Monday, June 4, 2012

Guest Post: Author Dave Becker on Not Pandering to Young Adults

This week I'm delighted to welcome Dave Becker, author of The Faustian Host, on the subject of pandering to young adults. Dave is an author and artist living in Pennsylvania. He has spent almost twenty years as a husband, father, and youth leader. The Faustian Host, a young adult, paranormal thriller, is his first novel.

And this is an excellent take on an important way to *not* approach our audience. Thanks, Dave!

"Everybody Hates Pandering"

I hate election years. The constant stream of hyperbole, mudslinging, fear-mongering, and polarizing vitriol becomes mind-numbing for me after about a day. But the thing I hate the most is the pandering.

I've worked in marketing for over 20 years, so I understand how to manipulate facts and emotions to generate an artificial feeling about a particular product or idea. It's not the noblest trade, but it's part of life, and I've learned to deal with it. What I can't tolerate is a hypocritical facade that veils a condescending opinion of me as a human being - like I'm not really worth talking to, so I'll just be talked at. Pandering always stems from a deep-seated disdain for the audience, and usually comes off as an offensive caricature. So politicians talk about grits in the South, and trees in the West, as if those silly stereotypes actually define the voters and their concerns.

It's great to be here at the North Pole. The polar bears are just the right size, and I simply adore baby seals. Makes me want to build an igloo, or a magical toy factory.

In the movie As Good as it Gets, Jack Nicholson's character describes his ability to write women so well thusly, "I think of a man, and I take away reason and accountability." I think many young adult writers try to portray kids similarly. "I think of an adult, and I take away self-control and rationality." It's pandering, and the effect is the same as it is for politicians.

Like all art, writing is supposed to connect us spiritually. Language communicates; art enlightens. Certain stories keep being retold because they affect us in ways that mere words and images can't. They penetrate our minds and hearts and speak to us on levels that seem more than real, more than true, more than us. A connection like that can't be achieved without an immense respect - even love - for the audience.

That's why young adult novels like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games appeal to more than just kids. The characters are young, but their characteristics are timeless. A four-year-old can appreciate bravery just as much as an eighty-year-old. A mother of six struggles with doubt just like her children. Adults wrestle with the glories and pains of relationships as much as teenagers do. Everyone, at every age, agonizes over daily decisions and the future.

Writing for young adults isn't a trend, a gimmick, or a marketing decision. Young adult is simply a genre. The same rules apply. Love your readers. Love your characters. Have something worthwhile to say. Tell the best story you possibly can, with the greatest craft you cam muster. Enlighten, entertain, edify, and leave the audience wanting more.

Pandering is the coward's attempt to win affection. Politicians apparently can't get elected without being liked (maybe we should just move elections to Facebook if that's all they want). Writers, on the other hand, aren't striving to be liked. We strive to be true - to ourselves and our readers. The goal of the politician is to have a voter think, "I feel good about this candidate." The goal of the writer should be to have a reader finish the book and think, "I feel good about myself." Because the greatest virtues of humanity - love, courage, truth, sacrifice - are always admirable, regardless of the age of the characters.

On The Faustian Host
Plymouth Rock is bleeding. Day has turned to night. Hundred-pound hailstones level buildings. The small town of Clement seems cursed, and the residents know who's to blame: the new kid, Tony Marino.


mima said...

Great post, Dave; thanks for sharing:)

Cynthia Leitich Smith said...

Bravo! I heartily agree with all of this except the idea that young adult is a genre--encompassing realistic and fantastical fiction, poetry and nonfiction? I much prefer the Flux idea that it's an age-window based point of view.

Janet Fox said...

Thank you, Mima! And Cyn - really great point. One I hadn't parsed out before...