Teaching Dark Lord part 2

Sally Odgers sodgers at tassie.net.au
Sat May 18 19:26:18 EDT 2002

> Thanks.  It's something I've been thinking about for a while with
> regards to YA literature expectations, which I started thinking
> about specifically because of DLoD

I did a writing course for SuiteU and had to address some of these issues.
Some novice writers don't understand about "genre expectation" and don't
realise that *most* authors can't get away with bucking the expectation
system. This being an Introductory Course, it has to focus on "most
writers", which doesn't include DWJ! If anyone wants to read rather a large
passage the bit that deals with this is pasted below.



As mentioned above, children's books encompass almost the same genres as
books for adults. Thus you find children's historicals, adventures,
mysteries, detective, science fiction, fantasy and horror. Children's books
also have, or used to have, added genres such as pony stories, ballet
stories, sport stories and career novels. The family story spans just about
every age, as do theatre stories and animal stories. So, what genres do you
not find in the children's book world?

You are unlikely to find erotic horror (although there are vampire stories
at the YA level) and you won't find straight erotica.

You won't find romance at the younger levels (although it certainly
flourishes on the YA shelves).

You probably won't find police procedurals.

Books about friendship are common, and may lay the ground for later
romances. Even the so-called "chick lit" has its place in children's books,
with books about strong female friendship.

Since you can write children's books in almost any genre, how does the
experience differ from writing for adults?


When you look at it closely, you will find surprisingly few real
differences. We can make some generalisations, but there will always be
several exceptions to the rules.

Children's books are usually shorter than books for adults.

Characters are usually young; the rule of thumb seems to be that the
viewpoint character(s) should be one or two years older than the intended

Books for young (pre teenage) readers will probably have a simpler
vocabulary and less introspection.

Endings will often be "for now" or "until the next time". For example; a
romance between 14-year-old protagonists can rarely end in any kind of
permanency. If seeking a happy or satisfactory ending for a children's book
you should look for the best solution "for now" (i.e. for this point in the
protagonists' lives).

Happy or satisfactory endings still rule in books for young children, but
teenagers are just as likely to find their books ending sadly or resignedly.

The "freedom" of childhood is less likely to be used as a theme in modern
children's books.

The main difference in writing for younger readers, apart from the obvious
one in the age of protagonists, is simple. The writer should see things from
the viewpoint of a child or teenager. Whatever the situation, you should
focus on the way it affects the young protagonists. Certainly adults should
be presented as well-rounded and credible characters, but they are not the
main focus. If you find yourself empathising with your child-character's
parents instead of with your hero or heroine, you must change gear- or else
realise that you are writing about children rather than for them.


YA (young adult) or teenage fiction is still considered part of the
children's book world. The major differences are the ages of the
protagonists, which will probably be somewhere between twelve and twenty,
and the point of view. Teenagers are generally more sceptical and less
accepting than younger children, so this should be reflected in their

"Translations in Celadon", another of the recommended books for this course,
is a YA fantasy. It is also a werewolf romance and a study in creativity,
amorality and influence.

What makes "Translations" a YA title? At about 60,000 words it is shorter
than most books for adults. The age of the main characters is also a key.
Rosanna, the chief narrator, is sixteen, and the other four major players
are all the same age or a year or so older. Some of the action takes place
in a college, but Rosanna still lives with her parents. Had Rosanna been
three years older, and technically an adult, she could still have played
much the same role in the novel. However, this would have made her less
accessible for readers in their middle teens.

Rosanna attends a Catholic college and lives some distance from the nearest
town. These two facts, along with her natural diffidence and poor
self-image, combine to keep her artificially child-like. There is a good
practical reason for this; the college has a uniform code and stricter rules
than the public high school. This keeps visible signs of individuality and
rebellion to a minimum- at least, during school hours. And Rosanna's
isolated home means she must rely on others for transport.

These factors make the novel YA rather than adult, but what prevents it from
being a pre-teen children's book? Rosanna's age is one factor, but the
psychological undertones plus the amoral villain, death and attempted
murder, seduction and terror make it unsuited to most pre-teens.

Form SuiteU Course, "Introduction to Creative Writing".

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