple plots, even episodic (see, I’ve read Aristotle), and not at all deep and meaningful enough to bother trying to write a whole story around. As both Aristotle and Gustav Freytag would point out, none of them have have the prerequisite significance and seriousness to move the human heart.

In the last ten years however, as I’ve studied writing more seriously, I’ve developed about eight or ten story ideas I think are worth pursuing. The problem is they are far too dark and complex for me to attempt with my current skill level. Some make Game of Thrones or the actual Wars of the Roses look like plots developed at a day-care centre. I need to find something simpler to ease me into this writing caper.

As I was lying in my hospital bed the other week I thought I might try my hand at a Young Adult novel; not that I had anything more than the foggiest idea what that might be. I came up with the idea for a start. Maybe the opening two chapters. The hero is banished over the summer break to spend time with a churlish old grandpa living on an isolated farm, there are mysterious lights at night, a secret research project, a precocious young woman/girl, and a mystery phenomenon. Don’t ask me for a plot, I don’t have one yet. Then it abruptly occurred to me: this all sounds pretty cliché.

In an effort to see if they are I did an Internet search of Wikipedia for Young Adult fiction and found these comments — and I quote from the site:

“Characteristics of young adult literature include: characters and issues young readers identify with; issues and characters that are treated in a way that does not invalidate, minimize, or devalue them; is framed in language that young readers understand; emphasizes plot.

“Research suggests young adult literature can be advantageous to reluctant student readers by addressing their needs. Authors who write young adult literature have an adolescent's age and interests in mind. The language and plots of young adult literature are similar to what students are accustomed to finding in reality, television, movies, and popular culture.
“In addition, the following are criteria that researchers use to evaluate the effectiveness of young adult literature in the classroom.

The subject matter should reflect the age and development of readers by addressing their interests, and their reading and cognitive level.

The content should deal with contemporary issues and experiences, and have characters with whom adolescents can relate.

Subject matter should be one young people can relate to, dealing with such things as relations with parents and adults, illness and death, peer pressure with regards to drugs, and sex, and with addiction and pregnancy.

On the contrary to the fact stated above, while stereotypical books like these are very common, there are occasionally books whose themes are more aligned with mystery or science fiction. While they do have a clear genre, there might be many elements of YA fiction within the books.

The content should consider global concerns, such as cultural, social, and gender diversity, as well as environmental and political issues as they relate to adolescents.”


This didn’t help me much at all. I got the depressing feeling ‘young adults’ carry the weight of the world on their shoulders for no damn good reason. Whatever happened to having the time to be young and stupid, fancy and free, instead of worrying about the geopolitical trends of gender diversity and the looming economic downturn etc., or am I just soooo out of touch with the world?

I guess the question I’m asking before I attempt to create a YA story is: Is this a fair ‘generalisation’ of YA fiction themes and content and, if it isn’t, where would I look to find out what is and isn’t cliché in creating a YA story?

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Meredith
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Instead of reading someone's definition of YA, I recommend reading some current YA books. That'll give you a better idea of what YA is, and isn't.
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extrinsic
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The above description of young adult is a vague pedagogy academic analysis and unwarranted imposition of a literary movement's aesthetics -- not of the young adult literature phenomenon. Why does young adult literature target and appeal to teenagers? Adulthood apprenticeship and initiation, rites of passage, how other teens at least cope with, if not transcend, the trials of adulthood's entry, vicariously, personally experienced, are young adult's forte.

A common convention of which is adult supervision lapses. Of late, blockbuster young adult novels pose parents and older adults as nemeses, if not outright villains. An earlier young adult phase posed youth agonists as undiscovered and orphaned royalty, at least as the noble champions of their passage rites.

A look at early adult, the successor age phase, offers insights, too; that is, of an age where individuals are fully legally and socially responsible for their behavior yet nonetheless some latitude allowed for experiments with and explorations of self-identity formation independent of guardianship impositions. Young adult legal and social responsibilities are less structured, and independent self-identity forays are less -- well, numerous and are closer afield to guardians' supervision.

Those several conventions are at the limit of defining young adult literature: rites of passage, independence forays, and degree of self-responsibility to society.

A sea change that influenced young adult's phases transpired when youths became less crucial to family fortunes, less so laborers and more so successors of family legacies. The industrial age set youth laborers outside of domestic labor situations. Urbanization placed youths into urban settings that then demanded a more direct relationship between reals costs of raising them and degree of family desirability. The urbanization demographic transition placed children into a more pet-like, companion-like anyway, or outright unwanted, relationship to parents than laborer relationship, and subjected them to parental and grandparent spoiling of them and spoiled temperaments or their utter neglect and likewise spoiled temperaments.

Since that mid-twentieth century western-world transition, though, youths tended toward a degree and type of self-discipline not heretofore seen, They had to; their parents' discipline lapses left many of them at loose ends, re: "latch key kids," or else wild child antics soon brought them under public supervision and discipline. Their wisdom and prudence disciplines, their sapience aptitudes (moral aptitudes), though, end up in spotty and erratic application due to lapses of the received wisdom of the ages that once upon a time were disseminated through folk tales, legends, and fables read or performed on stages. Today's generations' sapience aptitudes are different from earlier generations' aptitudes though more or less about the same caliber as they've always been.

Anyway, anymore, young adult literature follows and informs and influences those generational social trends. A new young adult emergence on the horizon is at once both less self-discipline aptitude and more self-discipline and somehow the twain shall meet for an individual agonist here and there. Meantime, no net advancement of the true human condition, only more of the same differently. No change to speak of.

This is literature's true social function: satire that reveals human vice and folly. Yet a large portion of literature, and entertainment content overall, anymore promotes and glorifies vice, foolishness, and folly and reveals and ridicules and mocks virtue, wisdom, and prudence. Many of young adult's recent blockbuster literature products do the latter, meantime, pose youthful agonists as virtuous, wise, and prudent. Since when did the inmates take over the jail? When the guardians lost their way. These phenomena are ripe fruit for a focused young adult narrative's subtexts.

[ November 07, 2017, 01:53 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Jack Albany
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Thanks for the suggestion, Meredith, it’s certainly something I’ll have to do before I start writing the actual story so I have some idea of the language and comprehension level of my target audience, probably 15-17. Right now I really need to understand the broader elements of theme, motif, and what are and are not acceptable cliché situations within a YA novel. Reading other writers story interpretations of what some of these themes are and how they are portrayed won’t be of much help to me.

extrinsic, it’s going to take me some time to deconstruct what you’ve said so I can understand it in full. If I understand your last part correctly, I don’t think it would be wise for me to portray young adults as I truly see them: selfish, vacuous, exhibitionist narcissists obsessed with social voyeurism who intrude into inappropriate tragic moments so they can say, “See, I was there.” and maybe get their face noticed under the pretence of offering support to the bereaved.

Although I am reminded of Captains Courageous where Harvey Cheyne was of a similar ilk, minus the voyeurism (I think).

As I was thinking about this today it occurred to me that a YA story is essentially one about what would have been called in years past an adolescent’s ‘coming of age’; that time of transition from child to adult with all its attendant complications. Ah, memories.

This transition affects all aspects of a young persons life, sexual, emotional, social, familial, psychological, spiritual, etc.. Which ones to focus on in a story, and how? More questions to consider.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Jack Albany:
Thanks for the suggestion, Meredith, it’s certainly something I’ll have to do before I start writing the actual story so I have some idea of the language and comprehension level of my target audience, probably 15-17. Right now I really need to understand the broader elements of theme, motif, and what are and are not acceptable cliché situations within a YA novel. Reading other writers story interpretations of what some of these themes are and how they are portrayed won’t be of much help to me.

Actually, I think it will be more help than you expect. (Says someone who has published three YA novels.)

Cliches--well, IMO I see a lot of traditionally published writers of YA who get away with . . . well, a lot of things. Rotten world building, unbelievable character arcs, egregious withholding, cliches, etc. They get away with that because, let's face it, their readers haven't read widely enough yet to recognize those issues and questions them--or to recognize cliches.

That's not to say that I'm advocating writing cliches, btw.

Theme--generally YA is about two things:

1) First love. That particular aspect of coming of age is almost as much a requirement of YA as a happily-ever-after ending is of romance.

2) They are usually about these characters figuring out what makes them special, unique, powerful in their own way. Harry Potter is the Chosen One (yes, the last three Harry Potter books are YA.) Thomas is the only one who can find the way out of the maze. And so on. So, yes, a lot of YA fantasy has the young heroes saving the world. But there are other ways for them to be special, too.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Jack Albany:
[QB]I don’t think it would be wise for me to portray young adults as I truly see them: selfish, vacuous, exhibitionist narcissists obsessed with social voyeurism who intrude into inappropriate tragic moments so they can say, “See, I was there.” and maybe get their face noticed under the pretence of offering support to the bereaved.

If that's how you feel about young adults, they might not be your best target audience. [Wink]
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extrinsic
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The cognitive dissonance of a vacuous teenage girl focal character written about by a curmudgeon can be reconciled from realization of who and what the narrative is really and truly about. Several approaches present; about the teen, actually about the curmudgeon and the brat teen is the specimen depicted, about both, actually, or about a human condition that both come to terms for due to an external miscreant's interference with the family.

I favor the latter; that is, at first, neither the teen nor the curmudgeon can tolerate the other, then they realize someone or something physical, tangible, material, concrete threatens their family, and they then coordinate, cooperate, codeterminate to satisfy the threat, meantime, the two become respectful of each other -- even affectionate. One caveat, the threat best practice is a motif related to an overall theme of, say, an individual or individuals and family relationships.

Who or what might best fit that role and antagonize the agonists materially and dramatically? This is victimism that later becomes proactivism. What about the middle generation, the granddad's child and that child's spouse -- the teen's parents? Fertile grounds there for dramatic movement, both concrete and subtext movements as one unified whole. What mischief might the middle generation be up to that negatively influences the teen and the curmudgeon and incites them to a common cause? Something physical and family-themed is ideal.

Might the middle generation machinate to deprive both of a family legacy? Inheritance? Something crooked as all get-out. Get them out of the way to an outback ranch while the middle generation schemes to cheat and rob them of, what, life, liberty, prosperity? Or, in the alternative, family honor, say, by scheming to commit a severe crime. Most anything family-related will do the needed incitement of an immediate, strong, and clear common cause between the teen and curmudgeon.

A site that lists, defines, explains, and shows examples of Literary Devices. The list is not comprehensive; the definitions and such are simplistic, clumsy, and, in some cases, outright wrong, and miss many more crucial "devices," though a source from which to expand creative composition knowledge; and is oblivious to its shortfalls. See, for example, "theme," "motif," "cliché," "conflict," "motivation," and "tone." The site's extensive index of literary devices, though, is remarkable and rare.

A likewise clumsy though far more insightful theme discourse here: Janice Patten. "Themes in Literature." San Jose State University host, originally, now hosted at the University of the District of Columbia. PDF.

That latter essay shows the full range of theme's functional criteria, more than just that a theme is a collection of incidental motifs kludged together at haphazard, like that a Cinco de Mayo party entails a few happenstance Mexican motifs. The essay's theme items descriptively show that events, settings, and characters are influenced by and influence drama, if not that, from a realized theme, those existents fall into place, and imply a narrative's general sapience aptitude, complication, and conflict, which are crucial plot features, and suggest as well tone.

Or in simpler terms, sapience's moral aptitudes, complication's motivations, conflict's stakes, and tone's emotional attitudes. Like a vice- and folly-ridden curmudgeon's contempt for a vice- and folly-ridden brat teen and the touchy teen's contempt for the grouchy curmudgeon, though the attitudes are subject to substantive, transformative change as the action unfolds toward its bittersweet outcome end.

[ November 09, 2017, 03:30 AM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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Jack Albany
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Love, Meredith? Eeew.

I guess what you’re saying is that YA fiction is just like any other fiction so long as you have at least one age appropriate protagonist and at some point they are confronted by some sort of adolescent angst which they battle and eventually overcome.

Disgruntled Peony, loathing one of your characters is no impediment to creating a ‘good’ one people can relate to, loathe along with you, and then become fascinated in as that character makes their journey to maturity. Plus, I can fake it really well; no one knows what I really think about them unless I want them to. And if I do it well the vacuous narcissists might cheer for the hero at the beginning and, just maybe, see something in the journey that applies to them. Not that I would dare ‘preach’ to the little darlings.

extrinsic, interesting plot structure you’ve outlined and I have a story that would fit right into it. The problem is it uses literature’s overt social commentary and critique rather than spec-fic’s metaphoric and allegoric observation and comparison style. The theme is greed driven elder abuse where children bully, threaten, and physically coerce their elderly parents in an effort to get their wealth ‘early’. Yuk!

I'll have a squiz at those two sites, thanks.

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Meredith
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quote:
Originally posted by Jack Albany:
Love, Meredith? Eeew.

I guess what you’re saying is that YA fiction is just like any other fiction so long as you have at least one age appropriate protagonist and at some point they are confronted by some sort of adolescent angst which they battle and eventually overcome.


“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” [Big Grin]

There's a lot more to YA than just an age-appropriate protagonist. I can think of several stories that are not YA that have a young protagonist. A couple of them are even ones I wrote. It's not even terribly unusual for some types of fantasy, such as epic, not specifically intended for a YA audience to begin with a young protagonist.

Adolescent angst is also not a requirement of YA, though it's certainly not ruled out. Sometimes, the characters are just too busy for it.

I don't recall a lot of adolescent angst in Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games). Plenty of other kinds of angst, but she was too busy most of the time to worry about typical teenage things. Same with Katsa (Graceling).

And while I can think of a few YA novels that don't really put the love interest near the center of things--Graceling, for one--it is much harder to think of a YA novel that doesn't at least have a love interest.

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Disgruntled Peony
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quote:
Originally posted by Jack Albany:
Disgruntled Peony, loathing one of your characters is no impediment to creating a ‘good’ one people can relate to, loathe along with you, and then become fascinated in as that character makes their journey to maturity. Plus, I can fake it really well; no one knows what I really think about them unless I want them to. And if I do it well the vacuous narcissists might cheer for the hero at the beginning and, just maybe, see something in the journey that applies to them. Not that I would dare ‘preach’ to the little darlings.

That's fair. [Smile]
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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Jack Albany:
extrinsic, interesting plot structure you’ve outlined and I have a story that would fit right into it. The problem is it uses literature’s overt social commentary and critique rather than spec-fic’s metaphoric and allegoric observation and comparison style. The theme is greed driven elder abuse where children bully, threaten, and physically coerce their elderly parents in an effort to get their wealth ‘early’. Yuk!

I'll have a squiz at those two sites, thanks.

Fantastic fiction contains as much overt, as well as covert, social commentary as any other categorical prose, if not more, "literary" fiction included. Other than the fantastic motifs, fantastic fiction's poetic equipment entails a non-one-to-one correspondence between literal and figurative features, Vampira represents . . . zonbi, werebeast, rivet and chrome faster-than-light space travel, bug-eyed monsters, hedge witches, fey folk, fairy princesses, yada, represent . . . Which, to me, means fantastical fiction is of greater appeal potentials than other categories.

The children who abuse their parents out of greed topos, an accompaniment of a theme, not a theme, though Webster's and other dictionaries define it so; "topos: a traditional or conventional literary or rhetorical theme or topic". That's a subject, though with a thematic backdrop. Theme most so is a narrative's moral and message, what a narrative expresses about a social topic overall, which includes tone's attitude. Like proponent of or contrary to greed.

Nor does the plot sketch above represent the sole possibility. One point of all prose is that a theme target a victim of a narrative's attitude, at least one someone or some thing or some personal and public crisis must oppose and antagonize the contention or worse: confliction, confrontation, conflagration. Otherwise, no drama ensues. Not prose.

The parent example of the sketch closely connects to an individual and family relationships theme in general. The parents' parenthood could be the target victim for such a scenario or any other pointed theme's similar design serve drama's demands as well. This is capital C Conflict, stakes risked to satisfy a main dramatic complication's motivational forces. Conflict : polar opposite forces in contention, like life and death, acceptance and rejection, riches and poverty, salvation and damnation, and so on, ad infinitum and ad nauseam. On the other hand, complication is omnidirectional and omnidimensional forces and near infinite of possibilities, not the sole polar duality of conflict's stakes-risked forces.

A near infinite multitude of possible narrowed, focused themes related to an individual and family relationships general theme, or any other main or subthread theme, and a message target victim, either a person or persons ("Juvenalian satire"), or a public or private institution ("Horatioan satire"), or a social or antisocial institution ("Menippean satire"), comes unbidden to my mind.

Pick a poison, at least one poison pill is necessary for drama's contests and prose's. What? Once one is determined and laid out in some detailed, focused, narrowed degree, either planned or discovered through raw draft writing, or both and more, most everything else crucial to a narrative falls naturally and necessarily into place, mindful appealing though connected dramatic pivots (plot twists) might ensue regardless.

Oh Infinity!? thou art my prose arts' blessed curse.

[ November 09, 2017, 01:39 PM: Message edited by: extrinsic ]

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extrinsic
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quote:
Originally posted by Meredith:
quote:
Originally posted by Jack Albany:
Love, Meredith? Eeew.

I guess what you’re saying is that YA fiction is just like any other fiction so long as you have at least one age appropriate protagonist and at some point they are confronted by some sort of adolescent angst which they battle and eventually overcome.


“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.” [Big Grin]

There's a lot more to YA than just an age-appropriate protagonist. I can think of several stories that are not YA that have a young protagonist. A couple of them are even ones I wrote. It's not even terribly unusual for some types of fantasy, such as epic, not specifically intended for a YA audience to begin with a young protagonist.

Adolescent angst is also not a requirement of YA, though it's certainly not ruled out. Sometimes, the characters are just too busy for it.

I don't recall a lot of adolescent angst in Katniss Everdeen (The Hunger Games). Plenty of other kinds of angst, but she was too busy most of the time to worry about typical teenage things. Same with Katsa (Graceling).

And while I can think of a few YA novels that don't really put the love interest near the center of things--Graceling, for one--it is much harder to think of a YA novel that doesn't at least have a love interest.

The Chocolate Wars, 1988, Robert Cormier.
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Jack Albany
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Disgruntled Peony, I hope you didn’t think I was getting all shirty with you when I replied to your comment that maybe YA isn’t a target audience for me. I was just pointing out that good, clean, heroic heroes are easy; flawed, and sometimes fatally so, heroes are much more difficult--and far more interesting.

See, this is me smiling and making a silly face at you. [Razz]
(Stupid emojies.)

Originally posted by Meredith:
quote:
“I know that you believe you understand what you think I said, but I’m not sure you realize that what you heard is not what I meant.”
Too right, I still haven’t a clue. I am still as in the dark as a miner in a blackout. Although extrinsic’s pointer to Janice Patten’s article may have given me a couple of clues. I guess Google scholar is my next piece of ground to plough.
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