Friday, April 29, 2011

Y is for Young Adult

Earlier in the month, we discussed J is for Juvenile, but I think Young Adult (YA) is so huge it deserves it's own post, don't you? Of course, YA is fiction written for young adults, approximately 12-year-olds to 21-year-olds--although definitions do vary. Like juvenile fiction, YA is very difficult to do well. YA readers look for realistic empathetic young adult characters, dramatic plots, and interesting settings.

Historically, there have been a few popular YA series, such as C.S. Lewis' Chronicles of Narnia series (more than 120 million sold). But YA has taken off like a super-sonic rocket in the last few years. Most notably, we have J.K. Rowling's Harry Potter series (more than 400 million sold), Stephenie Meyer's Twilight series (more than 100 million sold), and more recently, Suzanne Collins' Hunger Games trilogy. What can we learn from this? All of these are multi-book series. All have memorable characters, conflict-laden plots, and intriguing settings. I think the biggest take-away is: young adults like to read if given the chance. Some say YA novels have saved the book industry. I say, Hurray!

Let's look a little more closely at the characteristics of YA:

  • unique YA character and voice. Both characters and voice must be memorable and empathetic and seem like young adults. It is crucial that readers identify with/via them.
  • authentic dialogue. The characters need to speak like young adults. This does include slang, jargon, and the latest cultural references and gadgets.
  • simple language. YA readers don't want to trip over a lot of poetry or similes. Tell the story in a clear writing style. And speaking of story...
  • original and dramatic ideas--including dramatic openings and closings.
    Look at the four examples above, they involve an alternate world, magic on earth, vampires on earth, and a dystopian future.
  • often YA involves humor--but not always!
  • Finally, YA protagonists need to solve their own problems without their parents' or other adult's help. Authors need to be careful not to 'talk down' to YA readers, or minimize or devalue them in any way.
Like I said, it's tricky!

As writers, I don't think it works to 'chase the ambulence'. But, of course, if the muse is sending you a YA book, by all means accomodate him/her/it. :)

Good luck!


  1. I've known a lot of people didn't originally write YA, but they took and shot at it an loved it. So the genre itself has some fun stuff going for it, but you're right about it being hard to right. I think for some writers the farther they are from that angsty time in their own lives--unless they remember it well--the harder it is to capture that.

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