Ask Daphne! About Older Characters

April 20th, 2010 • Kate

vintage-shoes-thumb-420x315-95715Vintage shoes today for Leslie, who asks:

I have a new book idea, and before I outline, I’d like your thoughts. The MC is 16, but there is an older adult that factors heavily in the premise. If I have a couple chapters where it’s the older woman’s POV, is the book still considered YA, or is it an adult book with just a young character? Or, is this just a type of book that most authors should steer clear of?

How much is a “couple of chapters”? You can make an argument that any serious shift away from your MC’s teen perspective may drag your book out of YA, but in truth, the term is about much more than just character’s age.

That said, without looking at it to make a true determination, I would caution you against spending too much time in your older character’s head. Can you provide the same information she provides with her POV by switching things around, and having her talk with your MC? Or have the MC hear about things in some other way?

YA can include older characters, certainly, but the thing to be aware of — and try to steer clear of — is letting the adult characters be the ones who come through in the end with the answers or the solution or in some other way “rescue” the teen. If you can avoid that, and keep the story firmly as your teen MC’s, then including an older character can add a nice bit of perspective. I can’t help but think of the Harry Potter books, where the adult wizards often provide some vital piece of information to Harry that helps him figure things out for himself, but they usually don’t “rescue” him. That said, the books do stay firmly with Harry, and don’t jump into Dumbledore’s head, for instance.

Anyone feel strongly otherwise? Or have other examples to cite that do or don’t work for you?

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5 Responses to “Ask Daphne! About Older Characters”

  1. Lisa Gibson Says:

    Interesting post. I think Kate is right in the fact that you have to try to stay in the teens pov as much as possible (or child's if writing MG). That's why I'm going to re-do much of my MG book and change out the concept to stick with my main character and make sure the adults are minor players.

  2. Sara Says:

    Great question, and great response! This is something I've been thinking a lot about lately.

    To me, the crux of the matter, as parsed out in the response, is HOW an older character plays into the story. Whatever satellite characters populate a plot, the MC needs to be the proactive agent; I would argue that this is something to consider in writing for ANY age/genre, but a particular pitfall that YA and MG writers have to watch for.

  3. Estee Wood Says:

    There was recently a thread about this on kidlit (dot) com that came to the same conclusion–avoid adult POVs whenever possible. I wonder if there could be an exception when it's the villain's head the story pops into. Like in Harry, there are a few chapters in Voldemort's POV. Villain's motivations can be so interesting, and sometimes it adds to the suspense to know what he (or she) is up to.

  4. Rissa Watkins Says:

    Aside from most of the spot on advice here, I would add that age isn't the only deciding factor for YA.

    The pace of the story, the overall feel of the book, must be YA too. Like the lovely bones is written in the young protagonists POV, but it isn't YA.

    Listen to your story. If it needs to have a few chapters in the older woman's head then maybe it isn't a YA story at all.

  5. Carl Says:

    I think it's a bad idea to have an adult POV for all the reasons already stated, but the fact that the adult POV would only get a couple of chapters is problematic, too. To have almost an entire novel written in one POV only to have twoor so chapters written in another presents its own challenges and suggests that the adult POV could and probably should be eliminated.