The great, the terrible, and the OMFG-WHY of POVs and Age Genres #IndieMonth2017 #giveaway #BookRecommendations
Perspective. Everyone needs some. And every story is supported by at least one. First or third, limited or omniscient, present tense or past, the perspective an author uses lays the foundation for how a reader will perceive the characters. Equally as important, although nowhere near as straightforward, is the age-focus consideration of a story. Does a book target young teens? College freshmen, or maybe seniors transitioning out into the real world? Some stories, even romances, address themes so mature that no 13-year-old should ever pick them up. So how do we know what we’re in for as readers? The genre classifications of Young Adult, New Adult, and Adult romance light the way.
I know what you’re thinking. “Sue,” you might confide, “we already talked about Genres. Why didn’t you bring up New Adult (NA) and Young Adult (YA) with the other genres?” Because while the genres we talked about earlier this week all centered around a story’s setting and time period, New Adult and Young Adult target specific age ranges of readers—or, more specifically, life experience levels. As does plain ole “Adult” but I think we talk less about that one because it tends to be the go-to standard in romantic fiction; unless I see “NA” or “YA”, I assume the story contains adult themes. Now, don’t get me wrong. “Adult” doesn’t mean “XXX”. But it could. YA will pretty much never contain explicitly erotic themes, and NA tends to be very careful about how it presents high levels of heat. But I digress: NA and YA aren’t about heat levels. They’re about the age and life experiences of the target audience.
Thirty-eight-year-old divorcee heroine finds love again after her kids graduate from college and leave the nest. A little peace and quiet with her new silver fox of a man has never sounded so enticing.
What audience do you think that will most appeal to?
Teenage girls and women still in their early twenties are probably not the prime reader base for this story. This book would target the more mature end of the Adult spectrum. Readers in their late thirties (and older) would be able to at least identify with the heroine’s outlook on life, if not her exact circumstances.
But if the storyline were something like:
Shy, nerdy, high school transfer student hero develops an unexpected magical power and finds himself struggling to control it while trying to sort out confusing feelings for two of his new classmates—the school’s head cheerleader and the drama club’s standout leading man. And our hero thought he was straight as an arrow.
Like the first example, the audience for this one isn’t simple to categorize.
The characters are in high school, so that puts it firmly in “young adult” territory. But the bi-curious nature of the hero may make shelf placement a little challenging for some less-than-progressive book stores, and some may prefer to offer this subject matter to older teens.
“But WAIT!” you might insist. “How is high school classified as ‘young adult’? Doesn’t YA target young teens, like 13-14 year olds?” And you’d be right. The genre of Young Adult, like we saw with the Adult example above, spans an array of ages and experiences. It would be impossible to group them all together and give readers a realistic idea of what’s inside. That’s where niche genres like Teen fiction come in.
“Okay, so then what is “New Adult?” NA covers that impressionable and dangerous time in a person’s life when they’re old enough to be considered an adult—at age nineteen you are eligible to be drafted and you can enlist to fight and die for your country—but haven’t yet experienced self-sufficiency as an adult. There are some very hard and important lessons you learn in your late teens and early twenties that younger readers won’t identify with and older readers don’t want to relive. NA has a reputation for being angsty, dramatic, and immature…for good reason. Have you spent any time around college freshmen? As someone who used to be one…uh, yeah. 😉
I don’t claim to be an expert in the various nuances of Teen and New Adult fiction (because I am neither a teen nor a new adult, and don’t typically read those genres), but even if there are smaller divisions than simply YA and NA, most of them are clearly not written for adult readers. We deal with different types of challenges as we get older, and the stories we connect with reflect our changing personalities and world views. So differentiating romance stories by age-appropriate genre is essential.
Which age-focus genres do you gravitate to? Are you an “adult” reader? Love NA or YA? Leave a comment, and let’s chat!
Get some perspective
Glad we’re all crystal clear on YA and NA. (So not clear, but moving on!)
Point of view (POV) is much easier to identify, and readers are just as opinionated about some of the perspective combos as they are about New Adult. Here’s a quick rundown of the most common perspectives used in romance:
- First person, past tense
- First person, present tense
- Third person, limited, past tense (sometimes classified as “deep perspective”)
POVs are pretty self explanatory, but just to be thorough, let’s look at some examples:
First person, past tense
I didn’t know why I hated this man on sight. I just knew that I did. And I figured the sooner I got this introduction over with, the sooner we could part ways.
First person, present tense
I don’t know why, but I hate this man on sight. I. just. Can’t. Stand. Him. And I figure the sooner I get this introduction over with, the sooner we can part ways.
Third person, past tense (limited)
She didn’t know why, but she hated the man on sight. And she figured the sooner she got this introduction over with, the sooner they could all part ways.
Notice I didn’t mention POVs like second person (you do this, you do that) and third person present tense (She storms away in a huff). Those are rarely (read: practically never) seen in romance. Second person POV is better suited to advertising or role playing games than a fictional story. And third person present tense is just awkward. Present tense casts a more intimate tone than third, so if an author is going down that path, why not just ante up and write in first person?
How perspective maps to genre
Some genres and perspectives go hand in hand. For example, NA and YA practically dance naked in celebration of their love for first person present tense (First-Present). First person past tense is common too, and third person makes itself known, but the intimacy of being right inside someone’s head as they speak to you personally—in real time, as events are occurring—is remarkable. The NA Billionaire sub-genre of Contemporary Romance is also well known for First-Present thanks to the widespread success of books like Fifty Shades (which probably adds to the contempt some readers have for this perspective combo). First-Present POV is risky: when it’s written well, it SOARS, but when it’s bad, it TANKS. Many readers who spurn NA also abhor First-Present POV.
Now first person past tense (First-Past) is much more common in the other genres of romantic fiction. I think this is probably because past tense is a more comfortable storytelling headspace for many readers, and the intimacy of first person ties the audience to the narrator emotionally. I can think of solid First-Past POV romances in just about every romance genre, from Sci-Fi to Paranormal to Romantic Suspense. Urban Fantasy, which often covers some dark and disturbing themes, uses this perspective a lot, and to very good effect. There’s nothing like the excitement of running after the bad guy right alongside your favorite kickass warrior heroine and knowing that because it’s told in past tense, she’s going to live through at least this battle!
Some examples of First-Past perspective that shine: The Night Huntress series by Jeaniene Frost (Urban Fantasy—start with Halfway to the Grave), the Hidden Legacy series by Ilona Andrews (Urban Fantasy—start with Burn For Me), Concourse by Santino Hassell (NA Contemp)
I’m not going to bother talking about Third-Past because it’s so common, but we should touch on what “Limited” means. There’s this thing in writing that editors call “head hopping”. That means the story “hops” from one character’s perspective to another character’s perspective without any warning. As a reader, it’s a jarring experience and can make understanding who is speaking or observing at any given time quite a challenge. To eliminate the potential for head hopping, authors will write in a “limited” perspective, meaning in any given section of a story, everything experienced on page is through one person’s eyes. The reader only knows what that one person knows (but note that the author can and will switch perspective to a different character after a section break). In Third Omniscient, the storytelling voice is essentially the voice of God—it knows everything and tells whatever it wants, whenever it wants. See how that might get confusing? Great for retelling historical events, not so hot for fostering close bonds between a reader and a character. Harry Potter is a classic example of well-written limited third person. Historical romances also tend to be written from third limited.
Why authors choose a perspective
You might wonder why your favorite romance was written from a specific perspective. The answer could be that the author felt most comfortable in the character’s skin that way, or that the story arc required a certain about of mystery or intimacy. Whatever the reason, the perspective a story is told in is a critical element of the story itself, and it governs how readers will perceive and react along the way.
Why readers prefer certain perspectives
There’s a reason all those NA-First-Present haters are so passionately outspoken. Just as there’s a reason other readers flock to it. The same goes for every other perspective and genre categorization. Different people connect and identify with different elements, and there are levels upon levels upon levels of nuance across all the topics we’ve discussed this week. While one reader may adore their perfect combination of genres, tropes, kinks, and perspectives, another reader might be throwing that same book against the wall in frustration or anger. (SO been there and done that!)
So what’s your perspective? Share some faves in your ideal genre/POV combos below! #ShareTheLove
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