Dark streets. Shadowy figures. Tough talk. A dead body.
Have we just walked into a 1930s Humphrey Bogart film noir movie?
No, we’re stepping into one of the hot new contemporary subgenres: YA neo-noir.
Noir writing made a big comeback a few years ago, but the legendary Dashiell Hammett’s stomping ground was brought forward by 21st century writers into today’s neo-noir books. The main difference between classic noir and neo-noir is that neo-noir is set in contemporary times.
Now, you might be scratching your head and thinking that “YA noir” of any type is an oxymoron. After all, isn’t noir centered around vice? And aren’t vices supposed to be kept out of the tender hands of young readers?
The original rules that vices like smoking, foul language and such need to be minimized or edited out of YA writing has been replaced by a “keeping it real” attitude. Because guardians and authority figures like teachers, librarians and parents were traditionally the ones making decisions on what books would be purchased for preteens and teens, authors were told to keep it clean. Or at least keep vices minimal or merely hinted at.
While it might not be a great idea to have teen characters choking down smoke after smoke like Bogart or tossing back a string of shots, contemporary characters can be more realistic to today’s teen or young adult behaviors. The key is to not make it gratuitous; don’t force vices on your characters, just do what makes sense for them, their age and their situations.
YA neo-noir can touch on other genres too, it doesn’t have to be a standard detective-victim-femme fatale mystery type of story (though you certainly can do that too). You can delve into noir fantasy, horror, sci-fi and whatever other subgenres work well with it.
So with the restrictions on YA looser, new subgenres are born and writers can flex their artistic muscle even further. If you’re writing a YA neo-noir short story or book, we’d love to hear how you’re handling the darker side of things!