I’ve been dedicating a lot of thought lately to why I can’t write YA Lit.
Because I’m pretty sure I can’t. I’ve tried coming up with YA books I could write and they’re either formulaic or boring. I hate being formulaic and boring, but I know when I am being it, so I toss them out. And then I end up with nothing. And I don’t know why, since for a long time I’ve been proud of being able to write inside a genre without having a whole lot of practice at it.
I’m also good at breaking down the essentials to create a framework on which to hang a story; I’ve done that frequently with various historical play structures, like medieval mystery plays and ancient Greek satyr plays. I can identify tropes, work them around, and come up with something that manages to fit the formula without being formulaic. It’s a point of pride.
But I can’t write YA Lit.
For those of you who are wondering, by the way, this is the epitome of why intelligent people in fiction are so often written as short-tempered assholes: when a very smart person comes up against something they can’t immediately conquer, they get all kinds of frustrated. I’m not saying I’m a Sherlock Holmes level genius or anything, but a lot of stuff comes pretty easily to me, so I don’t cope well when it doesn’t. (On the other hand, I don’t verbally abuse relative strangers or close friends, so well done me.)
I want to suspect that I’d be better at it if I’d spent a more normal childhood, but I was a relative outsider and most really good YA novels, not to mention most iconic films of my generation’s teenage years, are about outsiders. So you’d think my experiences there would be pretty helpful, but they’re not, because writing about being an outsider always sounds like self-pity. I didn’t hate high school or anything, I just wouldn’t much care to go back.
I wonder if it’s that I didn’t read much YA lit when I was YA myself, but it’s not like I haven’t read a lot of it in general over the years. I skipped mostly straight from child lit to adult novels, with a brief stopover for Christopher Pike inbetween, but I’ve read His Dark Materials and Harry Potter, the Narnia books and the Dragonsinger trilogy, The Secret Garden and The Catcher In The Rye, at various points in my youth. I used to read one-off YA novels like The Gate In The Wall as comfort reading when I was in college.
I theorize it’s that I’m still struggling with building good characters, because when I read YA that’s generally what attracts me, the compelling nature of the people involved. The plots are frequently quite similar to each other, but the characters can make or break the story for me. This is really possibly part of it, but I think I could write good YA characters; at least I could write better ones than I sometimes see in YA novels. So that can’t be all of it.
In the end it seems to come down to the fact that I never really much liked kids of that age even when I was that age; most of the time I was either bored with them or scared of them, and not much inbetween. It’s difficult to pretend I know how to write what they want to hear. All the formulas and well-written characters in the world can’t make up for an actual empathetic connection.
Maybe it’s just not time yet. I’m on that leery cusp between still being a young person other people find hilarious and being the other people that find young people hilarious. The relationship between youth and adulthood is a weird and tenuous one, and doesn’t always contain easy transitions.
Maybe I have to be older before I can understand kids.