Tuesday, June 28, 2011

Crossing the line in Dark YA

My brother-in-law tells me, "Christa, you don't know where the line is until someone tells you you've crossed it." In real life, it's very easy to see when I've crossed the line because usually, everyone gets sort of quiet and averts their eyes. And also my friend Octavia will announce, "Well, that was awkward, Christa." Octavia is not shy about calling me out.

To me, it is more difficult to figure out in writing. Especially writing dark, edgy YA stuff. WSJ article aside, dark YA novels deal with some really intense themes. And yes, there is frequently underage drinking, drug abuse, sex, and swearing in YA books. I'm not getting on my soapbox about this because others have before me (Kody Keplinger does many a blog on this issue). I will say that when a friend asked me what was the point of swearing in a YA book, I mentioned to her the authenticity of voice and she conceded my point.

But still, even if you have all those messy things included in your YA book, you may be fine and ready to submit. Or there may be a scene/paragraph/sentence where you've crossed the line. Yesterday, my fabulous friend Heather read my WIP MANHOLE and showed me where I crossed it. Heather loves dark YA, she reads a lot of it. And I've read her book, it's Dark (capital D) and Awesome (capital A). So she's a very trustworthy source.

I know what you're thinking: Er, did you cross the line at the first page??? (That was, after all, where my sister had to stop).

NO. In fact, it was not (although Heather did suggest a little trimming on that page). It was much later. Heather told me I crossed the line with two simple words:

"Deeper, Ben."

And of course, she's right. Because THAT scene while important in the overall plot, does not need to be more graphic. "Deeper" does not move us along (although I might argue, it makes us see my MC girl in a new and more broken light). It doesn't work hard enough. And as my book straddles the line of upper YA enough as is, I decided to cut and rewrite that part.

With MANHOLE, I constantly have to ask myself: "What does this buy me? Do I need to include it?" Not just the racy stuff, but every part. I want so desperately to get this right, for me as a writer, and for all the rape survivors I have seen in hospital ERs over the years. So "Deeper" goes by the wayside. And something raw and more painful replaces it. Hmm...

Have you ever had someone point out where you've crossed a line in your writing? Did you agree with them? Did you change it?


Heather said...

I've had to edit out things from my YA novels before. Sometimes we get so caught up in the characters and the plot that more flows onto the page than we intended. I love how you put it though, do I need to include this? That's something I'll have to remember to ask myself from now on!

Kristan said...

Oh wow. That dialogue is... very provocative. I can see how, in a certain context, it would cross the line.

I've had someone question the profanity in my YA manuscript as well, and I haven't decided where I net out on it yet. But I always appreciate readers asking that question, because as writers we need to be making conscious decisions about our content. Sometimes in the midst of writing, things just flow out, and they feel right, but we didn't necessarily think about their consequences. Whether you leave something in or take it out, if it's a question, you've got to come up with the right answer for you and your story.

Marie Rearden said...

I think there's a line between going for the reader's gasp and getting the message across. A.S. King's Please Ignore Vera Dietz deals with a lot of dark, heartbreaking, and pretty creeptastic things, but I never once felt like she crossed that mysterious line. It's a balancing act and could very easily push your YA into the Adult genre.
Great post!
Marie at the Cheetah