1. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    Revealing mysteries in young adult fiction

    Discussion in 'General Writing' started by stubeard, Jul 16, 2010.

    Hi everyone. Just to let you know this is my first post, and just a feeler for general feelings.

    I'm currently doing a story treatment for a young adult adventure novel with pirates and mysterious objects.

    I guess my main question is: what are people's thoughts on the need for a long-running secret in the story, i.e. something that will make the reader read 'til the end to find out what it is? Is it vital? Are good characters and the promise of action enough?

    I've just read a book in which the lead character has a mysterious stone. You know it's mysterious, but you don't find out exactly why until the end. That is the kind of thing I mean. (If there's a generic term for this then I'd love to know what it is.)

    I could reveal what are the mysterious secrets towards the beginning, like Gandalf explaining the One Ring to Frodo, but will that detract from the mystery? I use LotR as an example as my story does not have a general, end-of-the-world-style peril. There is danger and peril, and a quest to be fulfilled, but it's not the whole world that is at stake.

    In my experience, young adult adventure fiction is not the place to rely entirely on the characters to attract and encourage readers, so I am keen to keep some secrets to reward the readers.

    If anyone else has experienced a similar dilemma, or if you have an opinion as a reader, I'd love to hear any thoughts you may have.
     
  2. Mallory
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    Mallory Mallegory. Contributor

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    I think that whether or not you need a big secret depends on what type of action/plot the story has. What is your story about?

    If you do decide to have a mystery, don't make it "easier" or give too many hints just because it's for young adults. Young people/teens and even younger kids aren't stupid and in my opinion they'd be just as able to solve a mystery.
    Pirates of the Carribean had quite a few mysteries going on. I mention this because you say your story is about pirates. Do you have something in mind as to what your mystery would be?
     
  3. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    Never talk down to your readers. Yes, there are allowances you have to make for age when you write, but young adult readers can handle quite a lot of complexity and subtlety in the story, especially if the issures are ones they have the life experiences to relate to.
     
  4. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    My book is for a similar age group, I have kept the identity of the real murderer secret until just before the end of the novel, with just a couple of passing hints within the rest of the story

    I have had three fifteen year olds read it and one of the boys compared it to Lord of the Rings and another to Eragon.. Even though it is a very rough draft they read they had no bother in following it.
     
  5. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    Basically the plot is that pirates raid a village on the west coast of Ireland, kill most of the villagers and take a holy relic from the Church. A few survive and hunt down the pirates for revenge. However, only one person in the village knows there is even a relic at all, so only he is on the hunt to recover it. He doesn't want to reveal the details, although I'm struggling to think of reasons why he doesn't want to - that is just me wanting to keep the secret.

    The main character is a 16 year old boy who stows away on the ship they set out in, and he doesn't know about the relic either. It's a coming of age tale, and the key is the relationship between him and the one who does know, and also how the young lad copes at sea and what he finds out about the relic. This is the reason I want to keep the nature of the relic a secret - it will be something to be discovered, but I have since thought that the nature of the relic doesn't matter - its normally a case that you know what the object is (a sword, a stone, a scroll, a map), but not what it does or where it leads. In this case you know what it does (it gives power to the pirates) but not what it is, which ends up being irrelevant. I'm thinking it would be better to reveal what the relic is, and then make the story more of a hunting book. I'm also thinking I am going to concentrate on the past life of one of the main characters. He has a shady past, but you won't discover just how shady until the end.

    In reference to talking down to younger readers - that was never my intention. I remember reading adult-orientated historical fiction (Bernard Cornwell) when I was 15 and enjoying them immensely. The point I was making, and indeed the question I was asking, was whether or not young adult adventure books can be character-orientated? I keep coming up with interesting character scenarios and relationships, and have always been good at coming up with good action scenes which also show these relationships, but coming up with mysterious and secret storylines has always been more of a challenge. Yet I would be interested in reading a story with no real secrets but just with good characters. Do you think other young adults would be as interested?
     
  6. Elgaisma
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    Elgaisma Contributing Member Contributor

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    Thinking about my favourite books yes, I loved Little Women, Narnia, Little Princess (although that had a secret) etc even Harry Potter or Dark Materials its the characters that turn me off or on to a story
     
  7. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    It depends on the book. Both can work. Enid Blython would keep an element of suspense in books like Famous Five and Secret Seven which are really aimed at 7-11 year olds. The reader will understand. It can be good to reserve an element of surprise until the end.

    Equally it works well to let the reader in on the secret and have the characters working it on in a very entertaining fashion. I have read books where you know from page 1 who did it but the way the antagonist covers his tracks, fights the confused protagonist etc means it works equally well.
     
  8. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    A story concept means nothing. I can tell you now, it has all been done before. What matters is how you write it, the characterization, the flow, the imagery, all of it.

    There's no benefit in asking what other people think of the concept! They'll either say,"Sounds great," or, "it sounds like a ripoff of..."

    If the idea stirs you, write it. Then ask people what they think of the final story. After they tell you what they don't like about it, revise it, usually several times, until you're happy with it or until you throw up your hands and say the hell with it.

    Please read this thread about What is Plot Creation and Development?

    Know your audience, and write characters who will appeal to them, and scenes they can identify with. Write crisply, and use description that speaks to your readers.
     
  9. Donal
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    Donal Contributing Member

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    Cognito,

    He isnt asking a "is this a good storyline". He is asking whether it is a necessary storytelling technique to reserve surprise until the end of the novel.

    EDIT: Apologies I see now what you are referring to.
     
  10. Cogito
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    Cogito Former Mod, Retired Supporter Contributor

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    I answered that question earlier. My point was that describing the storyline will not answer the question any better.

    The relic is what is called a MacGuffin, an object which is central to the plot but the exact characteristics are not really key to the story. A perfect example is the Maltese Falcon. What matters is not the explanation of why the MacGuffin is important, just the fact that it is. So any explanations are only there to help inflate the importance of the object, and the explanation, if any, can appear anywhere that serves the story.
     
  11. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    Cogito - agreed. However, Mallory asked me for the story so I wrote it. Apologies for not referring to Mallory directly.
     
  12. TerraIncognita
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    TerraIncognita Aggressively Nice Person Contributor

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    Good character development is always important. Giving the characters depth is what helps the reader to bond to them and find them interesting. So yes it's important regardless of target audience.

    As for when you reveal what the relic is it depends on what the goal of the book is. I'm sure either way can work. Even if they don't know why it's important they still know it is and that they must find it and recover it. If they know why then it's still the same. It doesn't really affect the need to find it as far as I can see.

    If you like the idea the go with it and don't wait for others to affirm you or give you permission. Have faith in yourself. :)
     
  13. stubeard
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    stubeard Active Member

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    (Why do I always think of a better way to write my question a bit later?)

    Do young adult adventure novels need a "pay off" - something that will keep them reading, a mystery that will only be revealed at the end - or is it equally attractive to write character-centred or action-centred works (rather than mystery-centred)? What do people think?

    Thinking about it, in some of my favourite stories, one isn't reading it to get the pay off. One doesn't spend all of A New Hope and 3/4 of Empire Strikes Back waiting to hear who is Luke's father, and there's no other real mystery in the Star Wars trilogy. Neither does one stop reading Lord of the Rings after the Council of Elrond, when all the secrets are revealed about the Ring. "How do they do it?" can be as exciting as "Why do they have to do it?". Even something like The Lion King - one isn't watching it to find out who Simba is - one knows from the start that he's the King - one watches it to see how he re-takes the throne.

    I think I've kinda answered my own question here, but I would still like to hear what anyone else thinks. Ooo here's a question - would putting in some pretty predicatable "mystery" (like the respectable member of society with the shady past) actually detract from the story by seeming preditable? Wouldn't it be more of a surprise if the upstanding guy actually was upstanding?
     

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