A funny thing happened while in the midst of my current work-in-first-draft, Camp Dogs, I wrote in a 16 year-old girl. I named her Juli. I gave Juli just about the worst life I could imagine. But Juli is strong. She’s a leader, she just doesn’t know it yet. And despite having her childhood torn from her by a poor excuse for a mother and a long line of even poorer excuses for men, she’s gonna do okay.
Juli (which is German for July, by the way), is not the protagonist for Camp Dogs. Though, after finishing the first draft, I’ve seriously considered changing that. What is it about young characters that seem to make a story come alive? I have my opinions–the free spirit of youth, the lack of self-prescribed rules on behavior, the amazing imagination that seems to get absorbed by the worries of life as we grow older–but I cannot deny the fact that I’ve always been captivated by the YA novel, even before it was labeled YA (idea for blog name: I was YA when YA wasn’t cool).
After having written five unpublished novels (though the last one hasn’t been submitted yet and, by the way, the average writer completes seven novels before getting published), I understand there are different “rules” for YA. My favorite YA rule is there seems to be no rules as far as story goes. You want zombies? You got ’em. You want romance? You got it. Zombie romance with an Elf trying to horn in on your action? Go ‘head. Write it.
But there are others, summed up nicely here by YA author Kimberly Griffiths.
And here’s my favorite thing about YA–you don’t have to be a YA to write it. We’ve all been young. If you’ve been around a few years and you’re reading this, you probably feel young. Seriously, at 47, I still hold on to those silly dreams I had when I was a short, plump 16 year-old. I put my dreams on hold to get a degree in engineering and take care of my family. But there’s no time limit on these things.
Today I begin my YA writing journey. Okay, I’ve already got the basic plot on paper and the main characters named, but not fully outlined. My working title is Now I Knew You. It’s the story of a 17 year-old boy who has nothing but a bright future ahead of him, and his focus is on his goal. He will learn, though, that focusing on his goal has allowed him to miss everything that is truly important. I’ll see how my blog readers respond. If a few of you want the blow-by-blow, I’ll keep you up to date on my progress.
In the meantime, take a little free advice (no refunds): If you’re 14 and want to write, then write. Write in a way that scares you. You’ll stink it up at first, but you’ll get better. If you’re 80 and want to write, then write. You’ll stink it up at first, but you’ll get better. The heart of a writer lives forever, so age is meaningless.