Considered the fastest growing genre in the literary industry, Young Adult (or YA) fiction is actually an open genre, containing everything from literary fiction designed for teens to fantasy, science fiction and the paranormal. In the bookstores, genres like Mystery and Romance are for adult novels. Yet, for Young Adults, there’s only the YA section. In the future, this may change as well. But for now, it offers a lot of room for genre cross over. In a YA novel, you can have a Mystery that is also Sci-Fi. You can have a Romance that is also and Urban Fantasy. Without these genres classifications, opportunities exist for even more creativity in YA fiction.
So what makes a book YA? Here are some of the things I have learned:
- Protagonist is under 20 (some may argue that the main character is under 18).
- Age of reader ranges from 13 – 21, with the reader being about 2 years younger than the protagonist.
- Main character has autonomy from their parents – either the parent is absent, or dead, or not in the picture because of disagreement with protagonist, etc.
- Main character embarks on a journey which has to do with coming of age or some sort of rite of passage.
- Identity is a key component – who am I right now? (Character has to overcome obstacle to find out who they are) with a high sense of importance placed on character’s peer group – it’s about self and society.
- Ending – has to have feeling of hope (can be poignant/witty, can have sense of grief, but hope must prevail). Often there is a revelation at the end, a sense of life carrying on.
- Everything centers around action and story – use of scenes.
- Story often follows a chronological structure with less back story, sense of story happening “Now”
- There are fewer subplots and a greater sense of a unified story.
- Novels are generally shorter < 100,000 words (with many exceptions, of course).
- There is often a moral component to the story without preaching.
- Voice for this genre is important. Readers need to feel they can relate to the characters without being talked down to.
One last thing to keep in mind when writing YA fiction is the role of parents, teachers and librarians who act as sort of Gatekeepers to books sold and distributed in this genre.