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Elizabeth Hawksley: Adèle Geras on ‘Young Love’

July 21, 2010

I was fortunate enough to hear children’s author Adèle Geras speak earlier this month on ‘Young Love – how to write it and who it is for’.

 She began by pointing out that if you aim your love story at teenagers and your main protagonist is, say, fifteen, then your readers will be both young teenagers, roughly the age of your protagonist, and ‘aspiring’ teenagers of about nine plus. And they will be looking for different things.

 The younger readers will be reading for information: what happens, how do you do it, and so on. Think readers’ manual. It’s important that you, the author, don’t assume any prior knowledge on their side. Adèle believes that children know about strong emotion from a very early age: love, hate, fear, jealousy, rage etc. Authors don’t have to pull their punches here; children are quite capable of coping.

 Teenage readers, on the other hand, will be struggling with the emotional turmoil of young love: the agony of those tentative approaches; feelings of inadequacy; what happens when you fancy someone; how to get out of a situation you don’t want; coping with unrequited love and so on. They won’t be worrying about how a third party in a love triangle feels, say, which is a more adult concern.

 She pointed out that teenagers also face problems adults don’t, for example, privacy. So, a writer’s first job is to get rid of any parents. Whether your characters are after an adventure on Dragon’s Island or some sexual experimentation, they certainly don’t want their parents around!

 Adèle prefers not to go into the physical details; what interests her is love and conflict, emotional tangles, obstacles in the way. These can vary: parental disapproval, a Romeo and Juliet situation, the eternal triangle, self-inflicted barriers, etc. She reminded us that teenage readers would probably also be reading adult novels. She sees her job as showing that reality in love is very different from the fantasy world of romance. It is more conflicted and messy, for a start.  

 Finally, she advised us to take the market into account. Publishers like books which could develop into a series, for example. They are also looking for a strong plot and three-dimensional characters. Books can be first or third person but, if first person – and teenagers love the first person – you will have to airbrush the language to remove most of the ‘like’s’ and other teenage stabilisers. Thanks to the J. K. Rowling effect, any length is now acceptable.

 Altogether, it was a most interesting and illuminating talk which stimulated a lot of discussion afterwards.

 Adèle’s website is www.adelegeras.com

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2 Comments leave one →
  1. July 22, 2010 11:39 am

    This sounds like an excellent talk and many thanks for the very good summary. This is exactly what I am dealing with in my current novel and there are some very good pointers to consider here.

  2. childrensauthor permalink
    July 22, 2010 5:12 pm

    That’s just what I thought. I was particularly struck by Adele’s observation that even very young children know all about strong emotions. The moment she said it, I thought: She’s right!

    Elizabeth

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