Monthly Archives: February 2014

Young Adult Fiction

Over the past few months, I have been attending a class titled Crossing Boundaries in Young Adult Fiction.  One of the core goals of the course is to explore the themes and commonalities of this relatively new genre.  Coming into creation somewhere around the 1950s alongside the rise of the ‘teenage culture,’ the Young Adult (YA)  genre is an ever-evolving concept which often proves difficult to define.  In general terms, this genre identifies a group of novels which lie between those meant for children and those of adults.

In order to understand what classifies a novel as young adult, we must first determine what separates YA from children’s literature.  One of the most traditional types of children’s literature is found in the form of the fairy-tale.  Traditionally used to teach children lessons in morality, ethics or manners, fairy-tales have been continually toned down to stories felt to be more appropriate for the modern view of childhood innocence.  Original versions of most fairy-tales, perhaps most famously portrayed in the Hans Christian Anderson versions of stories, are far less ‘happily ever after’ than the more modern versions told to the majority of children, featuring character’s death, cold-blooded villains, and occasionally even the death of the primary character.

One need look no further than the latest Disney film, Frozen, to see that the once cold-hearted snow queen transformed into a confused girl simply attempting to protect her sister; The Little Mermaid, who dies in original interpretations of the tale, marrying the Prince she loves; or in Sleeping Beauty, where Princess Aurora slumbers only a few nights before being rescued, as opposed to the 100 year sleep seen in earlier versions of the story.

Though there are exceptions to every rule, the most common elements found in modern children’s literature are:

  1. An absence of explicit violence
  2. An absence of explicit sex
  3. Conclusive, non-ambiguous, ‘happy’ endings

In contrast, YA fiction tends to break down these rules to address and tackle the difficult themes which children’s literature tends to avoid.  It addresses themes like violence and sexuality with an often straight-forward, head-on approach that becomes more detailed depending upon the age of the protagonist featured within the story.  In addition, the YA novel often works to disrupt the securely wrapped-up endings offered to younger children, often leaving the reader with unsolved pieces of the plot and not always certain as to the ultimate fate of their protagonists.  No longer do these novels end in ‘they all lived happily ever after;’ the girl does not always find her Prince Charming and sometimes, the protagonist does not even survive the end of the story.

Protagonists of YA Fiction often encounter issues of heartache, pain both physical and psychological in form, the loss of those they love, and face challenges where they rarely arrive undamaged on the other side.  From the omnipresence of death in Harry Potter to the psychological torture suffered by the survivors of The Hunger Games, protagonists in YA novels deal with very adult issues.

This leads to the question which proves far more difficult to answer: If YA novels deal with adult issues, then what, exactly, is the difference between the YA genre and that of regular Adult Fiction?  When this question was once asked to my long-time mentor she gave a response which I initially found to be rather startling.  My mentor stated that aside from toning down her use of foul language and avoiding any explicitly detailed sex, the writing really doesn’t change.  Take, for example, the recent phenomenon of The Hunger Games, where the seventeen-year old Katniss Everdeen is drafted into a competition where she is forced to kill or witness the deaths of 22 other equally young competitors.  Though she survives, it is far from unscathed as Katniss is forced to deal with horrible nightmares and psychological trauma from her experience in the games for many years to come.  Another example is Harry Potter, a series which chronologically begins with the violent death of Harry’s parents, and ends in a major battle with the death of multiple characters who receive no revival within the famous tale.  Their death is treated as tragic and final as it would be in real life.

Use of themes such as these in modern YA Fiction show an increasing trend which continually moves the genre farther from children’s literature, and closer to Adult Fiction.  This is evidenced by their increasingly universal appeal, as novels such as these tend to find themselves upon the bestsellers lists for both teenagers and adults.  YA Books which were once found far closer to children’s novels, have advanced in recent years to cover more and more adult topics, transforming formally naïve characters into knowledgeable, sexualized teenagers.  Death, sex, violence, politics – all topics generally avoided in the literature of children come to life in the world on the Young Adult novel.

Here is an additional article on this topic: http://writersrelief.com/blog/2013/10/the-book-that-everyone-will-love-writing-for-young-adult-and-adult-audiences/

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First Draft

I recently read an article which featured interviews with 12 authors who answered a series of questions concerning the process of writing a first draft.  I wanted to add my own answers to this interesting topic.

  1. What does your first draft writing process look like?

The first draft of my novels are what I prefer to call a ‘zero’ draft.  This is a private version of the novel written only for myself; except for the occasional glimpses viewed by my cat when she jumps up to remind me that I have, yet again, written well past her dinner time.  This draft is full of errors, missing sections, crossed out words and notes such as: ‘add fight scene here,’ ‘research medieval clothing,’ or ‘check character’s eye colour.’  I tend to write the majority of my zero drafts by hand with a black or blue ink pen in a hard-back notebook.  The reason for this is that it allows me to write without seeing the mistakes which most computer programmes would highlight and allows me to write more fluidly.

My long-time mentor once told me that the most important element of a ‘zero’ draft is simply to reach a point in the story where a writer can identify a beginning, middle, and end.  If this is achieved, then something great has been accomplished.  It is only after this is completed that I even begin to consider writing a ‘first’ draft.  This transition involves filling in all the missing scenes, researching any topic where questions arose, and checking for consistency in both locations and the physical description of characters.  It does not consist of technical editing, but instead only focuses upon filling in the gaps and research of the story.  I only focus on more technical changes (such as grammar, spelling, and punctuation) once these initial changes are complete.

2.How long does it take to write a first draft?

This really depends upon the amount of research involved with the novel.  My most recently published story, Rise of the Temple Gods: Heir to Kale, took approximately two years to write.  The first year was devoted almost entirely to research.  My fantasy world involves a society which revolves around swordplay and martial arts – subjects of which I knew little.  Because of this, it was necessary to conduct a great deal of research before I could make the world come to life.  The sequels, on the other hand, should prove a much quicker process because of the research already being completed for the first novel.

I also believe that one of the most important elements to writing a first draft is to ensure that time is set aside every day to write.  The exact amount of time may vary from person to person, but the repetition of daily writing is very important to reaching the overall goal of completing a first draft.

3.What are your first draft stumbling blocks and how do you overcome them?

The most difficult part for me in writing an initial draft is to resist the temptation to pause and correct the previous paragraph.  I have a great urge to edit as a I write, and it took a long time to learn how to resist.  Changing my habit of writing a zero draft on the computer and transitioning to writing in a notebook helped me tremendously in overcoming this problem, as I no longer have my technical mistakes highlighted as I write.  This makes it easier to keep writing without backtracking every few sentences.

To read the article and see other author’s answers, feel free to click on this link: http://tammyfarrell.com/2014/02/03/how-12-different-authors-write-a-first-draft/

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