Joe’s Post #71
It came to me last night as I lay in bed, eye still twitching from a day spent dealing with used car salesmen. I was reading Quarantine, a terrific book that is basically Lord of the Flies on steroids. (See, why can’t I think of a quick pitch like that?!?!) It’s not like a lot of the YA books I’ve read recently and that got me to thinking.
What makes a good YA book?
The answer? The amazing insight I had?
Ok, I know that’s not an answer, but yet it is. Here’s the thing. A good YA book doesn’t always have to have a dystopian theme. It doesn’t have to have a female character as the protagonist. With or without a bow. It doesn’t have to be 64,000 words. Or 120,000 words. It doesn’t even have to be all light and airy.
That’s not to say there aren’t some guidelines. See the Dummies’ guide. But the more I read, the more I realize that a good story is a good story. No rules. No have-to’s. No restrictions.
You want sex. There’s books out there like that, some pretty hard core. You want violence, well, no big surprise, but they are out there as well. You want books about abuse and drugs, or about angel spawn and demons, or about loss and love? All there.
The key, at least for me as a reader, an old, kinda wrinkly reader, is that I have to have a few things that work. I chose all YA books off the best-seller lists (I mean, why not, all those authors are doing something right) and so clearly these books speak to them young’uns as well.
So, it varies what makes a good YA book. Like any book. But if anyone wanted to know my opinion, based on nothing more than reading a few books and having an ego that thinks everyone wants to hear my opinion, here are a few suggestions for anyone writing for that segment.
1) Big ideas help. Hunger Games. Huge. Kids killing kids so they can feed their districts. Oh, how I would have loved to see how that one was pitched.
2) Things have to happen fast. Quarantine. Hunger Games. Read them both. Take a look. Plenty of other great examples out there but these rock. I think that more than adult fiction, YA fiction needs to grab it’s readers by the throat and not let them go.
3) Character matters. Of course it does. How could it not? Take a look at Celaena Sardothien (I know, I know, that’s not an easy name to get your mouth around) from Throne of Glass. Or if you want to go all old-school, look no farther than Harry Potter (a mid-grade novel that stole the hearts of YA readers as well).
4) Voice, my friends, voice, voicie-voice McVoicie. All good novels have it. YA needs it even more. Voice is attitude. Voice is character. Voice is what sets one novel apart from another (and usually a best seller from one that gets rejections).
5) Anything goes. Oh, you doubt me? Read the Book Thief. Yes, it’s YA and one of the most beautiful and haunting books I’ve ever read. But boy oh boy, does it break the rules. Or look at Divergent. It starts with a character looking in the mirror (and who amongst us has to be told to NEVER do that?). Or even the other books I’ve cited. Harry Potter, a midgrade book that sold billions. Hunger Games, a book about children killing children. The list goes on and on.
So, as I prepare to send off my queries and pages, I have to keep this in mind. It shouldn’t matter that there isn’t a book like mine for that market. In fact, I think THAT should be a selling point. It shouldn’t matter that I’ve broken some rules. It shouldn’t even matter that it’s a wee bit longer than most.
All that matters is story – and I hope that I’ve written a good enough one.
To grab any reader.