What Does Young Adult Fiction Mean?
Today we are excited to bring you a guest blog post from our very good friend and author Bryan W. Alaspa! Take it, Bryan!
So, you’re a writer and you want to write young adult fiction. You are convinced that you have the stories, series or idea that will be the next Harry Potter, Divergent or Hunger Games. Great – but now what?
It’s a funny thing, but statistics show that more adults read stuff labeled “young adult” than the supposed demographic. As for what that demographic is, well, that varies too. Generally your tween years is when you get most of your young adult readers.
What does it mean to write that kind of fiction? The first thing you need to know is that your audience, even if they are tweens, do not want to be talked down to. They are very plugged into the world and they know that bad things happen. People die. People murder other people. Kids get killed. People have sex. So, eliminating all of that or using words you think a “kid” will appreciate will completely take them out of the story and toss your book aside.
I read an article once where Stephen King said if he had a chance to meet JK Rowling (he since has, but I don’t know if he ever asked this question) he would ask her about the Harry Potter books: When did you decide to stop writing them for kids and just to write them.
If you have read the series you know that happened. That first book just has a “kids” feel to it. It’s great adventure, but you can kind of tell this was meant for a younger audience. But, as the series went on, that sort of fell away. Ms. Rowling just told a tale with all of the violence and horror that fighting an evil creature like Voldemort would entail. It just happens that her characters are kids.
So, my advice would be to write the story that you have to tell. Author Judy Blume has been writing books for kids for decades and yet she has tackled very adult themes head-on in most of them. That should be your tactic, too.
My first YA novel was a supernatural romance called Sapphire. It had teenage protagonists and the style was a bit different than my more “adult” novels. I made the violence a tiny bit tamer, not going into such graphic detail. I even implied sex at one point, but did that in the way a PG-13 movie will show the coupe kissing and then slowly drift over to a curtain blowing gently in the wind and then fade to black.
In my most recent novel, The Lord of Winter, there is violence. There is a very scary villain. People die. That happens because for the amount of action and destruction that happens in the novel for it not to happen would not be realistic. The key is that I focus on the characters and don’t dwell on the blood and gore like I might in a horror novel.
Kids have to deal with adult things all the time. We are more plugged in today than ever before. Teens have iPhones and tablets and they see the terrorists, the 24 hour news coverage of shootings. They deal with the fact that a white dude with a beef can get easy access to a gun and walk into their school to try and work out his issues by killing a few dozen of them. So, to create a story that doesn’t live in that kind of world is lying to the reader. You don’t want your story to be dishonest.
Never talk down to them. Tell your story. If it’s a good one, they’ll listen. If it’s a really good one, hopefully they ask for more.