I mentioned yesterday that I don't yet know the age of my next protagonist. It seems peculiar even to me. I mean, how can I plot a novel without knowing how old my main character is going to be? The thing is, I thought she was going to be in her midtwenties. I planned the novel that way. It works. The journey works with her young but with some life experience under her belt. The only thing is that it works so much better if my character is younger. Like sixteen or seventeen.
Most writers wouldn't hesitated at the thought of writing a YA novel, because that's exactly what this would have to become if my character suddenly loses a decade. Sixteen-year-old protagonists don't exist in standard adult fiction.
So why am I hesitating? A bit of principle: I've had a hesitation—okay, an undeserved adversity—to even reading YA novels. I'm not a young adult. I went through that phase and read my share of YA novels during that time. In the last four years, I can count on one hand the number of YA novels I've condescended to read: Glass Houses by Rachel Caine, The Hero and the Crown by Robin McKinley, and White Cat by Holly Black. Caine's novel bored me, McKinley's was a reread of a novel I knew I loved in the seventh grade, and Black's novel wowed me. If I'm not reading the material, do I want to write it? On top of that, I just demonstrated that I don't know the market. The first rule any editor or agent will tell aspiring writers is to read, a lot, in their genre.
The market in general is another reason for my reluctance to make my novel a YA novel. YA has taken off in the last ten years. Specifically, YA fantasy has exploded. I've watched this from the sidelines, unsurprised. You merely have to look around our society, or your local TV programming, to see that teens run the show, especially teen girls. They make or break a thousand different markets. Why is Justin Bieber so popular? (Hint: it's not that ridiculous haircut.) Why do any boy bands survive? Because teen girls lusting after them. Why did American Idol last as long as it did in the prime slot? Look at all the similar spinoff shows: So You Think You Can Dance, America's Got Talent, etc. Teens eat these shows up. Other people watch them, yes, but teens drive the audience. I don't think I even need to mention Twilight, either. It's not a novel written for the thirtysomething audience (though it found a market there).
The YA market is hot, but is it at the end of its popularity streak? Would I be latching on to the end of a dwindling fad? Vampires were hot, but Twilight just about put the nail in that coffin. I could name at least five top-selling vampire series out there, but I guarantee you I'd not bother writing one right now. Agents don't want them. Editors aren't buying them. The public is drifting toward different markets. Is the same true for YA novels? Is that bubble about to burst?
There's also the fact that I'm not a teen any longer. I'm not very in touch with what makes a teen tick. Yet, here's the kicker: my main character is going to be dealing with some very traditional teen themes. Yes, they'd work on an adult audience, because we all need to learn who and how to trust and we all want some place to belong, but these themes resonate more with teens, who are facing their own struggles of finding where they fit in the world and who they can trust.
As much on the fence as I am, I'm still leaning toward writing this as a YA novel. It's what speaks to the story, or it's what the story speaks to me, and I know enough by this point to listen.