Tuesday, September 28, 2010

Why Scott Passes on So Many YA's

I love YA.

I love the energy and the voice these stories have. And, as a literacy specialist, I love anything that gets the youth of today to pick up a book. So if that is the case, why do I pass on so many of these stories?

When it comes down to it, I simply find that more often than not, writers simply don't understand the voice of a YA. The stories have great premises, the plots are unique and exciting, but the voice is just not there. In most of the cases, I am reading stories that sound too much like the writer is "trying to be a teen" instead of letting this voice come across naturally.

To write successful YA's writers have to really understand the youth. This is not simply the things we read about in magazines or see on the surface in movies or on the TV, I am talking a real understanding. Writers have to be around youth on a very regular basis and be in situations that allow them access to the real youth voice. What I mean here is that too often, the voice that we as adults hear when we are around youth is not the real voice. This is the "edited" version.

The things youth really talk about and feel are not always that accessible to adults. This is especially true if your only connection to youth is through your children. I was working with a group of writers once and we were talking about the things early teens often talk about. I brought up that it is very common to hear girls talk about the physical traits of guys and be very graphic about it. They might not follow through with these ideas, but the comments are very telling. This author's answer was that "her daughter would never talk like that." Really?

If you are now jumping on the YA bandwagon right now, I would strongly caution you to stop and consider what you "really know" about this group. I would also recommend really getting out there and dissecting these stories. Figure out what make these stories tick. Again, like any story out there, it isn't the plot, but the voice.

Have fun!



  1. I agree. I'd like to add that it helps to read a ton of novels in any genre before you attempt to write. Don't try to write something you don't understand just because it's popular. Also doesn't hurt to join a writing critique group within your genre.

  2. Very timely post, Scott. Last night my book group met to discuss our selection for September, "The Catcher in the Rye." About half had read it in high school and half had only read it as adults. Half loved it, half didn't like it so much. The consensus? This book is YA. It's meant for 14-21 year-olds. It's a timeless classic. And if you change the setting, clothing, and diction, today's teens will read it and relate.

  3. I agree that you need to expand your group beyond your own kids. I regularly have a house full of teenagers but spend time at the high school 'shadowing' the vice principal. I get to listen in, see what goes on at lunch, at the lockers and in class. Make friends with people at local schools - they're usually happy to have you come on campus to see what it's really like.

  4. We're bringing Harold Underdown to our conference and I'm submitting 10 pages of my YA to him for crit. The story is timely but--as you say--it's the voice I'm concerned about. I may have to turn the book over to my niece to rewrite. :) Now there's a thought.

    Thanks Scott. Good, helpful post.

  5. Perfectly put. Of course, voice is important in every book, but it can be hard to capture something that you aren't. You wouldn't submit a book based around a country you've never been to, so why would it be easy to write an age you haven't been in decades?

  6. This is so true and I'm seeing it so much as a writer and beta that I blogged about it last week! My article was called "Don't Be A Geezer" less helpful probably, but definitely in sync here. The worst is writing with your teenage years in mind and thinking that's enough.It's a different world and we need to write from the perspective of a teen today not one in 1990. Woops, Gotta go, my honey just beeped me.