I hope you’ve all had a chance to check out this month’s issue of WOW, “Finding Your Genre.” Personally, I found it the inspirational push I needed to delve into a specific genre I love but hadn’t thought I’d be good writing in: Young Adult.
When I started writing professionally about five years ago, I was drawn to the Inspirational and Christian genres. I wanted to help other people through my experiences and those were the safest and most welcoming areas to do that. Over time, my writing has become more specialized in helping parents with special needs children but I my style has remained on the inspirational side. Every so often, though, I really need a fun distraction—especially since the topics I write about can be so emotional and serious at times. That’s when I re-discovered YA.
I thought writing for this audience would be fun. Kids aren’t shrouded in a blanket of skepticism and bias the way most adults are. They still see the world from a wider, untainted, more accepting perspective. Plus, if you grab their attention at this age you can help spark a life-long love for reading books. That’s what I really wanted. So, I had what I thought was a fantastic idea for a YA book and pumped out the first chapter. I actually got some positive feedback, which inspired me to continue. Then I got stuck.
I’d never written in this genre before and although I’d envisioned how my story would go, I had no idea how to get there. Feeling frustrated, I “mothballed” my project for a couple of months. Then I met a wonderful Canadian YA author. We chatted a bit and I mentioned in passing that I’d started writing a book. She asked to read what I had and, to my surprise, LOVED it. Of course, she offered a few editing suggestions but encouraged me to keep it going. In fact, she offered to help me! She did have a few suggestions for me to start from:
(1) Read, read, read: “Are you reading a lot?” she asked. “In order to write for a specific audience you really need to read the good stuff in that area. Check out the books that have won awards, are in the top-seller lists or highly recommended. Check out the books that the audience has highly recommended but may have been missed by the critics. Read what has worked for that audience and absorb what the authors have done.”
(2) Find a mentor: My author friend didn’t exactly say this outright but told me to read everything I could from top YA Canadian author, Brian Doyle. He’s written books in all children and YA age groups, has won many literary awards for his work and has been doing it since the 1940’s. He must be doing something right! She told me that my writing voice is very similar to his so he’d be the one to learn from. (By the way, I highly recommend his book You Can Pick Me Up At Peggy’s Cove to any and all of you interested in writing for the pre-teen to teen group. It’s excellent!)
(3) Learn the voice: This just means you need to write in the voice of the audience you’re writing for. Go talk to the age group you’re writing for or, at the very least, listen to them. Pay attention to how they talk to their friends, teachers, and parents because they speak and act differently around each group of people. You don’t want to sound like an adult trying to speak like teenager.
(4) Research the group: Once you understand the voice, researching the dynamics of the group is a good idea too. How do they dress? What are their worries? How do they view the world? What are their interests? Like most adults, children and teens all have different interests and the way their minds work is different. I’d like to say, “Remember being that age then envision yourself interacting with kids that age,” but it isn’t always that simple. While you’re out there listening to kids and talking to them, pay attention to how they interact with the world around them. (I’m fairly lucky to be surrounded by many different age groups, abilities and needs through my own kids’ activities. It’s been very helpful.)
These are the main points I was given from my author friend. It’s really helped ease my initial anxiety and have actually written a couple of more chapters. I’m just taking my time, allowing my story to unfold slowly. I know we have some great children and YA writers/authors out there. I’d love to hear your suggestions on this subject. I am a sponge for knowledge.
Have a great writing weekend and don’t be afraid to delve into the unfamiliar once in awhile. You never know what you’ll create.