Hi, I'm Dina Sleiman, and unless you’ve been hiding under a rock somewhere, I’m sure you’ve heard that YA fiction is all the rage. Books like The Hunger Games, Divergent, The Fault in Our Stars, and Twilight have not only taken the world by storm, but have also been made into blockbuster movies. Even the Christian market has been opening to YA fiction. But what exactly does “Young Adult” fiction mean, and how does it differ from regular adult fiction? That’s precisely what I had to figure out when I started working on my new Valiant Hearts Series from Bethany House a few years ago. Here’s a little of what I learned to help introduce you to the world of YA fiction.
Know Your Age Range - The age range for these so-called “Young Adult” books is typically about 12-18, although these days many of the books are crossing over and having success with adults as well. Younger than that (aimed at 10-13) is called “Middle Grade,” and a new, slightly older category (aimed at 18-25) called “New Adult” has recently emerged. So be sure to know which group you are writing for, and keep in mind that kids love to read about characters a few years ahead of them in life. So the typical age range for main characters in YA books is around 15-19.
Don’t Talk Down – There is no need to dumb down your thought processes or language choices when writing for teens. Considering that a newspaper is written at a fifth grade level, teens should be well able to handle whatever you toss at them. The last thing they want is for you to treat them like children. In fact, because teens are used to reading challenging literature in school, they are actually much more willing to tackle tough subjects and vocabulary than their adult counterparts. While adults are often looking for fluffy entertainment, teens love to learn and grow through fictional experiences.
Through a Teen’s Eyes - The primary difference between adult and teen fiction is in the perspective. Remember, your main characters should be teenagers, and teens don’t see things the way adults see them. They are questioning the status quo, figuring themselves out, and trying to find their place in the world. They have the intelligence of an adult, but not quite the wisdom or maturity. When writing teen fiction, you must take yourself back to those days, or attempt to view the world through the eyes of your daughter, granddaughter, niece, teenage neighbor, etc... Also, be sure to understand the teen culture of your chosen time period. If you try to tackle a contemporary young adult novel, you will face the extra challenge of grasping the lingo, the styles, and the popular trends without seeming “lame.”
Keep the Pace Fast – While books like The Hunger Games and The Fault in Our Stars clearly demonstrate that teens are willing to read about tough issues, politics, and even philosophy, the pace should be fast and punchy. The descriptions are quick and tightly woven into the other elements of the scene. The conversations are fast paced and often witty. The books are full of action and excitement, twists and turns. I sometimes joke that teen novels are just like adult novels—only more exciting!
Get Real and Raw – As I mentioned, teens are interested in learning about the world through fiction. But not some fake, fluffy, sugar-coated world!!! Not something oversimplified or didactic. They can get all of that in children’s literature. No, they want to understand the real world in all its raw, gritty glory. Often, they will experience issues (and learn how to think and feel about them) in fiction long before they will in real life. They want you to tell them the truth, guide them, but ultimately let them make their own judgments.
Tools to Face the World – Teens want to be ready to face the world of adults. Top teen fiction issues include identity, sexuality, drug and alcohol abuse, poverty, suicide, prejudice, depression, bullying, corrupt politics, family struggles, etc… Serious, real-world stuff! Hopefully they aren’t actually dealing with these issues, although some are, but they want to be prepared when the time comes. If you are a Christian writer, what could be better than introducing these challenging sorts of issues from a godly perspective?
Romance but More – Teens love romance. Especially teen girls. As I mentioned, the awakening of sexuality is a major theme in YA literature. This does not mean having sex, it means learning to understand their bodies and the strange new feelings and sensations they are experiencing. It means making good decisions about the sexual and romantic parts of life at a time when they are often fumbling, giddy, and full of angst over boys. However, in keeping with the fast pace and grittiness I mentioned, most teen romances offer more than just romance. You will typically find romance mixed with adventure, sci-fi, dystopia, fantasy, suspense, or tough contemporary issues. So offer your teen reader romance, but also give them something more.
That wraps up the major differences between teen and adult fiction. I think as secular teen fiction becomes darker and more liberal, the market for Christian teen fiction will continue to grow. Likewise as more Christian adult readers discover this entertaining genre, they will boost sales and open even more doors for YA in the future.
What are some of your favorite young adult books? Come on, ’fess up, we know you love them!
SO ... leave a comment answering Dina's question above or whether or not you read YA fiction and you will be entered for a signed copy of Dina's latest book, Dauntless, and GOOD LUCK!!
ABOUT DINA SLEIMAN:
Dina Sleiman writes stories of passion and grace. Most of the time you will find this Virginia Beach resident reading, biking, dancing, or hanging out with her husband and three children, preferably at the oceanfront. Since finishing her Professional Writing MA in 1994, she has enjoyed many opportunities to teach literature, writing, and the arts. Look for her novels, Dance of the Dandelion, Love in Three-Quarter Time, and Dance from Deep Within. Currently she is working on her YA Valiant Hearts Series with Bethany House Publishers. Book 1, Dauntless, is now available, and book 2, Chivalrous, will release in September. Dina serves as an acquisitions editor for WhiteFire Publishing as well, and she loves to teach at writers conferences throughout the US. For more info visit her website. http://dinasleiman.com/