In a (fairly) recent Time Out New York interview, Geraldine Brooks talks about rekindling her own joy in story through reading to her young son: “I love children’s literature because there is so much more plot, and when I looked at my older work, I saw the stories were beautifully crafted — but there was no story.”
Are we freer, then, when we write for younger readers, freed by expectation (as one is by genre, say) to revel in sheer story? Is kidlit/YA our key out of the hermetic, grown-up, wearily pointillist universe of “existential problems you could sort of identify with” (as Ann Hodgman called it out in a recent review of a Max Apple collection), where the reading of a novel does not transport so much as identify: Yup, there’s your problem right there?
From my own experience, I know that writing YA has made me a better writer across the board. I always felt the YA reader was much more demanding than your average adult — not that I hadn’t tried my best with all my books, since back in the day — I had, and I continue to try — but that the bar was now higher and the course was faster, calling from me a more concentrated and pointed response. Which in turn made my new (not YA) novel swifter, juicier, and such tremendous fun to write that I could not wait, literally, to get up in the morning, so I could settle down at my desk and get to work.
But is “what happens next” the only goal? No: because what happens next happens to characters, to the ones we care about. In the world of Story plot is the map, and the human heart, as always, is the traveler and the terrain.