Friday, April 20, 2018

Children’s Books for Adults



As I begin the rabbit hole that is GoodReads (in attempts to better understand my audience and my niche), I have to accept something that I’ve been struggling with even as a 13 year old girl; I want to write like a Disney movie.

Lilo and Stitch, in particular. Treasure Planet. The Black Cauldron. Aladdin. I want to write like in the same vein as Harry Potter and Howl’s Moving Castle. I want to write like anime like Inuyasha and Yu Yu Hakusho.

Except that I want to write in a style as it relates to me. An adult. With life experiences. Bitterness. And a bit more bite.

I’ve been reading quite a few young adult novels recently, trying to catch up on series I’ve started years before and never quite got around to. I walked into a bookstore the other day to check out what summaries were doing that worked (or didn’t) for me, along with snapping photos of covers that caught my attention. I first headed to the young adult section because one, that is my typical haunt despite my not having spent a lot of time in a bookstore since 2012, and, two, it was closer.

Afterwards, I went to the adult fantasy and sci-fi section and immediately realized the vast difference: adult books are ugly.

Fantasy novels tend to have these literal, well-drawn covers of a not too eventful scene with a  not too eventful setting. A woman rides a horse in the woods. A man rides a horse on the cliffs. Everyone stands in an overly detailed ravine or castle with their sword drawn and glowing magic ablaze. The colors weren’t as luring, the people weren’t as pretty, the clothing was accurate, but with little appeal.

And the summaries followed suit. In fact, the few times that I was interested in a book, I realized that it was probably intended for younger audiences as well.

I mean, for one thing “adult” often translates into “masculine” while “young adult” often translates into “feminine.” What we would consider “real” sci-fi or fantasy tends to be written with men in mind. I once exclaimed in a joking manner as a friend told me a summary, “Is everyone a prostitute nowadays?” Many of the female characters in the stories are mistreated courtesans—A.I., badass, or whatever—but still whores. The way they depict sex and women’s bodies tends to be completely perfunctory. Vulgar, lacking sensuality, porn-like. Overall, I also think that men tend to prefer plot—political implications—to character. While the great fantasy writers make characters real, they often are flat and limited to a few core emotions. In Game of Thrones, everyone struggles with power-hunger, fear, or lust, but you don’t see a wider variety of their personality. They rarely joke, laugh, or love. It’s part of the point, and why people like it, but I prefer some more humanity in my stories. Optimism and whimsy combined with the severity of the situation.

I like high-highs and low-lows, and that’s exactly what children’s books have going for them.

What I don’t like about children’s books, especially young adult books, is the premises and emotional arcs are pretty limited and clichĂ©. A lot of people will tell you “young adult” has to do with age of the characters, but I don’t consider that true. Or it shouldn’t be. Sarah J. Maas’ Throne of Glass was, in my opinion, greatly inhibited by the necessity that she make her early 20s character in her teens just to meet the expectation of the teen audience, but (at least from an adult’s perspective) her epicness made less sense and kind of became a silly wish-fulfilment. It was harder to take it more seriously.

And while as a child I didn’t care too much about the age of the characters, as an adult, I don’t enjoy reading about teenagers as much.

Also, I don’t want to read about “high school adjacent” worlds anymore, such as in Divergent, Hunger Games, or The Mortal Instruments. I liked school fine when I was there, but it is bleak and disheartening, as well as restrictive, and reminds me of how relieved I am to not be controlled by that. It doesn’t inspire me, however, or make me excited. It just reminds me how small I, and thusly the characters, are in that sort of environment.

As an adult, I’m facing different issues now. That’s part of the difference between books actually targeted for children though, rather than teens. Being a teenager is a very specific experience and lifestyle, but the things that haunt you in childhood carry on into adulthood. You can still feel like the odd one out like Lilo, or desire adventure like Jim Hawkins. Innocent first sexual experiences and the drama of a school system tend to lose their luster though.

Lastly, and I’ll say this until I’m blue in the face, I do not want to have to be told to dumb down my language or my intrigue for “stupid kids.” (A literal quote during one writers group.) Not only do I not believe it’s necessary (Kids tend to be more adaptable to unknown information than adults), but it’s simply not what I think books should be like.

I’ve talked about this in the past, but just recently I’ve come to terms with it. My Dying Breed manuscript, which is currently being shopped to agents, falls in some sort of weird realm of either adult or young adult, with common elements of the Y.A. genre, but some concepts more appropriate for adults. I have two other completed manuscripts that I think are squarely Y.A. and one in the making that I think is better suited for adult.

I want all of my books to be in the same section. I want them to be taken seriously so I don’t feel pressure to conform to the expectations of “fluff.” I want to challenge my readers, create something truly suspenseful, scary, whimsical, and beautiful all at once. I want the drama and severity of the adult world with the curiosity and wonder of childhood.

So as I really question where the audience I’m going to market to, I’ve come to an obvious and painful conclusion that you’ve heard me fighting time and time again. I will target adults who want to read a meatier children’s book. That’s it.



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