May 2, 2012

Larry talks about...writing for young readers

I wanted to discuss writing for young readers. Okay, but remember I am not an expert and, to tell you the truth, I am not even sure what it means to be an “expert” in this area. The whole thing seems ambiguous to me. What I mean is this; many books classified YA are fine for adults also. MG might be okay for some YA readers and then, they might be okay for some savvy readers under eight. MG is classified 8 to 12. YA is classified 12 and up. Personally, I believe MG should range from about 10 to 14. YA should start at 15. My own rule of thumb is that I try to remember that MG kids are still discovering things inside themselves, especially as they head toward puberty. YA readers are discovering things outside themselves, like the realities of the adult world. Where do you transition? I’m not sure. I guess it comes down to some good old fashioned common sense.

Now that I have attempted to separate MG from YA what’s next? Okay, I think that MG books should be 125 pages or less and YA books should be 300 pages or less. When I was in high-school (a long time ago) required reading for us in junior year was Gone With The Wind. That was well over 900 pages long and I’m sure, in today’s world, might not be considered YA. So, who is to say? Certainly not me. The best advice I might give – READ YA books that have been out for awhile.

I would suggest that your writing should be be honest and straight-forward. Avoid being too “slick” or “tricky.” Kids are too smart for that and you will not win them over. But, you must make them think. Good luck. Also, avoid long sentences. The human brain starts losing focus often after the 20th or 25th word in a sentence. Another thing is I believe that the interaction between and among characters is crucial. Describing places with all the white, fluffy clouds overhead should be less, not more. For example, “At the foot of the steps the water was the color of gray foam,” or “At the foot of the steps, a long, curling string of seaweed lay upon the sand like a chubby snake watching the thin, legged sea gull hop to and fro in the gray foam.” Which do you think is best? You have to decide as you go along.