Sunday, November 20, 2011

What the Heck Is This?

I don't know about you, but before I start a manuscript, before the first word, before the first letter flashes on the screen, I do NOT think about genre. I just write. For me, 'genre' is a foreign word, Greek, (actually it's French)that stifles rather than encourages my creativity.

I first discovered my difficulty with that foreign word when trying to market my second completed manuscript. (Yes, the first is serving duty as a dust collector - doing a great job!)What did she mean, "What genre?" I squirmed in front of the agent as I murmured, "Romance." What did she think? This was RWA's national conference. What else would it be?

Then came the flurry of questions: Contemporary or Historical? Category or Single Title? Mystery? Women's Fiction? Sweet? Spicy? I started sweating. Erotic? Paranormal?

I left that pitch session determined to educate myself. But what I found made me think it would be easier to pull all my hair out, one strand at a time, than to split the often razor thin differences between the romance genres and their sub-genres.

Then I started writing YA. Simple, right? YA is YA. Or so I thought as I wrote that new manuscript. But when I started hanging in YA circles and heard rumblings of MG vs. YA my eyes crossed. I held my newly completed baby and wondered yet again, "What have I written?"

Well, thanks to a great break-out session at SCBWI's MidSouth Regional Conference in September, led by editor Alexandra Cooper, I realize I've birthed a full-blooded YA. Ms. Cooper clearly defined MG vs. YA, and given her position, I'm inclined to believe she knows whereof she speaks.

According to Ms. Cooper, it's all about . . . number of pages.

Bet you thought I was going to say the protagonist's age. Yes, that's part of it. But, surprisingly, so is the number of pages. The average MG has 150-200 pages. YA has more.

The biggest difference, however, is plot trajectory. With a MG, the plot runs the course of Home - Away - Home. Here, Home represents the ordinary world of family/friends. Away represents the challenge or opportunity that spurs growth. (Think cliques vs. individualization.) The character grows up a little, but in MG he/she always winds up back at Home. Wiser? Yes. More sure of self? Absolutely. But still at home.

In YA, the plot trajectory is Home - Away. Period. The protagonist starts at Home, but his/her challenge/opportunity pushes them toward independence. He/she may, in the end, still live with Mom and Dad, but it's obvious that those days are numbered. The YA protagonist is clearly ready to stand on her/his own. There is no real going back.

I hope these distinctions help you recognize your baby's family. But either way, keep writing. There are always hybrids! :0

15 comments:

Natalie Aguirre said...

Thanks for sharing about the difference. Sometimes it's hard to know which one your book is. Right now I'm struggling with will my book be YA if I keep the character at 14 and even if she's moving toward the independence of YA. I'm not sure if I should make her 15.

Kristen Simmons said...

This was so interesting Lisa - thank you for sharing!

Kristin Lenz said...

Thanks Lisa! I have YA and MG works in progress, and this gives me a new way to look at them.

Shelli (srjohannes) said...

this was great! also Thanks for the follow!:)

The Jammie Girl said...

I had no idea the major difference between MG and YA was length! Of course I still have no idea what genre I'm writing, but I'm narrowing it down ;)

Lisa Tapp said...

Good luck with figuring it out, Natalie! Ms. Cooper's presentation really helped me see the differences.

Lisa Tapp said...

Hi Kristen, Kristin and Shelli. Thanks for joining me. I'm glad this information offered some light on your work.
And Angie, just keep writing. You'll figure it out. :)

Lisa Tapp said...

Sorry about the typo. I've been trying to fix it, but this temporary computer (I moved this weekend) and I are not seeing eye to eye. :0

Leslie said...

Great insights! Thanks for sharing. I love to read YA - and MG, now that I know what it is. But I will never attempt to write either, especially now, in the digital age when I need the guy at Big O Tires to turn the Bluetooth off of my cell phone so it will stop ringing in the car at inopportune times! I don't think that would bode well for a YA voice!

Katie McGarry said...

I absolutely love this post, Lisa! Sometimes the line between YA and Middle Grade can be fuzzy. Thanks!

Lisa Tapp said...

Thanks for stopping by, Leslie. But don't sell yourself short! You could do something fun with that awkward teen who is not techno savvy - there are still some people who don't grow up with every gizmo available - and the dilemma of trying to hide that 'handicap' or work around it. But either way, Happy Writing!

Lisa Tapp said...

Thanks Katie. Ms. Cooper's class was so helpful. She also offered distinctions for early chapter books and picture books. The MidSouth SCBWI conference was so enlightening.

Laurisa White Reyes said...

Great post! Thanks from a new follower.

Lisa Tapp said...

Thanks for joining us, Laurisa. I hope you'll find our blog enlightening and encouraging! Happy Writing!

Colette Ballard said...

Great Post, Lisa! This is a nice clear definition of the two. Thanks for sharing!