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As someone who recently branched into writing YA (young adult) fiction, I've been keeping an eye on how it's described in the publishing world. I noticed in this item on GalleyCat that Scottt Westerfeld was one of the judges of the National Book Awards Young People's Literature committee.

I've always felt a kinship with Scott Westerfeld because my maiden name was Wester. OK, I know Wester and Westerfeld are not the same name, but hey, it's closer to my name than any other spec fic author I know. (For the same reason I've always wanted to go to Westercon, but I never made it.) Now I have the double kinship of also writing YA fantasy myself (as he does), so I say here's three cheers for Scott Westerfeld!

But also, it seems to me that YA literature isn't chunked up into "mainstream" or "contemporary" or "historical" or "fantasy," it's all just "books young people might want to read." Military science fiction author John Hemry (who also writes YA) says that to be YA, a story has to have a young protagonist and be about a life-changing event. This includes a boatload of stories, from To Kill a Mockingbird to the Gossip Girl books. You could say that makes it a genre in and of itself, or you could say that kids are less interested in labels than adults.

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( 3 comments — Leave a comment )
Nov. 27th, 2007 03:01 am (UTC)
a story has to have a young protagonist and be about a life-changing event

Personally, I think any good story has to be about a life-changing event, in that the protagonist should no longer be the same thereafter. I once heard Howard Waldrop describe the difference between a short story and a novel as something like (forgive me, as this isn't an exact quote, just a paraphrase):

A short story is the most important moment in a person's life, while a novel is the most important period of time in a person's life.

Whether you're aiming for YA or not, I think that still remains true.
Nov. 27th, 2007 12:45 pm (UTC)
Hmmm. Well, that makes me wonder about books that occur in a series. It's difficult to keep having the most important time in a character's life over and over again. Maybe that's why Lois McMaster Bujold opted to go with the same universe but different characters for her fantasy series?
Nov. 27th, 2007 03:00 pm (UTC)
I guess that's one reason I don't particularly like series, in that I think a story should have a beginning, a middle, and an end, rather than a beginning, a middle, another middle, then another middle, and so on. I only enjoy series in which I perceive a broader narrative arc occurring, so that an individual novel might contain the story which shares the most important moments in the lives of the characters the protagonist meets that particular book, rather than the most important moments in the life of the protagonist himself or herself ... but there is still the sense that there is a greater story going on of which this book's individual story is a only a small part, as if the novel at hand is only a chapter in a larger novel. I don't care as much for series which reset at the end of each book, erasing any change.

And yes, there are exceptions, because each Sherlock Holmes story is a perfect puzzle all by itself, but that doesn't change what I most enjoy and what I choose to write. I found that the Waldrop quote illuminated what I was trying to do already, and helped make concrete the dissatisfaction I would feel when reading certain stories that seemed shallow.
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