Wednesday, January 11, 2012

'Conventional Wisdom'

There's this conventional wisdom that a YA novel should be between 40k and 60k words, and a adult novel 70k to 80k. The thought process seems to be that young adults have shorter attention spans, and want smaller and more easily digestible bits of story.

Then conventional wisdom meets YA bestseller lists, and that all falls apart. Harry Potter, Twilight, The Hunger Games - all ridiculously long books, part of even longer series. Harry Potter was particularly eye-opening: after the series became a success, Tamora Pierce, one of my favourite authors going up and a mainstay of fantasy YA, brought out her new series as two long books rather than four short ones. The page count for the pair was higher than her quartets usually are, too. Harry Potter opened people's eyes to the fact that yes, young adults are willing to read much longer stories, and will in fact devour them.

This brought on another change, as well: YA has traditionally been defined as aimed at 8-12 year olds, or at least was in the labeled sections of Waterstones. Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events and Harry Potter and much of Tamora Pierce's work certainly fit that bill. But The Hunger Games certainly speaks more to a slightly older audience. So there can be seen to be two general audiences for YA: those graduating from our childhood reads of Berenstein Bears and Le Petit Prince (what, not everyone read this in French at age six? I don't understand), and those who read it because, while they are older, they still very much identify with being young and overcoming odds and still looking for a future.

It's this latter category that in some part explains the number of twenty-somethings who will happily dress up as Harry Potter or Luna Lovegood for a movie premiere. This category has free time and long attention spans. And it's as a sometimes member of this latter category that I hope more writers realize that YA means Young Adult, not child. Don't dumb down your prose. Don't limit your vocabulary. For the sake of all that's good and true, don't simplify your ethical conflicts.

And don't let 'conventional wisdom' dictate your word count.

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