Saturday, November 6, 2010

YA, MG, or Adult?

On the heels of my last blog (no boxes), I’m kinda amused by this topic, but it’s on my mind tonight, so here we are . . .

What’s the difference between YA, MG, & adult?

As a mother, I’ve been co-reading* with my kids since they were hatched. Daughter is 17 this year; Son is 12. This means a few things:
  • I’ve read a lot of adventure books. Daughter was a lot more HARRY POTTER than princess. We had the rare girl-book, but she mostly went from POTTER to John Green to Nietzsche and Iron Age History in Scotland. Son, well, no princess books cross his shelves, but his transition was non-fic to Rick Riordan to mythology to SCI-FI PHYSICS—but still some Riordan in there. (Dear Rick, I sorta love you. No, really, I used to have to bargain with my son. ME: “I’ll read 2 educational books, if you let me read this story about—” HIM: “3 and we have a deal.” Then came PERCY, and fiction was suddenly cooler. You are a god to me.)
  • I have had perfectly plausible reasons to buy myself picturebooks, MG, & YA for a lot of years.
  • My daughter now goes to the grown-up shelves while I clutch son and say “Look! These are all ours now!!!” (NOTE: Any eye-rolling by Son is obviously a result of dust or allergies.)
So, with the massive tower of children’s and teen books I’ve read, it’s not a big surprise that I ended up writing a few of them. That particularly journey means that I get asked to answer some version of this next question a lot.

“What’s makes a book YA as opposed to Middle-Grade(children’s) or adult?”
I have some theories:
  • Character
  • Character’s Journey
  • Character’s Struggles
  • Character’s Experience
  • Did I mention character?
It’s not simply age. Being ten to twelve doesn’t mean the character is a middle-grade character. In As I Lay Dying (bc really, all things tie to Faulkner in my head), Vardaman is under 12. AILD is very much not a children’s book. Vardaman is one of a plethora of narrators, and his journey—quite literally—is dealing with his mother’s death. That didn’t make AILD a kids’ book, though. Is it teen accessible? Oh, yes. It’s prob the most teen-friendly Faulkner book (& possibly the darkest).

Likewise, older characters doesn’t mean adult. My WICKED LOVELY books have at their focus four characters—Ash, 17 at the start of the series, not yet 19 by the end; Donia, fey for not quite a century; Keenan—a bit over centuries; and Seth—18 at the start of the series. It is, however, primarily a YA series. The characters are struggling with their place in the world, parental baggage (dead mom, evil mom, unknown dad, dead dad, absentee parents, semi-adopted mom who’s calculating), and deciding their futures. Is it adult-friendly? Yes. Germany re-pubbed it as an adult novel.

So the answer really is less about age than about character. I may have mentioned that.

Likewise, books that fit naturally into a bracket aren’t exclusively for that group. There’s a difference between accessible and “what’s the dominant readership?” Frex, I’m pretty sure that I’m not the dominant readership of BRAVE MARGARET, but it’s one of my favourite books—and I bought myself a copy of that picturebook when I was waaaay past elem school age.

So I wanna write a YA or MG book . . .

Part two of the question is usually as it relates to writing for said age. I don’t have The Truth on this or anything, but again, I have theories.

The best bit of advice I have heard on the topic is that one should write for the teen (YA) or younger (MG) person you were. We don’t write YA or MG to teach our children any more than we write adult books to teach friends or parents.

Do we have a responsibility to embed “morals”** in the books? That’s a topic I don’t think we can decide unanimously. I don’t intend to do so in the YA any more than the manga (which is rated for “all ages”) or the adult. Do some leak in? Yep. If, however, you want to write YA or MG to preach, I’m going to suggest that this isn’t going to lead to the sort of story your target readers will love.

On the other hand, writing MG or YA is more than slapping a YA label on a book that is not really a story in which the character is experiencing struggles that are young adult (or younger if it’s a MG book).

Look at your child-self or teen-self. No, look at yourself without the comfort of age. That’s your entry into writing for that age . . .

Off to do a bit of said writing myself.

  • Nymfaux—Ink Exchange
  • Raven99—Eat Prey Love
  • Bella@Beguile --The Body Finder
  • And since I feel weird abt one of the winners winning my book, I had the Random Number Gen pick a 4th winner: April X--Firelight
If the 4 of you would email my assistant (donna @ with your address, I’ll go book shopping for you.

Melissa Marr
My Twitter Feed

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*Co-reading just means we have our own very exclusive bookclub. It means that there are no awkward conversations bc books lead naturally to all of those topics that stereotypically are “Well, Son/Daughter . . .” conversations.

** Morals being a not-writ-in-stone thing. In my house, frex, anti-equality messages are a lot less acceptable than, say, swearing. Say “damn” & I’m not too concerned; tell me that you love that one


A'mee said...

Was directed here by Tera Lynn Childs, and just wanted to join in the chorus of praise for Rick Riordan. My son is 10 and has Aspergers and used to hate to read anything unless it was about science-type stuff. He was also a very slow reader who had a hard time following. Now you have to pry books out of his hands so he can eat! Anything sci-fi/fantasy is fair game at this point. He is even trying his hand writing some fan-fic :-) Although his obsession with greek gods has gotten a little old.... lol

Unknown said...

This is a very great post. Thank you. I read with my tot and it leads to all sorts of great conversations.

Claire Dawn said...

MG and YA are definitely all about what the character is dealing with. Adults can and will read anything. Not so much with teens and kiddies.

nymfaux said...

OMG! OMG! OMG!?!??!?!

I was so distracted by your brilliant AMAZING fantastic blog, that I barely took the time to notice I WON!!!!!!! I'm so excited!!!!!! I LOVED Wicked Lovely!!!!!


And did I mention, how AWESOME your post was!?!?!?!??!? LOVE!!!!


Brenda Hyde said...

Thanks for the post, although I can't decide if it helped me or not. My NaNo is a YA novel- I think. I find myself going into mom mode while I'm writing-- do you know what I mean? The characters are 20, 400 and 400. Yeah, it's a paranormal novel. LOL I think I'm calling it YA because I'm not sure I can write "gritty" enough for an adult paranormal romance, and writing sex scenes frighten me:)