We’re talking about genre this month at Quills and Inkblotts, a topic that’s been on my mind as I’ve tried to figure out what mold my WIP fits into and who I’m writing for. In the beginning it was just for me, for my own pleasure. I wrote what came into my head without thinking about where it would fit.
Writing Historical fiction was a no-brainer. It’s been my favorite genre since before I could read chapter books, back when I sat up in the bed I shared with my sister, listening to my mom read the “Little House” series, picturing that one tin cup shared between Laura and Mary, and wondering what that life was like.
My love of history–particularly people throughout history–is what led me to minor in Humanities in college, even though Speech Theater Ed or Journalism would have been much more practical for a Secondary English Ed major.
I didn’t intend to write YA when I began writing. I was reading a lot of Francine Rivers and Deanne Gist back then, and beginners emulate. It’s the way of many creative pursuits.
Well into my first draft I began to have some doubts. Was my character too young? Were her problems too juvenile? Were her friends too immature? Near the halfway point, I had a sudden, liberating realization: I was actually writing YA.
This freed me in many ways, and excited me. I have always loved YA. My favorite college course was Dr. Shively’s YA Lit class, where I was reintroduced to brilliant authors like Lois Lowry, Chris Crutcher, S.E. Hinton, Sandra Sisneros, Harper Lee, and L.M Montgomery. I had read their books as a kid, but now, studying them as an adult, their work became something new, fascinating, and wonderful to me.
They speak a different literary language. They’re frank, bold, and unapologetically serious about problems that plague young adults.
Lani Forbes also writes YA and explains how this genre doesn’t shy away from topics, or water things down. I love that. Its authors don’t talk down to their audience, or assume their young readers need words, sentences, issues, or stories simplified. They respect their audience, and the stage of life their audience is in.
Young readers need that. I needed that.
I was such a confused, love-sick, angst-filled young reader myself. I know this because I left a paper trail of all my confusion and heartache. I desperately needed to know I was not alone. I needed to know God was still real, and he was still near; still active and working in my life and in the world.
It was a time of questioning, doubting, and seeking answers in the wrong place, and being so darn sure about every single thing I decided was true. It was a time of rebellion, of taking risks, of making mistakes. It was when I realized how important friendship was, and now that I’m an adult, I see how important my choice of friends was.
Most tragically, it was a time when I was obsessed with trying to figure out what would make me happy. The world was constantly shoving down my youthful throat that my happiness was all that mattered. Not my parents, not my future, and certainly not God.
“Do what makes you happy,” is Satan’s battle cry. It’s an insidious command that leads to irreparably broken relationships. Young adults are so dangerously susceptible to it. Even faithful young adults.
That’s why my WIP must fit into the fascinatingly flexible YA mold.
This question of personal happiness is my character’s biggest struggle. It’s why she teeters on the edge of a family that expects her to obey, and why she might miss out on sharing in their great destiny on the Mayflower.
The true story of the Pilgrims captured my imagination, but it was the fictional idea of a girl, someone’s daughter, sister, friend, who doesn’t really want to go, that captured my heart.
This girl is sure (like I was) obedience will lead to a life of misery, and she has an opportunity to leave her family and seek her own happiness. Will she take it? Will her desire for what she thinks will make her happy win in the end? What will become of her if she chooses happiness over duty, sacrifice, and perseverance?
Readers, even young readers, who have much to learn about consequences know the answers. They know her desire for happiness will lead her down a dark path, even though they may despise her father for saying it. They still know.
It’s different to see this play out in someone else’s life rather than one’s own. An observer can see more clearly, with less emotion.
Readers will (I hope) yearn for her to choose obedience, to see her make the treacherous ocean crossing with her family, and watch her persevere with the rest of them in the New World.
And my earnest, constant prayer is that readers will be encouraged by this story, so that when the time comes for them to choose obedience or happiness, they will be ready, strengthened, and buoyed, capable of seeing the grand scheme, the next step, the joy to be had in a life of steady perseverance.