I am writing this blog post to clarify points made in an article in the Gleaner on Monday, November 27, in relation to questions raised about young adult literature.
Who do you think of when you hear the phrase “Young Adult”? People in their late teens and early 20’s? These young people read adult literature, so that genre is not for them. The Vic Reid Award accepts manuscripts suitable for readers ages 13-18 years and older. For many authors and publishers it means 12 to 15 year-olds, and includes books such as “The Hunger Games”, The Twilight series and the Harry Potter series. The popularity of subcategories in this genre change rapidly. The popularity of fantasy is taken over by vampire novels and then by dystopian novels. The publishing industry has a hard time knowing what is going to be next.Another dilemma is that age is not a good guide when writing and choosing books for children and teenagers, especially in Jamaica.
Parents read picture books to young children, talk about the story and pictures. Toddlers get board books, which are resistant to tearing and chewing.
When children go to Basic School or kindergarten they are introduced to phonics and have more story books read to them. They have access to simple picture books with few words, which they can read often. Thus, some children begin to read from as young as four years old.
In grade 1, in primary or elementary school, phonics teaching continues, children have graded readers and hopefully a plentiful supply of reading books appropriate for their age and reading level. By the end of grade 1, at age 7 they should be reading independently. They then move on to simple and later more complex chapter books, and hopefully to a life of enjoying reading.
Unfortunately, for many Jamaican children one or all of these stages is missing. Some of them remain illiterate, while others are reading below their grade level. So they are not reading young adult books. They also develop a negative attitude to reading. What they need is an abundant supply of multicultural books appropriate for their reading level from grades 1 to 11. There is a pressing need for many more books by Jamaican authors to fill that gap. What is sorely needed are more HiLo - high interest, low difficulty books. Nine-year-old boys would prefer to read about cars and trucks than about teddies and bunnies.
Because the readership for young adult literature in Jamaica is small, authors of this genre have to target the wider Caribbean and international as well as Jamaican audiences but it’s still hard to get published.
1. I have an online critique group which has been meeting regularly since we took an online course in children’s writing in 2004. There are only three of us now, but what we lack in quantity we make up for in quality. Critiquing other’s work teaches one a great deal about one’s own writing.
3. Reading out loud to yourself or others reveals flaws which you might not spot otherwise.
4. Reading as many books as possible in the genre you want to write in is also recommended - read once to enjoy the story and a second time to analyze the structure, study the style, characterization, dialogue and description.
5. Reading books on writing. I have found the following books invaluable:
(i) The Marshall Plan for Novel Writing by Evan Marshall
(ii) The Writer's Journey by Christopher Vogler
(iii) The First Five Pages by Noah Lukeman
(iv) The Art of Fiction by John Gardner
(v) 20 Master Plots and how to build them by Ronald Tobias
Most authors have websites and blogs where they give tips on writing, but the volume of this information can be overwhelming.
Writing is a somewhat solitary occupation. That is why organizations such as the Jamaican Writers Society (JAWS) are formed, to put writers in touch with each other. They do organize workshops, so perhaps a workshop on writing Young Adult Fiction is timely. I also think that there needs to be more discussion about what exactly is required of works entered for the Vic Reid Award.