Things I’ve learned from my current read.

I’m currently reading a recently published YA book that deals with a female protagonist who hunts the supernatural. The story is fun, but here’s some things I’ve learned from where it’s lacking:

– While the protagonist has her moments, her character overall feels a little weak. It’s told in first person (like most YA is today), and her voice just doesn’t stand out from other YA narrators. I begin to look back on all the first person YA I’ve read recently, and I realize most of their voices begin to meld into one sort of harmonic conglomerate: a sassy teen with a few witty one-liners, who has some angst but is growing and learning.

So, do I want to risk having my book in first person and having my protagonist’s voice melt in with so many others out there? Or do I gamble with third person, which is so rarely used in YA nowadays and may not appeal to YA readers?

OR, do I try to write in first person, but remember that my protagonist is not just a sassy, angsty teen? That there’s more to her than that? Maybe I could take what I’ve learned here and use it to help my protagonist gain a stronger voice, a stronger sense of self.

– Going back to what I’ve learned from the book I’m currently reading, I’m having trouble really falling into the setting and placing myself in the book’s world. The protagonist has been a paranormal hunter her entire life, and is now for the first time ever experiencing ‘normal’ teenage things like high school and making friends. It’s been interesting enough that I keep turning the pages, but not necessarily engaging.

While reading this morning, I suddenly realized that it’s partly because I can’t picture her environment in my head. She’s walking around with a couple other students, getting to know them, making friends with them; they’re going on adventures together, doing normal high school stuff like going to games; but I can’t really build a bigger picture in my head other than the three of them standing together. What’s the weather like beyond them? Is it fall? Is the air crisp, are the leaves changing? Is it the east coast, or the west coast? The three of them cluster together in my head, surrounded mostly by fog in my imagination, because the author hasn’t provided the brushstrokes I need to complete the painting.

So that’s good to keep in mind for my own story. I like knowing how things look, feel, smell, taste. I want to know if it’s a cold night, or if the sun is burning on her bare arms. Those little details help place me in a story.

Divided.

I’ve always loved the young adult genre, since before I was even a, well, young adult.

I began reading YA in the third grade and was captivated. For years I burned through YA books quickly, picking one up as soon as I finished another. YA fantasy, sci-fi, drama – I loved them all.

There were dry spells when I avoided the genre because I thought I was too old for it, or too sophisticated (most of my high school years, a good amount of  time at university). But somewhere along the way I fell in love with it again. I don’t feel as embarrassed anymore to read it in public. I think YA is becoming more acceptable as a genre, and I think it is also reaching out to people beyond young adults, as well.

So why am I trying to write a book for people in their twenties?

I feel like I’m trying to force it. I feel like I’m faking it, like I’m making it up, and someone will read it and call me out. “Liar!” they’ll say, “You don’t go to parties! You don’t have friends like this! You’re making this all up!”

I started this novel a while ago as a young adult book. The protagonist was 16 at the time. But she was too sassy, too jaded, too mature. And it was hard, trying to bring myself back into a teenage mindset. Those weren’t good years for me. It was difficult moving back into that headspace.

I look around at people my age now, people I know in their mid-to-late twenties. I know I’m not the only one who feels a little lost. A lot of people my age have this cloudy look of wandering in their eyes, like we’re walking around but don’t really know what we’re doing. Like we can’t think about it, or it could paralyze us. We embrace the present with a fevered fervor, clinging to parties and rays of sunlight and flashes of the analog camera and the way the wind whispers through the trees, because if we focus on all these little things happening in the moment we don’t have to think about the bigger picture.

We focus on the minute details so we don’t have to step back and try to focus on anything more. We can’t focus on anything larger than the present – it’s out of focus, fuzzy, undefined. And it’s terrifying.

And I know I’m not the only person my age to feel this, because I’ve seen it in others as well. In the slouch of the mustachio’d guy’s shoulders, talking about the latest record he bought. In the too-wide smile of the girl with the bangs and fringed vest, laughing with her friends. Beneath it all, a hum, a buzz – an undercurrent of being lost.

And so I wanted to write a book for us that could do the things that YA did for me when I was younger – it helped me understand things, made me feel less alone, gave me courage and confidence when I had none.

I changed my protagonist to the middle-twenties because I feel like there’s not really a genre for us, not yet, even though I think we are a separate genre of an age. We don’t feel like adults, but we know we’re not kids. We’re in between.

I want a book that can convey that sense of feeling lost, that someone my age could read and connect with and understand. Maybe it could make them feel a little better about feeling the way they feel, because they would know they’re not the only one.

But I feel like I’m faking it, like I’m lying. I can’t get it to write naturally. I can’t feel natural as I’m writing it. Maybe I’m reaching too high.

A part of me is tempted to move it back into YA, to transition it back into teenage mode because that is something I’ve gone through, something I’ve read for years, something that would be more comfortable to slip into like a big, slouchy sweater. But instead, I’m trying to wrangle this age group that I haven’t even fully figured out yet myself – don’t know what I’m doing yet as a mid-to-late-twenty, so how on earth am I supposed to help my characters figure it out?

And so this is what I’m struggling with right now. I’m going to keep writing through it, but I’m afraid that it will end up feeling artificial, fake. I’m not sure how to inject how feel as a mid-to-late-20 without making the protagonist too much of me. I’m trying to make it different than my own life, but then I worry that I’m making too much up. I keep wavering back and forth. But I’ll keep writing for now, and try not to let the anxiety stop me.