Thursday, November 18, 2010

Adult Fantasy vs. Young Adult

Posted by Simcha 2:48 AM, under | 5 comments

Last month Leanna Renee Hieber had announced on her blog that she has begun working on a new project, this one a Young Adult fantasy series. Shortly after reading this news I noticed that Jasper Fforde had a new YA fantasy book scheduled to be released soon, his first YA after nine adult fantasy books. And this past August, soon after the release of Stephen Deas's second book in his Memory of Flames series, he published a YA novel set in the same fantasy world.

This trend, of authors of adult fiction branching out to writing YA, led me to wonder what the real differences are between young adult and adult novels and how these authors approach writing a YA book differently then an adult one. I was also curious why they chose to do so.

And so I decided to satisfy my curiosity by asking Leanna, Stephen and Jasper these questions directly, and they each graciously took the time to answer my questions, which I really appreciate.


Leanna Renee Hieber:

My work has always bridged adult and YA fiction. Many publishers who loved my Strangely Beautiful series but ended up passing on it said that they weren't sure where to shelve my Victorian Gothic Fantasy series; in fantasy, romance, or YA. Strangely Beautiful has a YA feel to it in many ways, but in the end was chosen for adult fiction because of the age difference between the hero and the heroine. I believe that's the correct move, but the series does have a mature teen following.

My upcoming YA series, “Magic Most Foul”, a Victorian Paranormal / Fantasy intrigue set in 1880 New York, will release November 2011 from Sourcebooks in Trade Paperback. In writing YA, I’m following where my author voice, passions and purpose are leading me. Because I specialize in 19th Century Paranormal Fantasy and have no plans in leaving the Victorian Era anytime soon, I wanted to bring my ability to create an eerie, rich Victorian atmosphere directly to teens. Essentially, I want to be a “Gateway Drug” to 19th century classics. I want a YA reader to read Magic Most Foul, an epistolary novel (written in letters, diary entries, newspaper entries, etc), then pick up Dracula because it’s no longer foreign territory. I want them to look at my theme of a haunted painting and then go pick up Wilde’s The Picture of Dorian Gray. Each of my books will have a tie to a particular 19th century classic, in hopes of fostering this sort of cross-over between my work and the work that has inspired me since I was a teen.

The only thing I approach differently between adult and YA is the age range of the characters, making sure my pacing is a bit faster, and making sure the language is accessible, but still with the full, rich flavour of the period. The worst thing YA authors can do is talk down to their readers. But the biggest difference between my adult and YA fiction is that it sits on two different shelves. Readers who like one will like the other, and my hope is that cross-over readers will abound!

I’d say the differences [between YA and adult novels] are the examples I listed above, as well as a certain ‘hard to pinpoint’ quality. Because of the success of YA fiction lately, publishers are publishing a lot of it and looking for that next “Twilight” – which is hard to simply manufacture. The next Harry Potter and Twilight will happen for a confluence of reasons once its out in the marketplace, so in many ways, editors are trying to predict the impossible when it comes to YA and what they’re looking for.

YA fiction is not separated out into “Fantasy” “Romance” “Mystery” “Sci-Fi” “Horror” like the shelves of adult fiction are, and so while it doesn’t mean there aren’t genre conventions, it means a huge range of styles and takes are thrown into the same mix and consideration. Much like Strangely Beautiful, it took a while for Magic Most Foul to find a home, not because publishers didn’t like it, but they weren’t quite sure where to put it, even under the wider umbrella of YA. Being a Victorian Gothic Fantasy Paranormal Romance Suspense author with a dash of Horror that will appeal to both adults and teens has its ups and its downs. *grin* I’m just thrilled for the opportunity to be on both adult and YA shelves, and hope to remain on both, all while maintaining my particular style and voice.

Stephen Deas:

I was asked if I'd write something for Gollancz's "Fierce Fiction" list. I had the time and after some discussion with my editor, I had a story in my back-catalogue that appealed to him. Best of all, there was an easy way to weave it into the adult series, although that weaving won't become apparent for several books yet.

Now the original Thief-Taker's Apprentice was never written as a YA story, and to be honest, I've not changed much. It happened to have a young protagonist, it happened to be written almost entirely from his point of view, and it happened to have a storyline that was concerned with charting the growth of a boy into a man, an apprentice into a master. All those things probably sound like bread and butter YA, but it was written for adults. And in the end, although a lot did change for various reasons, there were almost no changes that came about because the audience was supposed to be different. In fact, I don't think there's any reason why a book that's written for and marketed to a YA can't be both challenging and entertaining for an adult audience as well. Eddings is in the YA section of my local bookshop but is clearly enjoyed by adults as well. Harry Potter. Twilight. Etc.

So while certain things might appear in an adult story that would be inappropriate in a story marketed to a 12-year-old (movies and video games have their formal certification schemes), I don't see anything that goes the other way. A publisher might say something about pacing and the complexity of language and the size of the plot; still, while I wouldn't call any of The Lord of the Rings, A Song of Ice and Fire or The Adamantine Palace YA in a month of Sundays, I know for certain that they've all been hungrily devoured by plenty of young adults.

So I suppose the answer, in summary, is 'not much'

Jasper Fforde:

The question is slightly confused by The Last Dragonslayer having actually been written in 1997, as part of the seven books I wrote before being published. At the time I thought given the failure to find a publisher for my 'adult' books, I would have a crack at YA. TLDS was the result. It failed to find a publisher at the time, and languished on my hard drive until remembered by my agent, dusted off and shown to a publisher - who loved it.

What's different about writing for a young audience and how to make it appeal? I don't know. Keep it intelligent, don't talk down, cut out excessive description and subplots, have a young protagonist and make all the grown-ups really dumb and in need of rescuing.

I don't know yet if it HAS worked, to be honest - it's only been out a week.

(after receiving the above response from Jasper Fforde followed up by asking if he made any revisions to the original manuscript of The Last Dragonslayer in consideration of how YA reader's tastes have changed in the intervening years)

I rewrote it only to make it better, to be honest.

Perhaps I am a fool for doing so, but I tend not to see what everyone else is up to, nor precisely (or consciously) tailor my work to suit current trends. I am sorry to say that I tend to write books primarily for one person: me. And since I am not very complex and a kid at heart, my writing may appeal to those of a similar sense of uncomplicated fun.

The bottom line is that I think the fundamentals of a good story is unchanged in taste from then to now. You can add iPods and stuff, but I'm not sure it is necessary, or relevant. If you start worrying too much about target audiences and what people expect, then you run the risk of writing homogenized books with little or no originality.

Writers, musicians and artists should set trends, not follow them.

I write what amuses me.


I agree. I write both for adults and young adults. I write for myself a lot and for ideal readers. Right now YA gives a lot of freedom to the writer, because there are too many hard-wired expectations when you write for adults.

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What a great post! I loved all of the responses from these authors and will definitely be checking out both their adult and YA titles.

Fabulous post, Simcha! I was actually thinking about the same subject only from the readers' perspectives. I found it very interesting that both Fforde and Deas admit that they didn't write their YA novels for a YA audience - they just wrote the books they wanted to write. And I love Hieber's "gateway drug" comparison.

David: That's really interesting. Though the fact that so many YA books these days seem to be similar makes it seem to be that not many YA authors are taking advantage of that freedom.

Corrine: While I haven't yet read Fforde's or Deas's YA books I would highly recommend their adult ones. And Leanna Renee Hieber's ofcourse. I only invite authors to my blog if I like their books :)

Stephanie: I'm curious to see if Fforde and Deas's method of writing YA is successful, though to be honest I'm not sure if I would be the right judge of this since I don't read a lot of YA. I had actually asked a few diff bloggers of YA books if they would be interested in participating with their thoughts on how YA and adult books really differ but I didn't hear back from any of them.
I also think it's interesting how non-genre YA has begun including more "adult" content with YA fantasy has remained relatively chaste.

Wow, what a fantastic post. Love the perspective of each other. I'm going to look into their YA and adult books. Thanks!

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