Teen Spirit

An individual embarking on a first novel can feel tugged toward writing young adult fiction. Among various reasons, the fledgling writer may feel inadequate to the task of producing a thought-provoking adult work. They may be a parent who always enjoyed the books their kids read. Or, they may like the fact that young adult novels are shorter and take less time to write. 

I have been asked: what is the difference between adult and young adult fiction? While there is no hard and fast rule, the book should feature a young protagonist. If you think about readers’ preferences on the whole, the reason why is obvious. Men tend to like to read books about men. Women like to read about women. So why would a teenager want to read about some old fart? That, of course, includes anyone over the age of 30. An older character can function as a mentor, or an antagonistic parent type, but that is a supporting, not leading, role.

When you try to picture what you were like as a teenager, the scope of the novel becomes clearer. Teens by and large are worried about their status among their peers, so the novel’s concerns need to reflect it, to whatever degree you like. Putting wisdom in their mouths is inviting scorn from other teen characters. A good many adolescent conversations revolve around why X or Y is such a loser. I should add that if you don’t feel you know the current lingo, as well as a culture that includes cell phones and social media, don’t write a novel set in an earlier era with that era’s lingo. What teenager wants to know about how old fogies used to talk back when dinosaurs roamed the world (e.g., the sixties)?

Another factor that falls on one side of the line or the other includes plot activities. If you write a mystery, and the clues are set up in treasure hunt fashion—what does the arrow running up and to the right of the circle mean?—you should ask yourself: who likes treasure hunts? Children. Teenagers are a lot closer to children than adults, so it would fit better in a young adult novel. Conversely, teen readers might wish that the nice adult man and woman in supporting roles will fall in love, but they don’t want any sex scenes with that couple. That’s gross. They should close the door.

Do some books straddle the line? Of course they do. Are you, the neophyte, experienced enough to know how to do that? Probably not. Choose your top five characters, and rank them, adult or teen, according to where you want to place your emphasis.

Exercise: The first step you should take is: know your market. Read bestselling young adult novels and see what they do. If you feel distaste while reading one, then you know that’s not the market for you. You are going to spend untold hours on the book, so you’d better like writing it.

“Wanting to be someone else is a waste of the person you are.” —Kurt Cobain

Copyright @ 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.

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Copyright © 2020 John Paine. All rights reserved.