Saturday, April 4, 2009

So many questions...

My poor little head is spinning. The rewrites on Instinct aren't confusing me, I pretty much know what needs to be done there... it's a new change I'm considering that has me unsure of what to do next.

First a little backstory (yay! the dreaded info dump!). I submitted part of my story to an online critique group anonymously and some of the comments have me thinking. There were a lot of stupid mistakes on my part that I'm not sure how I missed, but some of the other comments were deeper than just SPaG (Spelling, Punctuation, & Grammar) errors.

The first issue that got me thinking, people seemed to agree that my voice is very YA. That's pretty cool as most of my story ideas are definitely YA, except Instinct. To be honest, I'm not sure how to classify this story. Right now my main character, Casey, is 21 and attending the police academy. I know that due to her age, this would be a tough sale as a YA, even though I think that the story itself could go either way, YA or adult.

On the same note as the last comment, I've had several people ask if I couldn't just change Casey's age to maybe 18. Before, I would always say, "No, it wouldn't work with the story or the series..." but now, I'm not so sure. I originally chose Casey's age based off of the requirements for the real Boston Police Academy, minimum age of 21 and have lived in Boston for 1 year (I wanted the story to be as believable as possible).

But, I am writing fiction, aren't I? Would it be horrible if the academy in my story had a minimum age requirement of say... 18? I'm taking liberties on the timing and content of her classes and training, why shouldn't I fudge the admissions requirements while I'm at it? I'm taking liberties with the entire city of Boston since I've never actually been there. I don't want to pull people out of the story who have been a part of the police academy, but I need to do what's best for my story at the same time, you know?... [Head Spinning Moment]

The more I thought about changing her age, the more the story seemed to make sense. I had found a couple of plot holes and other problems and this change would fix most of them.
  • Why would her father, all of a sudden, insist that she have a roommate if she's been living in Boston for 3 years? She couldn't have been living with Heather the whole time or their dynamics wouldn't be believable. Her having a different roommate before doesn't make much sense either though, it's very obvious that Heather is her first roommate.
  • What actually released her gift? If her turning 18 triggered it, that would make sense.
  • Why is she so anti-social to begin with and why, in her three years living in Boston, did she never try to change this on her own? Being 18 and fresh out of high school would work with her backstory as to why she's not over her past enough to make the changes on her own.
  • Why is she so emotional and having other specific problems? Still a teenager, yet expected to act like an adult... that would definitely be believable.
  • And a few others...
I always wanted Instinct to be YA, but didn't know how well it would work given what I knew about the story in the past. Now that the first draft is done and I know the entire story, I think that it would really work.

Well, I'd have to alter one of her love interests too... maybe make him a Ph.D. student instead of a young associate/assistant professor (can't remember which is the correct term off the top of my head, but it's in my notes). That would work well too, make him a TA... would explain why he doesn't really have his own office...

But anywho... If I can get past the whole, "I want my story to be as accurate as possible, except for the paranormal aspects" (which, you never know, they could be true...) then, I think it would really work well. I'm doing rewrites now anyway, so this would be the best time to implement these changes...

But my questions for you, my dear readers.
  • Would an age change in this case be believable? Would you believe a story where an 18 year old was a police cadet?
  • Is 18 still too old for a YA story? I can think of several YA books that had characters with similar ages, but they were still in high school and Casey has graduated.

Well, I'm off to write up notes on these potential changes and maybe skim through the chapters and see if there's any major issues with her being 18 that I'm forgetting.

So, until I blog again...
Talk 2ya later...

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beth said...

Oh dear. This is a question that has haunted me before.

I'm not sure about your situation. Really, I just couldn't give you direct advice on that. But I've got two examples that might help.

1. First completed decent novel. The main character was 20-something (in graduate school). The story was a light contemporary fantasy with kissing-only romance. I went to a conference, met an editor, and long story short, the story was being considered by a major publishing house. The editor wrote back and said, before she acquired the ms., she wanted to see some changed, the key one being that the age of the character was lowered. No problem! I said. But...I still wanted the MC living alone, able to I took her from being a 20-something grad student to a 18 year old freshman of college living in her first apt. alone. Sent it back to the editor, who rejected it based on the fact that the MC was still too old. Many many months later I went back to the manuscript, and it hit me: I should have made that character in early high school, not early college. Everything fit in the story to be a YA--except the character's age. Once I'd convinced myself that I should really lower the MC's age, I brought her to high school, moved her in with a grandmother, and she took the bus to get around. All those original worries and reasons why she "had" to be in college and over 18 yrs old disappeared once I figured out that she really HAD to be younger.

Example 2. My latest complete WIP started out as YA. See, I'd learned my lesson. The MC was a sophomore in high school, and finds out her teacher's a witch and she has a nice little adventure. Doesn't sound too hardcore, huh? Everyone--EVERYONE--who read the book said it was MG. I insisted that it wasn't. I wrote the characters! Why not YA? But when I compared stories...yeah, it worked better as MG. So I had to write down AGAIN.

In the end, my only advice is this: make your character's age fit the story, and the rest will fall into place.

Amethyst Willow said...

I'd say just write what feels appropriate, if, the more you think about it, Casey feels younger and other things slot into place and you're more comfortable with it, then go with that.

You're right it *is* fiction, the readers, unless they're totally picky, won't care if you change the odd thing.

The other aspect of writing to your character is making sure you don't write for your audience. Chances are, if you have a YA voice then YAs will read it. I don't think it should matter her precise age so long as people can associate with her.

I'm not quite sure what age YA encompasses, is it 14/15+? 'Cos from having a sister that age - she reads both kid's books, YA books and adult books, much as I do though I'm almost 21 - I know they like reading books about people older than they are, makes them feel more grown up and stuff. It's important that you're happy with the story and that Casey is in the right place for her, if those things are right then your readers will drink it right up no matter.

Hope that helps :)

Willow said...

beth: Thanks! The examples really do help. Just knowing that other people understand the whole age worry issue because they've been through it before makes me realize that others have figured it out, so will I!

Amethyst Willow: What's sad is that I don't know what feels more appropriate. I can see the pros and cons of doing it either way and it still hasn't made up my mind.

It's going to be more work, but I think I'm going to make two copies of my second draft and try fixing up one with her 18 and the other with her 21 and see which seems better in the end. It'll take more time and I might have to extend my personal deadline, but I think it's the only way I can solve the problem (who am I kidding with 'might'? lol). Then, if I submit the 21 year old version and an agent wants her younger, I'll be able to say, "Here ya go!" and look all prepared, lol!

Thanks again guys! Blog readers are the best!

Kristin said... are my two cents. As someone who reads all the time and always has...when I read teen romance (YA) books, I didn't care if they were my age. Actually, most kids that read, pick books where the central character is a few years older. Yes, you could take liberties (since you are in other areas), but, most YA readers won't mind if the MC is 21. That being said...being 18 makes a lot of sense with what you were talking about on the other issues.

A couple possibilities are that the MC "lied" about being 21 (if that wouldn't change the crux of the MC). You could also change from state police to local police officer (again if it didn't change the gist).

Other than that...I don't think YA readers will care at all that the MC is 18 and in the state police...most may not even know the age is 21. So, change the proud you finished...and submit away! Best luck, my friend!

Willow said...

Thanks Kristin! The main thing holding the change up in my head is the stupid city police academy guidelines. I don't know why I'm so set on being as accurate as possible when so much of "my" Boston is fictional... or at least I think it is. I've had a couple of really strange occurrences while writing scenes where what I saw in my head was exactly like pictures I eventually found online... (My beta reader thinks I'm channeling someone from that area and telling her story at times, lol!)

I think I'm going to stick with my plan to at least outline the changes for both scenarios. Make my broad changes to the main document and then split it up and outline what I'd need to change to make her 18 in one version. Maybe, once I see the changes all worked out, it'll be easier to decide which fits the story best.

Thanks again girl!

Robyn said...


The age thing is really a non-issue since most YA readers or any reader for that matter want to read about those older than they are.

Just think about MG. They want to read about kids twelve and thirteen not kids that are the same age as they are.

Could it work if the MC was say nineteen or twenty? You will know what to do and don't get hung up on this. Just get those rewrites going. :)

aeryn said...

I am joining this discussion late, and it sounds like your mind is almost made up, but I just wanted to say that I don;t think you should do double work and write both versions. Everything you said about her being 18 explaining things makes a lot of sense! However, it wouldn't make that much of a difference if she was older either. Girls still go through the same issues even at 21... The one thing that worries me most is how the love story would change if she was to be 18... IF you do that, I think you should lower her love interest's age even more to grad student and not PhD... Then again, I am not a writer, I am only looking at this as a reader. I think you should listen to your instinct and do whatever feels right for the story and just go with it, one version! Best of luck!

Willow said...

Robyn: Thanks for the advice. I'm trying to do these rewrites, but it's surprisingly difficult. I have so many different ideas in my head at once and I'm so excited to be this far that I can't focus, lol!

Aeryn: I see what you're saying about one of the love interests in this love triangle... (heck, I should just use names now, it's not like knowing their names would give away the ending...) but, if Evan was teaching at 25, then 2-3 years prior he would probably have still been working on his Ph.D. I can see an 18 year old girl being interested in a 22 year old guy, four years isn't that big of a deal and she had to grow up pretty fast.

(For those who don't know his backstory, Evan is one of those gifted people who finished high school and started college at a very young age. I just love the nerdy love interests and he's so different from love interest #2, Miles the fellow police cadet, that it works nicely.)


I think I've decided that for the moment, since I'm not 100% sure either way, I'm just going to do this set of rewrites as is. If, during the rewrite process, it becomes obvious to me that she "needs" to be younger, then I'll do that. I don't want to make any big decisions like this when I'm not completely sure about them. Once this set of rewrites is done, it wouldn't be that difficult to make her younger if I change my mind... a couple of scenes and mentions of ages here and there...

So, thanks everyone!!!

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