Wednesday, April 25, 2012

Eternal Youth

Recently I did a talk at my local RWA chapter's meeting about YA fiction and we discussed the "age difference taboo" in YA fiction.

That is: if you have a 30 year old man with a teen girl it's a huge issue (the age difference will be what the book is about) vs. if you make the man 300 it's no big deal--and doesn't have to be what the book is about.

We were talking about some of the things that authors do to pull this huge age difference trope off. Like:

Joss Whedon gave Buffy a superpower and made her capable of killing Angel, which evened out the power imbalance created by their extreme age differences.

Stephanie Meyer placed Edward in high school and in a family life situation with parental figures and siblings. Plus she made him freaking sparkle. (Edward came off like a teen, albeit a creepy, stalkerish, control-freak teen.)

Basically, making a character immortal can make an age difference irrelevant. Immortal characters in YA fiction are usually written as ageless, rather than ancient. And I think that's why it works.

But watching The Vampire Diaries last week, I just realized another thing writers do to erase the "age problem", and perhaps more interesting for me, I gained another insight into why YA paranormals work for so many adult readers as well as teens.

There was a scene in TVD where Rebecca, one of the "originals", who's supposed to be 1000 years old, questions why a mortal teen boy, Matt, is being so nice to her. And the way it's played, the way he does actually play her, and the way she reacts is so teen. It's so relatable. The boy is nice and the girl is skeptical of his motives and questions them, but he says, "Why do I need a reason to be nice to you? Maybe I just like you." And for the girl, his attention is nice and she wants so, so badly to believe in this boy and that his intentions come from a good place, even though part of her knows that she shouldn't trust him.

That is such a teen feeling.

I'll bet one we can all remember. At least I can. And here they have a 1000 year old "girl" feeling those insecurities.

And it got me thinking that what they're doing on that show (and in a lot of YA fiction) that's really smart with some of the very, very old characters, is to give them teen-like emotions and insecurities. I think it makes the show relatable to both teens and adults. Those teen emotions and insecurities are kind of primal.

Maybe some of you are more evolved/mature than I am, but regardless of my body's age, and my accumulated life experience, and the things (I hope) I'm more mature or wise about now than I was as a teen... in many ways--deep inside--I still feel like the same person I was at 15 or 16. I sometimes look in the mirror and expect to see that girl. I still feel many things the same way. Like meeting new people, or attention from "boys", or wanting to belong, or feeling left out, or feeling humiliation or embarrassment or shame when I've made a mistake or hurt someone's feelings.

Yes, I do think/hope I process and deal with these things better now as an adult, but the emotions are still the same.

And that, I think, is one of the many, many reasons why YA fiction, when it's done well, works for adults. too. Maybe YA fiction allows us to tap into eternal youth?

Am I off my rocker? (I am getting old enough for one. LOL)


Anonymous said...

Maureen, you are so freakin' smart. What a great observation, 30 is creepy but 300 is cause for millions of women to break into fan hysteria.
I love the insight into the emotions. So it's like becoming a vampire at sixteen stalled not just the physical aging process but also the emotional aging process.

Vampire diaries is smart as well. What does it say that the most emotionally mature character on the show is the only human teen, Matt...

Must think about this a little more.

Simone St. James said...

Whedon also made Buffy and Angel go spectacularly wrong in season 2, no? He also made Angel wrestle with a "This is wrong, so wrong" conflict.

I think Edward had one of those too, or I would know if I ever read past book 1.

Eileen said...

HAHAHAHA! You have no idea how many times I look around and think, "this is no different than high school." Certainly I've learned a lot and I am SO much less of a drama queen (no laughing, please). Still . . . very high school in a lot of ways.

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