Monday, September 22, 2008

What's Your Style-Genre?

In my last post, I talked about the definition/parameters of YA literature.  Now I'd like to consider the whole style-genre question.  (And forgive me if that is a lame term—I just can't think of anything else to call it).  
  • The Edgy Novel — Kudos to all those who write and enjoy this particular adventure, but it's not for me.  Take, for example, the latest news from Candace Bushnell's camp.  Sex and the City for YA?  Editorial Ass launched a discussion about this one, which yielded some interesting responses among the adults who loved the show.  Most, however, are quite dubious about the potential quality of the YA version.  As for me:  Why is this whole "sex sells" mentality seeping into YA lit in the name of the "edgy" novel? I'm no prude, but frankly, it's less about the sex than it is about the bitchy attitudes and lack of emotional morality (and maturity) that gets me.   Is that what makes a YA edgy?  Drugs, murder, homelessness—I don't have a problem with these in YA per se, but what is their purpose?  Is it just for the shock value and all in the name of edginess?  And is the teen protagonist really a teenager or an angsty adult masquerading as a teen?  Books like Laurie Halse Anderson's Speak or Jay Ashers Thirteen Reasons Why offer the real deal and tackle tough subjects with authentic voice and sensitivity.  They don't glorify the bitch factor. my soap box, now.
  • The Commercial Novel — This is a tough one to pin down.  Check out a couple of discussions here  and here.  What do you consider commercial content/style?  I suppose it's a book that brings with it automatic merchandising appeal or mass marketing potential.  But does that mean it may not have longevity as part of the literary canon?  Not necessarily.  Is it all a matter of money?  I hate to sound cynical, but in this economic chaos, why would anyone want to publish a book that won't be a huge commercial success? (Okay, now I'm a little depressed...)  What books to you consider "commercial"?
  • The Literary Novel — Is this another one of those, "I can't actually define it, but I know what it is" deals?  Here's an interesting definition courtesy of GreenFrog on the Blueboards: 
    According to my Literary Analysis textbook and professor, "literary" fiction takes a look at human nature and exposes some truth about humanity by the end of it. "Commercial" fiction is written for entertainment value and escapism. Most works fall somewhere between the extreme ends of either classification, but i would say that many of the books in the chic lit, action/adventure, romance and mystery genres tend to be commercial. The works that fall into either camp are often subject to debate. I would claim that Libba Bray's books: "A Great and Terrible Beauty" and "Rebel Angels" are literary pieces. Although they are hugely popular, they have characters that are deep and fully developed, and they have a clear, deep theme. A true literary piece will live the reader with some realization about themselves, about the world and/or about life.
Read more of this discussion on the Blue Boards.  From this I take it that commercial often  skimps on the character development for the sake of a quick and compellingplot.  But is there more to it?  And what about "High Concept"?  

Bottom line:  when you write, what are you actually setting out to do?  After you decide on the story (or it decides on you), how do you view the craft?  Do you pay attention to such external goals as classification or is the thing that drives you the intrinsic momentum of the story itself?


  1. I think that one of the problems is that there's so much overlap. Do I write edgy commercial? Or to make matters worse, edgy, high concept, commercial? Can you be in more than one category?

    Frankly, it all confuses me so much that I just write and thank god for publishing people who will hopefully think up the perfect label for it. And then I will nod and smile and pretend that I knew it all along. :)

  2. This is such a terrific blog (featuring issues I can never quite resolve myself). What, indeed, is YA (is Francine Prose's new book, featuring a 13 year old YA? If so, why is it getting straight adult-style coverage?). There are plenty of books featuring young protagonists that aren't typically thought of as YA. I've learned that publishing houses and bookstores care a lot more about the label than readers do—indeed, I'd venture to say that a high percentage of those who have read my own YA books are women. And I happen to love language and to struggle more with commercial-quality plots... But does that make my work literary? Isn't that a word reserved for others?

    In the end, we must write the stories that compel us, the stories we figure out how best to tell.

  3. Thanks, Beth! And yes, I am one of those women who loves YA books—and not just because I write them. And you are right. I think bookstores have a greater desire to classify books than the readers or even publishers do.

    Carrie, I think you're right about the murky waters, here. And the whole literary classification is a tough one. I think most of us aspire to that entitlement and those of us who treasure modesty are loathe to bless themselves with that moniker. (That's assuming there is, indeed, a hierarchy of value in these catagories).

    Thanks for stopping by, gals!

  4. Hey Ghostgirl,

    Now that I've met you personally, I had to get to know you even better, so I came to your blog. Love it. We think a lot a like. You can count me in as one of your regular readers.

    W.L. Decker


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