Writing YA & NA

When I started writing my first novel,  I wrote from the point of view of the two teen protagonists because that was the story. The characters and world expanded and took a life of its own. I knew I was writing fantasy but that was about it. Then life intervened (study, new career, children) and my first novel languished in storage.

Last year I began studying the art and craft of writing again. I dusted off my old manuscript and my notes for sequels and prequels. My passion reignited. Once again I am writing late into the night, in stolen moments, whenever I can.

One thing I’ve learnt is that the age of your hero and/or heroine determines your audience. Without knowing it I had been writing Young Adult (YA) fiction.

My books are about young people dealing with life, solving problems, growing and maturing. The stories are fast paced with action, dialogue and emotional engagement. Like a lot of YA, they crossover between genres – fantasy with elements of mystery, suspense and romance.

I also discovered that unlike my novels, much YA has a compressed timeline, sticks to a familiar setting and has minimal subplots. Books like Harry Potter, Hunger Games and Twilight are set over the course of a year or less and the characters are still teens by the end of the series. My characters start out as teens but are in their early twenties for much of their story arcs.

That’s why I was delighted to stumble upon a new category aimed at readers in their late teens, early twenties – New Adult (NA) Fiction.

So my books straddle the YA/NA divide. I think they will appeal to older teens and twenty-somethings – and older readers who love YA fiction – who want fast paced character driven fiction on a wider stage.

Of course, you will be the ultimate judge.

Jeanette O’Hagan

4 November 2013


So what do you think?

Do you only read books with a protagonist your own age or a couple of years older than you?

Do you think YA should always be restricted to a short time period, simple plots and short word counts?

What is Young Adult?

Young Adult category encompasses literature written for teens (often stated as 12-18), generally with teen protagonists and dealing with teen issues and themes (coming of age, identity, relationships etc) and/or read by teens. It became popularised as a category from about 1948 onwards and is often defined in a variety of ways.

Some characteristics of Young Adult:

  • The protagonists or main characters are teens – generally 16 or older (as young readers often like to read about characters 2-4 years older than they are). At the start, Eragon (Eragon) is 15, Katniss (Hunger Games) 16 and Bella (Twilight Saga) is 17. Harry Potter is 12 but J K Rowling’s series begins with middle grade books (8-12) and ends with older YA.
  • Generally face paced with conflict, action and dialogue. YA often employs first person perspective or at least deep third person. It may use present tense (e.g. Hunger Games) rather than the more usual past tense.
  • It is often set in school or teen hang-outs, each books covers a shortish time period (usually not more than a year), is less descriptive, relatively short (50 to 70 thousand words), a limited number of characters and less likely to have subplots. This contrasts with a previous classics – such as Montgomery’s Anne of Green Gables, Dickens’ Great Expectations or LeGuin’s Earthsea trilogy.
  • It deals with teen concerns and themes like growing up, identity, becoming your own person, friendships, bullying, firsts (first date, first kiss, first job etc) and difficulties teens face (including abuse, discrimination, drugs, alcohol, sex).
  • The teen characters solve their own problems. Adults may be absent or may be present as helpers but take a secondary role.
  • It can include many different genres (adventure, fantasy, sci-fi, detective, historical, contemporary) and often crossover genre lines. It can be innovative and edgy.
  • As much as half of the readers of YA are older than 18. In short, adults enjoy YA too.

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What is  New Adult?

The term New Adult was coined in 2008 but has really only taken off in the last year or so (from 2012) onwards. It is aimed at college-age young adults who are in the transition between adolescence and the roles and responsibilities of older adults.

Some characteristics of New Adult:

  • Protagonists generally are 18-25
  • NA keeps the pacey emotional tone of YA but focuses on issues and life events relevant to college-aged readers. What makes it different from YA and from more general adult fiction is the focus on coming of age themes – first serious relationship, living away from home, first “real” job, maybe getting married and having kids.
  • It is likely to include a heavier emphasis on romance and may include erotica, strong violence and darker themes than YA though this need not be so.
  • While much of New Adult is contemporary romance, it can and does include other genres like fantasy and sci-fi.

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Like to do more reading? Check out:

Heather Dunlevy-Scheerer, H., (Sep 11, 2009) What Are the Defining Characteristics of Young Adult Literature? In Yahoo Voices, http://voices.yahoo.com/what-defining-characteristics-young-adult-4226787.html?cat=38  [Rather wordy but a reasonably good coverage of Young Adult literature]

O’Hagan, J., (Friday, 18 October 2013) So What is New Adult Fiction and Why Should We Care? In Australasian Christian Writers, http://australasianchristianwriters.blogspot.com.au/2013/10/so-what-is-new-adult-fiction-and-why.html  [Gives my recent overview of New Adult fiction]

Strickland, A., (October 16, 2013) A brief history of young adult literature in CNN, http://edition.cnn.com/2013/10/15/living/young-adult-fiction-evolution/  [A potted history of the development of Young Adult Literature]

Wendig, C., (? October 2013) 25 Things You Should Know About Young Adult Fiction in Terrible Minds,  http://terribleminds.com/ramble/2013/06/04/25-things-you-should-know-about-young-adult-fiction/  [Funny overview of YA fiction, use of colourful language]