Sunday, June 5, 2011

Imagine if You Will

Outrageous! Deplorable! Scandelous! Shame on you; shame on me! I read with great interest the article in the Wall Street Journal regarding young adult books and the content therein.

It seems the author, and a few of the author's sources, are unhappy with the content of the young adult books of today. Their opinion, of which they are duly noted as entitled to, is one of which believes the content of young adult books today are: too graphic, violent, degenerative in nature, smattered with vulgar language, and contain what could be conceived as nothing more than soft-core porn smut.

This conversation is a double-edged sword for any YA author; truly - you are damned if you do and damned if you don't. On one hand if you fill your novel with the aforementioned offending content you are perceived as contributing to the degradation of the world youth; on the other hand if you don't include even a smidgon of the aforementioned offending content you will be selling your wares to primarly family and friends - mostly out of obligatory support of your chosen career path. So what is a YA author to do?

Today's youth - worldwide - are subjected on a daily basis to the aforementioned offending content through video games, television (primetime and daytime), reality TV, movies, youtube videos, and the list goes on and on. A simple truth of the matter is this: with all these venues readily available to our young people, they are slowly losing some of their ability to imagine on their own.

Let's go back to first grade, or even Kindergarten when the average child is first beginning to learn to read. Or, even further back to storytime as infants and toddlers. Pictures are readily available on each page of the storybook to allow the child to identify the world around them in relation to the words on the page. Association.

As the child advances in their ability to understand the world around them - what a rabbit looks like, what color the grass or sky is etc., the child begins to read with fairly good comprehension skills and moves into the chapter books - you know the ones with pictures only on the first page of, or between chapters. The child is able to imagine the world painted in words and becomes personally involved in the story as the child understands it.

At a certain age, it varies with each individual child, the book becomes less and less desireable in favor of the rich color and cinematography of television and movies. In our world of a 24/7 lifestyle, the book becomes less and less desireable in favor of the 'moment of peace' television or movies for the parent or caregiver as well. And here begins the child's first experiences with losing their ability to imagine the world painted in words. He or she cannot fathom the exact shade of the blade of grass without it being defined in a plethora of adjectives culminating in the definition of the shade of sage. This becomes the necessitating factor requiring full movie action book trailers to allow the child to get the general gist of the story beforehand.

By the time the young person reaches the age of twelve, give or take a year or two, they have not only been influenced by the Disney Kids who have gone on to bigger and greater things - like what appears to be pole dancing during concerts that are broadcast worldwide via the internet - they have witnessed many things they will never admit to in front of their grandmother. They have used language they dare not repeat in the sacred and holy houses of worship by threat of eternal damnation. They have visited websites in the solitary seclusion of their bedrooms in hopes Mom or Dad won't come knocking on the door whilst enjoying their secret pleasures. They have commited vile acts of cruelty and violence narily escaping discovery and protected by the tween and teenage code of silence. Despite all of this, our youth are in grave danger of being corrupted by YA authors who have to create detailed imagery in an effort to ensure the young person understands exactly what is happening; for better or worse.

It is my humble opinion, and feel free to correct me if I am wrong, that YA authors do not set out with the intent of having to describe every minute detail of a story -graphic or otherwise - to sell a few books. Many would love the opportunity to let the young person imagine the scene in their own comprehension. But, alas, the author must compete with the visual based world of animated videography. A world that leaves nothing to the imagination. A world where graphic detail is presented by default; the pure nature of seeing a story in two dimensions and sometimes three. A world that can be interactive through gaming software or passive through television, videos, movies, etc.

There are scenes in Sticks and Bones that I wish I could have done differently, but I know in my heart of hearts, it had to be in detail or the story would be lost on the younger reader. The impact of the message in the story would be lost. I knew I had to compete with all the visuals in the world and that meant making it as real as possible to the young reader through the use of their language, their activities, and defining their world as they see it.

I can't speak for other authors. In fact, I won't speak for other authors. But, I know this: Our children are more mature at earlier ages than we were due to the age of information. They know and understand things we never conceived of knowing at the ages they do today. I know that young people will choose movies or videos over books in most circumstances. I know that what I write is no more degregrading than what they already know to be real in the world. Some call it progression in the world; others call it outrageous, deplorable and scandelous. We will never come to a happy medium because we all base our opinions on our core values, cultures, traditions and the beliefs we hold near and dear to our hearts. We can, however, acknowledge our differences of opinion and agree to disagree.