Writing for Young Adults

I heard a very interesting talk the other day at one of the regular meetings of SouthWest Writers.  The talk was given by Johnny D. Boggs, an accomplished western writer who talked on writing for young adults.  He made several important points about YA writing, some of which I figured out for myself, but some I didn’t know but which, on reflection, seem logical and reasonable now that they’ve been brought up.  A review here seems important to those of us who might want to write for YA in the future.

Young adults don’t read?  That was the conventional wisdom at the time, say in the early 1990’s, but Harry Potter proved that wrong.  And young adults (I’m talking about the age group approximately 6 to 16 years old) weren’t simply caught up in the Harry Potter craze, they latched onto the Harry Potter books as soon as they came out.  It was as though kids in that age group were ready to read–ready and willing–and Harry Potter was merely the flash point that got them going.   Later came The Twilight Series and Hunger Games books among others geared toward YA, and the chase was on.  Now YA books represent a significant part of book sales in the US (at least), a point you can see easily for yourself the next time you visit your local bookstore.  (You do visit bookstores, don’t you?)

One point Mr. Boggs made was that boys tend to like books where the main character and protagonist is a boy, but girls tend to read books almost equally divided between protagonists that are male and those that are female.  Witness Harry Potter.  Those books were read almost equally between girl readers and boy readers.  You could see that if you went to one of the “unveilings” of a new HP book.  The bookstore would be heavy with approximately equal numbers of boys and girls.

Books for YA nowadays aren’t as dumbed down as they used to be.  The Hardy Boys and Nancy Drew were fine books in their time, but now they’re dated, reading like children’s books, not books made for the more sophisticated YA and teens of today.  Generally, the vocabulary for today’s YA books isn’t much different from that of “adult” books, though there may be some exceptions.  Kids today grow up faster than we, their parents and grandparents, did.  High-tech communications has made them more sophisticated and cosmopolitan, more experienced and streetwise.  For better or worse, that’s the way it is.  Sex, violence, foul language–the kids are familiar with it.  I understand some YA books have a glossary in the back, just to give the reader a short-cut to learning the new words he may run across in the book.

I’m not likely to write a YA novel, but I can’t say that for certain.  Perhaps I will in the future.  But whatever it is I write and read, the die is cast.  Young adults, coming off Harry Potter and all the rest, are going to be hungry for good “adult” books in the future, and it will be up to us to supply them.  Adult books that aren’t “dumbed down” to meet a perceived reduction in the mentality of the average adult reader aren’t going to sell to the sophisticated readers coming along in the near future.  A word to the wise is efficient.

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