Given that most writers of young adult texts are quite old adults both the reader and the writer act as extra characters. The narrator’s voice isn’t that of the writer. The writer has to create that narrator and also has to work out exactly who the reader is. The “voice” of the novel is what occurs in that gap between the narrator and the reader.
Mikhail Bakhtin gives us some useful definitions of what a novel is and this helps in particular when writing for young adults.
· The word “novel” means new. Each YA novel must offer something new to the young adult. Hopefully something they have not encountered before. Possibly something that is new to everyone.
· There is a difference between a drama and an epic. An epic tells a story. There is only one Tristan. A novel shows in a particular way and there can be several versions of Tristan. There will be a narrative balance that includes only the tiniest bit of exposition, but plenty of dialogue, inner monologue and action and just the right amount of description.
· The author gets close to the reader and the characters.
· There may be many voices within dialogue. Each one will represent the speaker and we should know who is talking without assignment. There may also be letters, emails, texts, newspaper extracts, Instagram posts, Tweets and WhatsApp posts.
You’ll probably get it wrong. Also it changes rapidly – between the time your book is accepted and the time it is published it will have dated. However, you must write in the words that the characters would think in.
Time and space (Bakhtin)
• Bakhtin calls this a “chronotope”.
• Read a passage out loud – does it all happen in real time?
• This may enhance the filmic qualities of the novel.
• However, we also have the inner monologue of the characters.
David Lodge and the Novel
- David Lodge is an academic, novelist and literary critic, perhaps proof that reading well leads to writing well?
- Consciousness and the Novel is a collection of essays. He suggests that consciousness is what stops a novel being an epic. We get the consciousness of the characters.
- Do we read to escape or affirm our lives?
- One essay talks of – Qualia - e.g. the smell of freshly ground coffee or the taste of pineapple. Might this be what brings the reader close to the characters in the novel? We must offer a real world.
- Does this remind us of Proust and the madeleine?
Choosing a narrative style
Should we use the first person? We know that it can be unreliable and that the character has often already had the growth so that the reader cannot enjoy growth with the character.
However, it often works well in YA when a partiucalr type of first person narrative is sued. It seems like a best mate telling you what has just happened but when s/he has not yet worked out all of the implications. Shall we call this the immediate first person?
Emotional Closeness in Lea Weatherley’s Angel series
• The first book opens in media res – with a conversation.
• There is balance of narrative techniques –dialogue, action, exposition (very little), description and inner monologue.
• There is the love interest – and possibly a love triangle.
• We have a close third person point of view for Alex and occasionally for other characters.
• We have a first person viewpoint for Willow.
• The characters are rounded and believable.
Differing styles within the novels
• There are substantial amounts of inner monologue.
• There are short bursts of action.
• Description comes only in brief snatches.
• Exposition is infrequent.
• There is much dialogue where it is possible to take out the assignation word and still see who is talking.
Time and space within the novels
• There is a firm sense of time and space within the novels, though space is firmer. Places are shown in a concrete way and given names.
• Sentences read out loud take up as much time as the action they describe.
• Romantic moments are shown in a filmic way.
Are we just a bag of jangling neurons processing qualia or sentient beings with souls?
• We need to see inside the characters’ heads.
• Should we choose a first person or close third narrative?
• Sometimes we may need more than one viewpoint. How do we differentiate? See if you can find some examples in other novels. Monika Feth uses up to ten voices in her crime thriller YA books.
• Qualia make the scenes seem real.
• Write with the senses – sight, hearing, taste, smell, and feeling in both senses to achieve this. Look at how novels you read do this.
Some other narrative choices
It is unusual for main point of view character not to be protagonist but it happens sometimes:
• John Boyne’s The Boy in the Striped Pyjamas
• Markus Zusak’s The Book Thief
You can choose between:
First person past or present
Third person close past or present
Third person removed past or present
Omniscient – neutral author
Omniscient – fictionalised
First person and third person close are the most popular amongst YA. Why do you think that is?
Take up to 500 words of a vital scene form your novel. Write it out in first person past, first person present, third person close present and third person close past. Which works best? Will that suit the whole of the novel? Are you brave enough to change it all?
Write a key scene from your novel as if you are a young adult relating the story to a best mate. You haven’t yet figured out what it all means but you’re hoping the process of saying all of this will help you to figure it out.