Wednesday, October 17, 2012

Does Writing YA or MG Handicap Your Diction?

This is an interesting subject my sister recently brought up to me: does writing young adult or middle grade books handicap your diction? Novels for young readers are much simpler, of course (compare Game of Thrones to Twilight, for example), but does writing for a younger audience hinder your diction, and if so, how much?

Microsoft Word Clipart
Here are some thoughts from said sister:

"When you're writing from the perspective of an average, modern American teenager, chances are pretty good that 'fancy vocabulary' (which used to be known as plain English to anyone with a semi-decent education) will be a turnoff to readers. [...] *sigh* So many perfectly beautiful, poignant words in the English language, but younger readers understandably get annoyed if they have to consult the dictionary every other paragraph.

"...Should writers 'dumb down' their vocabulary in order to appeal to our texting, English-challenged next generation? Or are we (read 'I') as writers just not being creative enough in appealing to them?"

I believe there are limits to how you can or can't express yourself in YA, especially depending on the viewpoint of your main character. But compare Twilight to Harry Potter. Rowling's diction is certainly a head and shoulders above Meyers's. There's a wide pool to swim in, with YA. I've never written middle grade and I've only read a couple of books, so I can't make much of an opinion there.

What do you think? What perimeters do you set for yourself when writing for a younger audience? Do you feel restricted? I'd especially like the opinions of those who have also dabbled in adult fiction as well.


  1. I've dabbled in a bit of adult, YA and MG fiction. I don't really feel it's a matter of "dumbing down" to appeal to younger readers. At least I don't recall doing any "dumbing down" when I wrote Neverlove. Although it is an upper YA novel. The MG story I'm working on is a bit different. I wonder if it is just simply a matter of vocabularies simply expanding as we get older and applying this to our writing in terms to the audience we're writing for.

  2. You do need to tailor your writing to the age group, but I don't think "dumb it down" is the right way to do it. If we dumb it down to an easy read they will never be challenged and never grow. If I take out a word, just because most teenagers won't know it, they'll never learn it. We shouldn't make it so hard they stop reading, and it does need to be realistic, but I think we also need to give our readers the benefit of the doubt and not undervalue them.

  3. It all depends on what your voice is! It will vary from book to book and age group to age group, but it still has to be you. Compare one of Stephen King's adult novels to Laura Amy Schlitz's recent middle grade, Splendor and Glooms, and you can easily see that the MG book makes far better use of the intricacies of the English language. It fits her story and setting--just as King's language fits his. And that should be the goal with any story!
    Thanks for bringing up an interesting topic! :)

  4. I wouldn't have learned most of the words I know if YA authors had "dumbed down" their language. I don't think you should be dropping huge words every sentence or anything (because to learn a new word a reader--young adult or adult--has to have some sort of context in which to understand it), but I think if you're writing along and end up saying, "I can't use that word because teenagers are too stupid," you're going about it the wrong way. That strategy also means that, as Faith mentioned, you're not being true to your voice, with is a pretty surefire way to hamstring yourself as a writer.

  5. I definitely agree with all the comments about dumbing down stories for kids. If I'm not putting in juicy words, I'm not doing my job. But if a word is placed right, you can usually tell the meaning from the rest of the context.

    Besides, when I was growing up, a book with higher jargon just meant I was reading an 'adult' book. No kid wants to be talked down to.

  6. I love the clip art. And the comments about putting words in context are very helpful. I'm accustomed to writing in the more adult genre, and I don't want to alienate my readers, either by using too uncommon or advanced diction or by making them feel stupid. I think I've struck a decent balance with my current WIP, but I'll let the alphas be the judge of that.

    Lol, when I started reading Harry Potter as a kid, I had to consult a dictionary quite frequently just to figure out the British jargon!

    On an unrelated note, sad stats in the news today: only 3 out of 10 Tweens and Teens read books outside of school requirements. Some claim they're just too busy now, but others say it just doesn't seem "cool" to be seen reading, unless it's an ebook on a tablet or something. We're going to need some good MGs and YAs to get these kids reading again!

    And say what you will about Twilight (or Hunger Games or Eragon, etc.), at least they're getting our youth to actually pick up books. So they can't all be a waste of ink and publishers' dollars (quite the contrary, in all the aforementioned cases).

  7. Interesting post!

    I write adult (NA), so I can't really comment, but I can relate. We have to stay true to our characters. Maybe what you need is a nerdy, brainy-but-loveable character whose quirk is using advanced vocabulary. ;)

    Thanks for visiting my blog. Sorry to be so late making the rounds. I was on a mini writing vacation for a couple of days. :)

  8. I write adult fiction, but I read both adult and YA. For me, it's more about staying true to the characters and tone of the book.