teenagers sitting against a brick wall

Writing Teen Memoirs

The most interesting writing-oriented thing that’s happened lately is the final edits on this bank robbery book. It’s interesting how they’ve come about. I’m ghostwriting this book for a client, where the plot is fictional but the characters and their backstory are based upon real people. We came up with this compromise as a way of solving an interesting problem: the story she really wanted to write was about herself and her friends as teens; however, she didn’t want to write a straight memoir, but a novel. But if you’re going to write a novel about teens, and pursue mass-market publication, it’s usually got to be in the Young Adult genre.

That’s just how the publishing industry works; I know, it ain’t right. She really didn’t want to write a YA, so we created a fictional story that takes place when the characters are adults, but referenced their childhoods when referring to the back story, and that’s the origin of this unusual project. Which is why, in the final edits, things got kind of weird.

What writing for YA means (this is super rudimentary explanation) is that basically the language is a bit different. Such books are “easier to read” basically because they give you more stuff and make you do less in your head. They tend to use more adjectives and adverbs (see Harry Potter for a real adverb-fest) and take the trouble to explain concepts a little bit more. Where an adult-level book would expect you to figure out the meaning of certain words and phrases and images from the context, a YA book expects less of the reader in that regard. Also, of course, the vocabulary tends to use fewer 25-cent words. That doesn’t mean the theme and subject matter have to be simplistic in any way, though, at all.

So, with all that in mind, what’s interesting is that, in the final edit, my client has gone through and asked me to over-explain a lot of concepts and images in the book, which is not something you’d do in a literary type adult-reader novel. This is where, as a ghostwriter, I face a dilemma: simply do as the client requests or embark upon a client-education initiative where I explain to her why this is inadvisable. I chose the later.

I explained the importance of keeping the reading level high, which means, to a certain extent, enabling the reader to fill in some blanks for herself, and the client understood, thank goodness. The process made me really aware, though, of exactly what elements make a book weigh in at a higher or lower reading level.

If I’m honest–I find it really annoying to be forced to to think about what I do, like this. It takes me out of the intuitive writing space and makes me analyze what I do and why, and it makes me fear not being able to get back into that intuitive space. However, in the long run, this process is really educational and better than going to school. Because I’ve been forced to analyze what I do, and why, it’ll be easier to explain to the next ghostwriting client exactly what makes a book YA, and whether or not that’s a good choice for her. Turns my brain inside out, but that’s a writer’s life!

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Ruby Peru