I like to indulge in grandiose titles, but in fact, all I want to talk about today is target age-range in story-telling. Lately, I’ve seen quite a few blog posts on the subject. In particular, YA author Emma Pass declared in no uncertain terms that ‘writing YA is not a rehearsal!’
I quite agree with this sentiment. Depending on the social background from which you come, the people around you can have any number of expectations for you as a writer. For example, it’s common to regard young adult fiction as a sort of stage on the way to adult fiction. In my own experience, on the other hand, when I’ve told fellow teachers and my students’ parents that I write, they automatically expect my intended audience to be school children.
|Your story can't disappoint the children!|
What non-writers don’t understand, though, is that writing is not a matter of pragmatism. It might indeed make sense for me to write young adult fiction, since I interact daily with young adults. Instead, I have gone the route that seems nonsensical and plunged into adult fiction. You see, a writer must write what inspiration comes to him or her. It doesn’t matter if you expected it to come or not (and it matters even less what other people expected), but it appears anyway. If you want to follow your dream of being a writer, you have to deal with it.
The other thing which is often misunderstood, at least in my opinion, is the level of mastery required to write fiction for children and young adults. After all, writers get older and older. It takes a great deal of skill for a 30-year-old, not to mention a 60-year-old, to dip into personal experience so as to create a convincing teenage, or even pre-teen, character. There is the danger of creating a too precocious protagonist; there is another danger of talking down to the young audience. Pitfalls on every side!
That’s why I’ve always admired the artists who can easily slide between age ranges, telling stories to little children and teenagers and adults. I think they are some of the most talented writers out there – which is probably why they are so rare.
Actually, the reason why these thoughts occurred to me (besides the various blog posts, that is), was that during my vacation last week, I rewatched some of the animations of Hayao Miyazaki. I first discovered him in 2005, when he released his Howl’s Moving Castle. I loved the novel by the late Diana Wynne Jones, so I eagerly rushed off to see the film. What was my delight when I discovered that he had made the story his own – quite different from the original, but definitely as good. Intrigued, I set out on an odyssey through his works.
|Miyazaki's films are like these toys: childish, but museum-worthy!|
It turns out that he has three or four films intended for the pre-teen age range, another three or four for teenagers, as well as three more for adults. And yet, at the same time, an adult can watch anything that Miyazaki has done and not have his intellect insulted. There’s always substance, beautiful imagery, not to mention fully developed plotting.
What delights me about this fact is that if a story intended for children can still satisfy an adult, imagine what a strong, positive effect it must have on the child’s mind! (As you might be able to tell, this is partly my teacher’s side speaking here!)
Anyway, all this is a roundabout way of getting to two points. First of all, there’s never any grounds for criticizing someone for choosing a target audience of a certain age. Partly that’s because it’s not entirely in the writer’s hands (the muse is unpredictable, after all!), but also because writing for that age-group undoubtedly calls for a highly developed set of authorial skills.
Second, if a writer does decide that inspiration is prompting him or her to write for children or teenagers, this hardly qualifies as an excuse for sub-par work. In fact, a writer's ideal should be to produce something which enthralls every reader (presuming, of course, that they can understand it, which does excuse adult fiction writers from laboring too hard to make their work accessible to children).
I have one plan for a novel which hopefully will fall into the young adult range (the protagonists are both 16-17). My hope is that after I’ve practiced my skills enough, I’ll have the capacity to undertake a novel which can speak directly to teenagers, but also still have the power to move their parents. My model is Miyazaki…We’ll see how well I can follow in his footsteps!