As we follow “The Journey of Book” this year on my blog, we’ll examine some genres as well as discuss tips on developing plot, settings, and characters. Studying young adult or YA fiction was a natural choice because that’s what I usually write. With a mystery twist. If you want to write YA fiction, keep reading and follow my blog this month for more posts and prompts about this genre.
Before you delve into your story for teens, you need to consider the following and decide if this is the correct genre for your story.
What’s the Age of Your Main Character?
I was reminded on Wikipedia that the age range for the YA genre is twelve to eighteen, although some adults like to read YA. And kids tend to read up. By that I mean, younger kids want to read about older kids and not usually vice versa. If you’re main character is twelve, then your story will appeal to kids eight to ten-years-old and you have a middle grade novel, not a YA one. My mystery, A Shadow on the Snow, has a nineteen-year-old amateur detective, a good age to interest high school readers.
Be aware that there’s a big difference in character development and plot possibilities if your main character is eighteen or nineteen, legally an adult. I’ve made that fact a part of my plotting; the newly-found father of my teen detective Rae isn’t sure what his role is as a parent of an adult because his next oldest child is thirteen.
Is Your Main Character Dealing with Something that Concerns Teens?
This is a topic adult writers fear and spend a considerable time wrestling with. After all, life is so different for teens now, especially those who were teens during the pandemic. Or is it?
One way to discover a relevant problems for your teen main character to deal with is to take a trip back to your teen years. What were your interests back then? What were your fears? What were your joys? Your goals?
I’ve read advice about talking to teens now and asking them those questions, but I only do that if I’m checking on manners and slang. Because I find writing from my own experiences as a teen to be much more authentic than borrowing those thoughts and emotions from someone else.
For example, I fell in love with old movies and classic mysteries in my teen years, which instilled an interest and delight in them I still hold. At seventeen, I discovered the humorous short stories of Damon Runyon. I’d never read stories in which the author wrote in dialect. I thought I’d uncovered a tremendous literary secret.
I can apply that passion to any number of hobbies or pursuits a teen might like, but the way I make it come to life is to remember my emotions about my own hobbies or pursuits as a teen.
What is Your Motivation for Writing YA?
If you want to write YA fiction because you think current YA fiction is too graphic or immoral or boring or unimaginative, and your story will shake up the genre, be very, very careful.
None of those reasons are bad in themselves. But if you start with an agenda, instead of a story, then your story will most likely suffer and be of little interest to readers. That doesn’t mean you can’t explore themes in your stories. But the theme should serve the story, not the other way around, or readers will feel like they are being lectured by the author instead of hearing from the characters.
For more on agenda vs. theme, click here for an excellent article on The Write Conversation. For another view on the author’s view ruining a story, click here.
If you want to write YA fiction, I’d love to read your reasons!
My books on writing from 20 and 30 years ago list YA as a category, not a genre. Since I haven’t bought any new books on writing, I’m curious if that rule has changed. I’m in the middle of (slowly) publishing YA fiction, which has been a favorite since my teenage years. Not sure why I’m drawn to it. Maybe it’s the time of discovery in life … those coming of age moments.
Your comment on genre vs. category led me to do some research because I realized I was throwing the word genre around perhaps too loosely. Websters defines genre for books as a “literary composition characterized by a particular style, form, or content.” Content is what really sets YA apart from adult or middle grade fiction, so I think it qualifies as a genre. It can also have style differences, such as more stories written in present tense and from first person. Thanks for your comment! It got me to thinking.
I also had to research this one. I found places that listed YA as category only, as Amazon does with my books. To them, I’m a Fantasy (genre) YA (category) writer. Others, like Smashwords, for example, list Fantasy YA as a category AND a genre. I found other places that don’t use categories at all. For example, if I wrote Christian Fantasy YA books, they would be listed under three genres: Christian, Fantasy, and YA. However, my local librarian insists that only Fantasy is a genre; the other two are categories. She referred me to something called BASAC (I hope I have this right), which sets the rules of genres and categories within the publishing industry. It was all quite interesting.
Looking forward to this month’s articles on YA! Thanks for this strong start!