Readers Read Stories
Confession: I don’t understand when I hear people say, “I don’t read that genre.”
I’ve been ridiculously addicted to reading basically my whole entire life. (Hello, this blog used to be “Reading Makes Me Happy”, and my dusty Blogspot blog still claims the domain name: “readingmakesmehappy .blogspot. com”.) I was THAT girl. You know, the girl whose parents checked on to see that she was sleeping, and, after they left, she would promptly break out the flashlight and read throughout the night, Never Ending Story style. Seriously. Addicted. Still am.
So, I’ve basically confided some time ago, that I have read and loved stories in every genre. EVERY genre. Why? Because I thoroughly enjoy stories. Anyone’s stories. Heck, I will hire anyone who has great stories during an interview. Why? Because the person who can entertain me during an interview can entertain future strangers when selling products. Just sayin’.
Plainly speaking, readers (at least THIS reader) read stories, not genres. And, a good story is a good story, no matter the genre (end of story). I do understand that people have a need to label and categorize things into neat, marketable units. Hence, genres. But, just because books are organized in a certain way for selling and navigational purposes, doesn’t mean that consumers need to “read” that way.
Genre, What is it Good For?
I appreciate branding for what it is, but the one drawback to it is a misperception of what that brand could be. Same can be said with genres.
Take the Young Adult genre nowadays: whether paranormal, sci fi, or contemporary, 90% of it revolves around high school: classes, relationship dramas, etc. Because of that, I never thought to seriously write a YA story, because I quite frankly didn’t want to stay in high school when I was there, and so why relive that as an adult? My high school wasn’t hard, but I always felt like it was an annoying four years holding me back from my real life (I much preferred college. If I could stay there forever…)
I was more of an observer of high school rather than a true participator. Sure, I played the game, and was president or officer of at least three different clubs (depending on the year), active in electives, etc, but that’s all it was to me. A game. That I played very well. However, I knew it was just a phase and not Real Life, and so I never really invested much in it. (Sorry, but I got A’s without even trying.)
I don’t want to say that I was “serious” but I definitely wasn’t the typical 16 year-old I currently see on TV, chasing boys and defying my parents. In my household, my siblings and I often seamlessly wove theology, art history, and the latest Star Trek episode into an argument about who should get the last bit of sausage and eggs. That’s just how we rolled. THAT to me was Real Life. The way I viewed my high school experience then is pretty much how I view my paythebills job now: a great diversion, but just a stepping stone to get me to the next phase of my Life.
Another misperception that I had about YA Lit stemmed from the fact that the characters tend to be right around 16. From there, I assumed the stories must be flighty and without substance. (Take a look at what the CW has been playing for the last 5 years, and tell me that I was off base to come to that conclusion.) But, then I thought to myself, “Dude, I wasn’t flighty and irresponsible at 16.” That thought led to a series of facepalm moments where I realized that I didn’t have to write about teenagers as portrayed by the CW. I can write for the young adults that never quite fit in with the other young adults (which, evidently, is EVERY young adult’s story, no matter who you are).
I want to write for the one who unapologetically loves hammy sci-fi, kung fu, action movies; who is addicted to comic books and anime; who secretly reads torrid romance novels, and cries at sad movies; who wears a three-piece business suit for a class presentation one day, and a ballerina tutu with combat boots and Sailor Moon hair the next.
Basically, I want to write for my 16-year-old self.
And, thinking about my 16 year-old self brought me to the real principle of YA Lit. It’s not the high school or the agonizing over boys. Not quite about fitting in or pleasing the parents. It’s about identity. The rest of it (high school settings and boy drama) are just (replaceable) back drops and props in the protagonist’s journey of self-discovery.
Young Adult? Really?
The value of YA Lit, then, that I admire and am attracted to, and one that I always tried to write in my non-YA stories that never fit, is the idea of self-discovery with a sense of wonder.
I have felt that sense of wonder at 16. I still feel it at 30. I want to continue believing in and embracing that sense of wonder.
And, that is why, in the (hopefully near) future, I will be proud to bear the title, “Young Adult Author.”
Yes. Young Adult. Really.
12 thoughts on “Simplify. Focus. Young Adult Genre”
I completely agree. There was a time when I was like, “Read and write YA?! Heck no!” That was because — like you said — I associated the genre with the vapid teen dramas I saw on the WB/UPN/CW/whatever it is now. They were awful and mindless and full of midriffs and ridiculous plots. And I think the YA genre has that stereotype when people first hear the term.
I think the reason the genre is so exciting to read and write is because it is about identity. It’s about a time in someone’s life when they’re figuring out who they are, when first loves, kisses and heartbreaks seem like the most important thing in the world. It’s a time when the innocence of childhood meets the realities of adulthood — it isn’t always pretty, but it is always fascinating. No other genre encompasses what the YA novel does. A writer can delve into even the most terrifying material, but present it in a way that still feels somewhat familiar — that’s what makes it unique. Who wouldn’t want to write YA!? 😉
And what a great sentence: “In my household, my siblings and I often seamlessly wove theology, art history, and the latest Star Trek episode into an argument about who should get the last bit of sausage and eggs.”
heehee, thanks for stopping by! and thanks for picking up on the aspect of YA that I love: it encompasses all other genres, and I feel like I can be more imaginative, less restrained, you know? (I wish I could be more eloquent at the moment…not enough sleep, not enough coffee, too much day left to accomplish…)
yeah, my siblings and I were total nerds, and part of the reason why nerds are so cool now, I do declare! 😉
I know you won’t understand this…
I don’t like some genres. I have no interest in YA fiction because it’s just not me. It’s never been. I think if you truly want to write for that 16 year old self, then you are perfect to write YA fiction and you will do a great job. I am not.
I do understand what you say about categories and putting things in boxes. I know it’s a shame that is that way but the thing is, books in certain genres do have commonalities. In Romance, it will be all about the lovers and their problems etc. In YA fiction, the story can be a lot of different things BUT the protagonists are always young. Nothing wrong with this, but I was never interested in reading about what other 16 years old were doing, not even when I was 16. I gravitated to horror stories and vampires, and that’s still me now. I read Dracula when I was 8 years old. That kind of defined me. Hope you understand what I’m saying. Not putting down YA. I’m just trying to explain that it is not for me, and I know it will never be, the same way I can never be a Science Fiction writer or a writer of Epic Fantasy. I know myself well and my limitations and likes/dislikes. That is key to knowing what to write and so you are on the right path and I wish you the best of luck because you have the passion to write one fantastic YA novel!
I totally understand what you’re saying (and of course, I understand that readers may have go to preferences…I’m just a reading-holic and will get my fix from ANY book 😉 )…That was a reason why getting started and finishing a story was always challenging for me: I LOVED so MANY genres and works, that instead of drawing inspiration, I became paralyzed! The YA genre, though, bc of its fluidity, has given me the freedom to blur and mix all the random that is me.
Also, I think you brushed up on the reason why I am intrigued by YA fiction in the first place: growing up, that genre didn’t exist. And, whatever was available for that age group was woefully inadequate (R.L. Stine and Christopher Pike. Enough said.).
I read all of the available Anne Rice books (and all her other pseudonymous books) before I was 13. I read classic King before I was 10, and developed a fear of sleeping in front of open closets, mirrors, and twin girls. (I also developed the habit of reading through the night because of it: I HAD to finish the story, if only to know that the fillintheblankbigbadthing died.). I discovered Herbert’s Dune when I was 11. I read Isaac Asimov before Dr. Seuss. When other kids in my 4th grade class were reciting Shel Silverstein for their poetry presentations, the poems I read revolved around fiery faerie queens and the mortals they consumed. Don’t get me started on the “romance novels” that I hid from my mom! Hilarious!
I had more imagination than the media gives 16 yo credit for; and even though there’s a glut of YA fiction nowadays, I’m happy knowing that some girl who was like me can have more meaty fare to devour than the regurgitated after-school specials. I would like to finish a story that my 16 yo self would’ve read, rather than turn her nose up at…we’ll see what happens by the end of NaNoWrimo 😉
PS: You pre-empted another blog post of mine. The commonalities between genres was something I was going to touch on too, but I was under the weather and didn’t feel like developing that trail of the genre discussion 😉
I love that you read Dune when you were 11! Wow, I read it in my 20s and it was just not my cup of tea. You know, you’re spot on about the genre not existing years ago. Yes, it’s the commonalities of some genres that put me off or draw me to them. I know you’re going to write one hell of a YA fiction novel with the passion you have and that’s exactly the kind of writer we all need 🙂
heehee, thanks! You’re a great cheerleader! 😉 And I can’t wait to see your boy’s book in the wild 😉
I have to giggle a bit listening to you almost defend your decision to be a YA author. When I hear YA, I think of it as THE genre. I understand what you’re saying about “stories” rather than genre. There is truth to this. I think sometimes readers find an author they like and then get into a rut. Brave up and branch out! Right? Blessings to you, Ms. YA Author…
Ha! It’s more like I had to defend it to myself and really own it and be proud to claim it as something I would put my name on! Because even now (or especially now?) with YA being “The genre” as you say, I think more of the love triangles and high school talk has become more prominent rather than the self-discovery and sense of wonder that has drawn me to it…please think of me as I work my little fingers off to finish The Novel in 30 days!
Great analysis. And it’s those YA novels that go beyond boys and belonging that make the biggest impact.
You know it! 😉
I love all of this. First, excellent point about stories vs. genres. The only thing I steadfastly avoid is Horror, because I scare the pants off of myself. That’s no fun.
Secondly, YAY YOUNG ADULT AUTHORS!!!! I had almost the EXACT. SAME. ISSUES. when first coming to grips with the genre. I don’t like a significant amount of high schoolers, either. But then I realized the exact same thing – it isn’t about “high school”. It’s precisely about finding out who we are, what we aim to get out of life, how we cross into adulthood. A MAJOR MAJOR theme in The Big Novel is loving who you are – all of you. It’s important for YA to learn & remember, because I sure struggled with it immensely as a YA.
In my biased opinion, YA writers are the best, yo. We hit an awesome age group with IMPORTANT things to be said, even if it is about a summer romance.
Finding out who you are…and holding on to that, claiming it, and owning it…definitely the story of my life 😉