Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Locating Your Inner Monster

Agent Molly Jaffa is doing a guest speaker spot on Backspace this week and she gave the most fun, not to mention easiest to understand, definition of the difference between external and internal conflict I've seen.

Doesn't matter that it was actually given as an explanation to the difference between middle grade and young adult fiction (beyond the protagonist's age).

Her point was that middle grade fiction tends to be more about external conflict, or:

There's a monster outside!!!

Whereas young adult fiction tends to be about internal conflict, or:

There's a monster inside me!!!

Awesome, right? Except that it made me realize a possible problem with my upcoming fairy tale adaptations.

The original publisher for these books wanted them to appeal to readers as young as nine... so, although I wasn't exactly thinking about them as middle grade, and I admit I'd never thought about the difference in focus until I read this great insight of Molly Jaffa's... I must have instinctively known this, because I kind of wrote them like middle grades. But, the new publisher is marketing them as YA.

I think both are very: There's a monster outside!!! (A scary stepmother who's also an evil wizard in Cinderella and a scary vampire queen and her minions in Sleeping Beauty...)

I fear that young adult readers will miss the: There's a monster inside me!! aspect.

Ah, well. C'est la vie.


Eileen said...

Interesting. A friend of mine was asking me why the Hunger Games books were considered YA and not adult fiction. Someone else told her it had to do with the age of the protagonist. I was hard pressed to come up with a better explanation since the books felt very adult to me in a lot of ways. I'll offer up the idea that Katniss is battling the monster inside her as much as the monsters outside her as an explanation and see how it flies.

Oh, and, P.S. I DESPISE having those epiphanies after a book is done and I almost always do. So frustrating.

Maureen McGowan said...

Yes, what makes a book YA vs adult is another hard one. Because it's not just age... And I think for many there isn't an answer. Kind of like the UF vs paranormal romance thing. Or thriller vs romantic suspense.
I've heard people say it's the themes explored... but I dunno if it's cut and dry. Often I think it's a marketing decision by the publisher.

You were talking about Mark Haddon's book, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHT... I'm pretty sure it was out as YA fiction first, then adult. Might have even been different in different countries. Now I think you can find it in both sections in many book stores.

And post-book epiphanies suck. Although to give myself a break, the first publisher would never tell me whether they wanted those stories to be middle grade or YA. And constantly reminding me they wanted it to appeal to readers as young as nine, when I wanted to include a few darker or romantic elements... but then wanting 75,000 words (more than double the size of most middle grade books) and calling it teen fiction, added to my confusion.

Sinead M said...

I think the best YA fiction is difficult to define, because it appeals to all readers.

That is a really great definition of the differences in the two genres.

Stephanie Doyle said...

Post book epiphanies!!! The worst. It's why I deliberately try NOT to think about any element of the book ever again once it's been submitted for the final draft.

And I never read my stuff again. For that very reason.

I would be compelled to write in pen in the margins what it "should" have been.

Eileen said...

Nothing like receiving clear direction, is there? Sounds like they were having trouble making up their minds.

Interesting about the Haddon book. I had no idea it had been marketed as a YA book anywhere.

Molly O'Keefe said...

That's the best definition of inner and external conflict ever - much less for YA.

Strange that Incident was a YA book - that protagonist would be a tough sell for YA, I would think. I have his second book staring at me from my bookshelf right now.

And - I'm with Steph, once that book is gone, it is dead and I refuse to think about it. The alternative is terrible to consider.

Maureen McGowan said...

Life of Pi is another one that was initially shelved as YA in some markets.

If you go by the age of the protagonist only, both are YA. But clearly both are very interesting to adults...

I think Mark Haddon's book was first put out as YA because he was well established as a childrens' author already and the protag is 15...

Curious (and procrastinating) I just looked this up. Haddon's book was initially simultaneously put out in two different editions in the UK. One YA and one adult. Same book. Different packaging.

These days, now that YA is more established, respected and "hot" I'd make a (small) wager that they'd just put it out as YA.

Eileen said...

How about Secret Life of Bees? That had a young protag. Was it ever marketed as YA?

Maureen McGowan said...

Good question... I have no idea. But it's given me something else to google instead of editing...

Maureen McGowan said...

I found The Secret Life of Bees on a lot of lists of YA fiction... but not sure if the publisher ever marketed it that way... Clearly some readers/reviewers think it was YA.

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