Today we are excited to bring you a guest blog post from our very good friend and author Bryan W. Alaspa! Take it, Bryan!
So, you’re a writer and you want to write young adult fiction. You are convinced that you have the stories, series or idea that will be the next Harry Potter, Divergent or Hunger Games. Great – but now what?
It’s a funny thing, but statistics show that more adults read stuff labeled “young adult” than the supposed demographic. As for what that demographic is, well, that varies too. Generally your tween years is when you get most of your young adult readers.
What does it mean to write that kind of fiction? The first thing you need to know is that your audience, even if they are tweens, do not want to be talked down to. They are very plugged into the world and they know that bad things happen. People die. People murder other people. Kids get killed. People have sex. So, eliminating all of that or using words you think a “kid” will appreciate will completely take them out of the story and toss your book aside.
I read an article once where Stephen King said if he had a chance to meet JK Rowling (he since has, but I don’t know if he ever asked this question) he would ask her about the Harry Potter books: When did you decide to stop writing them for kids and just to write them.
If you have read the series you know that happened. That first book just has a “kids” feel to it. It’s great adventure, but you can kind of tell this was meant for a younger audience. But, as the series went on, that sort of fell away. Ms. Rowling just told a tale with all of the violence and horror that fighting an evil creature like Voldemort would entail. It just happens that her characters are kids.
So, my advice would be to write the story that you have to tell. Author Judy Blume has been writing books for kids for decades and yet she has tackled very adult themes head-on in most of them. That should be your tactic, too.
My first YA novel was a supernatural romance called Sapphire. It had teenage protagonists and the style was a bit different than my more “adult” novels. I made the violence a tiny bit tamer, not going into such graphic detail. I even implied sex at one point, but did that in the way a PG-13 movie will show the coupe kissing and then slowly drift over to a curtain blowing gently in the wind and then fade to black.
In my most recent novel, The Lord of Winter, there is violence. There is a very scary villain. People die. That happens because for the amount of action and destruction that happens in the novel for it not to happen would not be realistic. The key is that I focus on the characters and don’t dwell on the blood and gore like I might in a horror novel.
Kids have to deal with adult things all the time. We are more plugged in today than ever before. Teens have iPhones and tablets and they see the terrorists, the 24 hour news coverage of shootings. They deal with the fact that a white dude with a beef can get easy access to a gun and walk into their school to try and work out his issues by killing a few dozen of them. So, to create a story that doesn’t live in that kind of world is lying to the reader. You don’t want your story to be dishonest.
Never talk down to them. Tell your story. If it’s a good one, they’ll listen. If it’s a really good one, hopefully they ask for more.
Bryan W. Alaspa on WRITING YOUNG ADULT NOVELS
First off, I wanted to thank Patrick for letting me guest write on his blog. I love Patrick’s work and I cannot wait for his next novel to come out. We have discovered that we share a lot of common interests and I think his work is going to become rather legendary among thriller/horror fans.
I have been writing for some time now. I first started writing when I sat down at my mom’s electric typewriter in the third grade and spent days banging out a three-page, single-spaced, no-paragraphs short story that was, essentially, a rip off of Jaws. I had been fascinated with that novel and movie even though I had yet to read it or see it. I just thought sharks were super cool.
I wrote all the time after that. Short stories, mostly, and all of them were in the realm of horror. I did a few sci-fi things, but they also had a horror bent. This was even before I discovered the likes of HP Lovecraft and Richard Matheson. I ate up horror movies constantly and began reading ghost stories and thrillers meant for kids and then for adults. I began reading adult horror starting in 6th grade when I grabbed my dad’s copy of Stephen King’s novel Cujo. I was hooked after that and began devouring horror and thrillers like a starving man.
Writing for me has always been something that I just sort of did. The stories were just there. I knew that I was writing for adult readers sometime in high school when I began adding a bit of sex into the tales and the gore and language increased. I wrote my first novel, by hand, in my senior year of high school. It was awful, of course, but it was a start and my first long-form storytelling.
I didn’t even consider writing Young Adult stories until a few years ago. It wasn’t really something I had decided to do. I was simply sitting in my living room watching a television show about ghosts and the story idea came. As I started writing it, with the main character being a young man in high school, I realized that I was not using quite as many swear words as I normally did and that the story just sort of lent itself to the description of YA. That became my romantic ghost story known as Sapphire.
I discovered that writing for a younger audience was interesting and not that much different than writing for adults. When writing for teenagers these days, you have to realize that they deal with many of the same things, ask the same questions, have the same fears and desires as adults. They just haven’t dealt with all of those feelings and their emotions are a bit wild. You cut down on the sex a bit (although teens deal with that, too) and get a little less graphic. You also cut down on the swearing a bit and –voila!
It was the aspect of dealing with teenage feelings that led to my new novel The Lightning Weaver. It tells the story of a teen girl who discovers that she has vast powers. Of course, at first, she doesn’t’ realize how to control them or understand who or what she is. She soon discovers that she is part of a race of humans known as Elementals. They can control one of the four elements, although some are more powerful than others. Imagine being a teenager with all of those confusing thoughts and feelings and wanting to fit in and then you discover you have vast powers you can barely control. Imagine you find out you aren’t really a normal human being – but some offshoot of humanity. Imagine you find out that there’s now a war coming. How would that make you feel?
It is something that I wanted to explore and then imagined three others of equal power and of the same age. What would bring them together?
Once again, I did not set out to create these stories as young adult stories, they just turned out that way. As I began writing, I realized that this was a YA series, fit for those in their teens. At the same time, I don’t attempt to “dumb down” the story. If you try to talk down to your audience, just because they’re teens, you’ll lose them.
I haven’t become just a YA author. I still write for those a bit older, but I still believe that the same basic point is to tell a compelling and well-told story. If you do that, whatever audience you choose will find you. The story is always king.
You can buy a copy of Bryan W. Alaspa’s new novel The Lightning Weaver, in ebook and print editions here: http://bryanwalaspa.com/books/the-lightning-weaver-the-elementals-part-one/