As I wrote the last chapter of L’homme Theroux, I realized it was missing a couple of subplots that would fully flesh it out. Essentially, I begin a subplot originally slated for Little Crow’s War, the second book, in L’homme Theroux. It gives an important character time to develop more fully (and more time for me to torture her).
The second subplot was accidental. Neither it nor the new characters were in the outline. I added them as an afterthought as I wrote the first scene in which they appeared. As I neared the end of the book, their potential was clear. These two chicks became real important real fast, and now I will to have to see how they may or may not fit into the second book. It is like discovering a branch of the family you didn’t know existed a week before Halloween and having to rearrange Thanksgiving and Christmas. I’m unsure at this point what will become of these girls, but I like them. I like them as much as the character I had to kill off.
And that is what has been giving me fits all weekend. I had to go back and develop these two as fully fledged characters when I realized their importance. The last thing I want is a one-dimensional character, and to understand their actions later in the book requires them demonstrating why they are the way they are. All of which has me reconsidering previous thoughts.
For some time, I have been wrestling with the concept of what makes a Young Adult novel and what are the acceptable levels of violence (and to a lesser degree, sex). As near as I can tell, opinions are all over the board and no two are quite the same. Everyone has their limits, and I come away reminded of an old expression;
“Anyone kinkier than I am is a pervert.”
And I think that is the real issue. We measure the world with ourselves as the standard. Everyone is their own yardstick. That’s great for the “We Are The World” types, but I prefer to have some hard-and-fast rules to break and strict guidelines to violate. How in the world can I be out of bounds when everyone in the stadium keeps re-chalking the field?
My two big take-aways for what qualifies as Young Adult fiction are:
1) The protagonist is the same demographic as your audience – I understand that adults, whatever age that now begins due to extended adolescence, frequently read Young Adult literature. They are free to do it, but I don’t see the attraction. Then again, I can find things to bitch about in a Ken Burns documentary. Ultimately, the main character should be somewhere in his teen years, old enough to have a certain clarity in perception of the world, but still be mightily confused and finding his place in it.
2) The reader has to be able to see himself in the character – I suspect this is why the list of acceptable topics in Young Adult literature is so broad. Violence, sex, drug abuse, human trafficking, incest, bullies, molestation, etc., etc. are topics a teen either faces, could face, would like to face, or knows someone else who does. It also explains my childhood reading habits.
With the above in mind, I am reasonably confident as long as my characters are roughly the same age as my readers, and those readers can easily see themselves as the protagonist, I am safe writing just about anything. Which as a parent is a little disconcerting since that renders the Young Adult label virtually useless as a tool for exercising good judgment regarding suitability for my children.