Defining and Exploring Young Adult Fiction

Defining and Exploring Young Adult Fiction
January 31, 2017 No Comments » For Authors, Writing Advice J.K. Allen

Today we’re going to talk about Young Adult as a category. Now Young Adult has been around since the 50s, but skyrocketed back onto the scene with Harry Potter and has proved to be a major player in the publishing world. But some people are confused by what it actually means and how to write it. So let’s explore it now.

Young Adult (YA) ’s a classification for the age of the protagonist of the story and its intended audience. A YA protagonist is generally 13 to 17 years old and the intended age of the reader is about that as well, although many ages read YA. So YA can be anything from a fantasy to a thriller to a mystery to a historical romance. It ranges any and all genres. It also focuses on issues people of that age group face; growing up and the responsibilities that come with that and experiencing things for the first time. Most YA books range from 50,000 to 70,000 words, making them pretty quick reads. But this means they need to be concise and have to have strong pacing. It is not easier to write YA than it is to write adult fiction. They both have different difficulties and issues.

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Another tip for YA writing is to avoid slang. Teenagers have always used slang, but it doesn’t have a good shelf life in pop culture. Language changes fast and that slang you used can sound ridiculous and outdated in just a few short years. Also, don’t dumb down your characters because they’re young. Young people aren’t dumb, just inexperienced. This will color their decisions and they can make some big mistakes, but it has nothing to do with their inherent intelligence. Don’t insult your reader.

Another big issue dealt with in YA is sex and sexual relationships. Don’t shy away from sex, but keep in mind you’re not writing erotica. Sex is a part of reality and can be a big issue for teens, but do the subject justice. Focus on the feelings behind the sex and less about the sex itself. We don’t want to write sex scenes that are too mature for our readers. It’s more about the experience and the bonds it creates than the act itself or physical gratification. And don’t forget to include the nerves and awkwardness we all felt in our first forays into the bedroom. In fact, YA is about emotions. The emotions we all felt for the first time in all their grandeur or horror or whatever our reaction may have been. Be sure to be emotive about what your characters experience.

Themes for YA include the journey to find oneself or one’s path in life, the identity one creates for oneself, loss, exploring relationships (whether they are friendships, familial, or romantic), finding first love, and making difficult decisions. All of these deal with coming of age and all that entails.

What do you find true when writing YA? What do you think differentiates it from other classifications? Share below and happy writing.


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J.K. Allen Julia Allen received her BA in Creative Writing and English from Michigan State University. She did her senior thesis in poetry under the tutelage of Diane Wakoski, but has been focused primarily on fiction as of late. Common writing themes that can be found in her work address identity and the type of strength that can be found in ordinary people. Julia is currently working on a Young Adult fantasy novel and can be found at local cafes in her hometown when writing, and painting, drawing, or reading when not.

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