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Intended Audience

On the eve of the release of my second published novel, some thoughts about intended audience.

The literary world is abuzz with how adults are reading more and more books written for the Young Adult audience. Folks are wondering if it’s because harried, overworked, stressed out adults don’t want to work very hard at their entertainment. Maybe the storylines in YA novels resonate with architypes t…hat remind adult readers of the simple truths of good storytelling. Or maybe YA novels take adults back to feel what it was like to be a teenager again.

I will let the armchair sociologists and frustrated deconstructionists argue the why. All this speculation has focused me on the what: what makes a YA story a YA story?

Looking over the books, and the TV shows and movies, that appeal to the 12 to 17 year old set, I see two major recurring themes, 1) the child protagonist(s) discover some secret they must keep away from the adults in their lives, and 2) the child protagonist(s) try to tell the adults in their lives some truth they have discovered but the adults won’t believe them. Both of these these scenarios happen to teenagers in the real world all the time, or at least it seems that way to them dealing with parents and teachers. So it’s pretty easy to see why they would identify with protagonists who live out these patterns in fiction.

The first novel I wrote (but did not publish) was a YA fantasy of the must-keep-a-secret variety. My teenaged protagonist had a terrible time keeping his secret, and by page 100 he had a group of trusted adults around him who helped him keep it. Something about the inherent dishonesty of living a lie bothered me enough that I moved the story away from keeping the secret and onto what could he do with the power that secret gave him.

So now I write stories where the people who keep secrets are the bad guys. I also write stories where the players are all adults, and if someone treats someone badly it is because of the deadlier sins like greed, envy, and lust, as opposed to the teenaged fears of being caught or not being believed. Because I don’t expect, nor want, teenagers to think my books are for them, I make my protagonists at least 25 years old, and often closer to 50. If a teenager is mature enough to understand the themes I deal in, like redemption, revenge, loss, and forgiveness, and the actions of adults treating each other badly, then they are certainly welcome to wade in. A lot of my stuff would get an MPAA rating of R.

With a lot of adult readers enjoying YA novels (and TV and movies), I may be limiting my audience by focusing on grown ups dealing with grown up problems. But these are the stories I have to tell. Folks tell me I’m pretty good at telling these stories, so I’m going to stick with it. I will let the authors who have figured out how to write good YA do their job, and I’ll do mine.

Happy reading!

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