Dear Writers, Respect YA: A Guest Post by Madeleine Rex

Sunday, March 7, 2010

Madeleine talks about why authors need to respect YA, and the importance of compelling characters in YA novels...

Young Adult fiction has become a dominant force, invading the shelves of people of every age. An enormous amount of space at my local Borders has been turned into a sort of YA theme park. School libraries are streaming with kids, some of whom have been readers since they were munchkins and some on whom it’s suddenly dawned “Hey! I like reading this stuff! Who would’ve thunk it?” Whatever their story may be, they head for the YA shelves like bees to a particularly nectar-filled blossom. It appears YA is at its prime.

There’s a catch, though. A con to all these pros. There are authors lurking in the shadows who write these books because they know (just like everyone else) that YA is “hot.” If you’re going to write YA, you have to respect it; work with the genre as you’d collaborate with a valued coworker. After all, who wants to work with someone who doesn’t respect them? It’s imperative that the YA authors of the day have a respect and an evident, underlying love for their genre.

So what makes YA novels beautiful in your eyes? What are you looking for?

I look for a combination of things, little details and intricacies that really make the book real. Foremost, though, I seek out compelling characters. Just as the world would be nothing but stray breezes and raindrops without people and animals, books are lonely wildernesses of words, cold and unfeeling, without characters. Beneath the action and excitement of the plot, the characters breathe miraculous life into the story. Life so miraculous that when a late night reader wrenches herself from the end of a chapter, her weary eyes screaming “you really must stop”, she goes to sleep restless and unsatisfied. Unconscious, her fingers twitch toward her bedside table where the book lies watching her, laughing silently as she struggles. You may think that it’s the blasted cliff-hanger of a chapter ending that holds the mind suspended in mid-air, but deep down you know it’s not. You wouldn’t care what happened to a napkin if it were being yanked down a river by strong currents as its friend blew alongside, up on the riverbank. No. You care about what the heck is going to happen to the character- Will they die? Will they end up in the sewer? Oh, good gosh, can they swim?!?

For the Young Adult writers out there, it’s incredibly important not to take character development lightly. Look upon your love of reading YA for guidance. Never quit reading; it’s the simplest and most enjoyable way to remind yourself why you’re spending hours slouched over a laptop, the bright screen withering your eyeballs. As you read, you’ll remember why you love the Young Adult genre, and why you particularly love those young adults on your pwn list of main characters.

These troubled younglings are so much more than names printed in typeset “Book Antiqua.” The lives of these characters (made all the more appealing by their rollercoaster, adolescent emotions) hold infinite possibilities for storytelling. It’s these characters that we need to focus on as writers. They make the story. We read for them. And we need to write for them, too.


Madeleine Rex (age 14) is an obsessive reader and writer. She blogs at Wordbird.
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So what makes YA novels beautiful in your eyes? What are you looking for?
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