Before he broke into the YA genre with Flip author Martyn Bedford wrote exclusively for adult readers. Despite his editor’s best warnings against changing his writing trajectory, Bedford followed his inspiration, reading over 100 YA novels to prepare himself for the challenge of writing his first novel for teens. Be sure to check out an excerpt of Flip on Figment.
I have a former editor to thank for my first novel for teenagers – I wrote it because he advised me not to. My first five novels were for adults but I fancied a change and had an idea for a story more suited to a younger audience.
When I mentioned it over a pizza one day, the editor shook his head.
‘You don’t want to write one of those.’
‘Why not?’ I asked.
He didn’t really give a reason, just shook his head again. With the teen market so buoyant, perhaps he thought I was jumping on the bandwagon, or that I wouldn’t be able to write well for that readership. Maybe he foresaw a “re-branding” problem.
Whatever, I came away from that lunch feeling cross. Like any author, I resented being told what to write – or what not to write (he hadn’t even asked what the story was about!) I decided to go ahead with my teen novel and to hell with him, even if he had just paid for my pizza.
To prepare for Flip I read more than a hundred YA novels, to get a feel for the tone of voice, style, characters, stories, settings, themes and subjects that are to be found in modern teenage fiction.
I also read other novelists’ tips on the Dos and Don’ts of writing for teens – have a strong storyline to keep the pages turning, put your young characters at the heart of the action and keep adults at the margins, avoid explicit sex scenes, try not to swear, and so on. These factors apart, the writing process was the same as always: I had a story to tell and characters to make real.
What I didn’t do was dumb down the vocabulary or the ideas – I was determined not to patronize my readers or underestimate their intelligence. I did use the third-person, though, for fear that the first-person might make me sound like a middle-aged writer trying to be down with the kids. I realize plenty of YA novels are written in the first-person but, as a newcomer, I wasn’t brave enough to try it just yet.
The funny thing was that, as I sat at my computer, I never really felt like I was writing “for” a teenage audience. Writers write to please themselves, first of all. So you could say the only teenager I was writing for was the teenager I once was.
Along the way, I received helpful feedback on various drafts of Flip from a handful of teenage readers – a niece, and a neighbour’s son and daughter – and from my wife, who is a high-school librarian. But perhaps the biggest thanks are owed to the editor at that pizza restaurant, whose advice is the best I’ve ever ignored.
Martyn Bedford will also be featured on several literary blog this week. His blog appearance schedule is below:
April 19th – Cracking the Cover
April 20th – Suvudu.com
April 21st – The Children’s Book Review
April 22nd – Random Acts of Reading