1. isaac223

    isaac223 Senior Member

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    Is A Story Centering On a "Young Adult" Intrinsically "YA Fiction"?

    Discussion in 'Young Adult' started by isaac223, Sep 15, 2017.

    I think it is no secret that many people hold at the very least a slight bias against YA Fiction; no doubt despite my love for Eleven by Carisa Holmes and J.J Bende, and the World of Solace by Jaleigh Johnson, I, too, find it hard to feel incentive to read fiction marketed as "Young Adult." Understanding this, though I find it easier to write teenagers/"young adults", I worry that in doing so, whatever I produce will be coined a "young adult" novel.

    Is a story centering on a "young adult" intrinsically "YA", and is it possible to at all write teenagers in adult circumstance, or performing actions at the level of an adult, without it being categorized as "YA"? What exactly makes something "YA"? How can one avoid this?
     
  2. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    I don't know why it would be a "worry" to produce a YA novel - they are HUGELY popular with agents, editors, and readers alike. If I could get myself interested in writing about teenagers, I'd be doing it like a shot.

    YA is defined by the age of the protagonist rather than by theme or content. A lot of people think YA can't have explicit sex, swearing, etc, but it can. If your protagonist is 12-18, it'd be very unusual indeed for a publisher not to market it as YA. By marketing a YA novel as an adult novel, you're missing the people most likely to enjoy your book and targeting those most likely to not want to read about teenagers.

    Similarly, you can market it as whatever you like if you're self-publishing, but to your own detriment.

    How could one write about teenagers without producing a YA novel? Well, if you have two point of view characters with equal 'screen time' and one of them is adult and one a teen, maybe that would be adult... I'm trying to think of examples and failing. There's probably a reason there aren't many examples. You could also tell a story through an adult's eyes but feature teenagers - like a high school teacher instead of students? Maybe...

    I'm thinking of a Shaun Hutson novel. It's adult horror about a gang of teenage thugs who target an old people's home. It's adult because, IIRC, it's told mostly from the perspective of the elderly people.
     
  3. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    You shouldn't worry about being labelled as a YA author. I agree that people do sometimes scorn it, in the same way that they scorn romance writers, but it means literally nothing to you and your book. It only works in your favor to be writing in a genre where people don't necessarily expect high quality writing. YA books are not bad books. His Dark Materials is a YA series and it's an incredibly deep spiritual journey about the nature of religion and free will and the notion of growing up as passing from innocence to sinful. There is nothing stopping you from writing a really good book that happens to be on the YA shelf. The wide audience and the commercial success of it as a genre works in your favor. From an industry side you can get cut a bit of slack simply because you write for teens. If anything I'd say that there's things you can do in a YA book that you couldn't do anywhere else; as a genre it's one that often does get genuinely dark and with really quite out there subject matter by the standards of mainstream literature. In the YA space having an incestual romance (for example) is edgy, everywhere else it's weird. @Tenderiser is absolutely right that you can put those more challenging elements into a YA book, no problems at all on that front.

    I went through much the same journey as you. I didn't want to sell my books as YA books. I too had the notion that YA books were garbage. I was interested in writing about teenagers (long story short; I had an adult couple who I enjoyed the most when they were acting like teenagers together and eventually decided to just write teenagers) but I was dead set that I was writing adult books; serious literature you know? Ok the main character in my second book was a teenage boy but this had lots of very grown up things happening in it. Yes, it was a coming of age story (as almost all stories with a teen character will be) but it was complex and interesting and there's things being said about religion and so forth. I actually laughed when I thought about selling it as a YA book. I said "Yeah right" when I thought about it. Because like they would let my kind of book, that are really deep character focused stories with adult themes out as a YA book.

    Now, I didn't sell that book. It has other problems, it's not very clear on genre and it's very slow burning in terms of the romance and the protagonist is a boy which isn't a good start for a romance anyway. Plus the romance is with his surrogate mother and it's shown in a largely positive light; as weird but sweet and they end up happy together. So that wasn't really destined to be my debut novel. I still think it's good. And, notably, I still think it's a YA book. I won't be able to sell it until I've built my name because it is a bit too weird to be something people will buy until they trust that I can do something awesome with this weird, dark, complex setting. But I still think it's a YA story.

    Crossing the watershed into seeing myself as a YA/Teen author totally changed me as a writer. I stopped trying to write (and sell) literature and started writing books about teenage girls and their families and school life. And they are still absolutely my kind of books. They are dark and weird and with challenging material in them. There's real adult themes in there about lying to the people you love, about betraying people who trust you for selfish reasons, about fear and loss and loneliness. My first true teen book has some graphic self harm and the girl equally graphically making herself throw up and that's just fine man. None of the agents who've read the whole book had any problem with that at all. They liked the adult themes, they liked the challenging, edgy concept of the book (the girl is pretending to have cancer). They even said they really love the main characters voice and felt it was so realistic as how a real teenage girl thinks (being a 30 year old guy with a beard, I was happy to hear that). They didn't buy that one but I've only heard good feedback from it; they don't like the downer ending and I can't really change that without changing the premise so, well, we live and learn. But no-one had a problem with the things that previous I thought totally excluded any potential of being sold as a teen book.

    And, while you may not like to hear it (at least until you warm up to the idea of being a YA writer) I think that almost any book with a teenage protagonist is going to fall into that space whether you like it or not. In adult protagonists then there's a lot more leeway; a 21 year old main character can be for everyone, so can a 41 year old one, so can a 61 year old. But those are adult characters and while different to each other there is a line between teen and adult characters. It's inherent in the nature of a teen story to be one about growing up, to be finding yourself and seeing lots of things in the world like romance and sex and drugs and so forth for the first time. And naturally this stuff speaks to teenagers. Whatever setting you are in, teenagers are seeing the world through teenage eyes and becoming the person who they will be as an adult. That doesn't mean it can't speak to adults too, after all adults were teenagers once and can enjoy reading about teens, but those kinds of stories about teens are instantly engaging to teenagers. A teenage character is one that a teen can immediately see themselves in and they have a desire to see books that reflect their specific experiences as they are right now. Adults aren't living with their parents or going to school, they don't cry when their dad gets disappointed with them. So it's natural that teen characters are mostly for teen readers. Some adults will still read them and I think adults can get a lot from my work. But they are still teen books and teens are the ones who instantly hear the premise and want to read it. Because my books are about people just like them, slightly different but living their world.

    But this isn't a bad thing, I promise. Seriously. It's awesome writing for teenagers. You can write amazing stories in that space. Teenagers just being teenage are so mutable and interesting; they are rife with contradictions and they actually get excited about things. They aren't the cynical jerks that adults are. When it's someone's first kiss it means so much to them. You don't have to do big exciting exploding things to make a teenager's heart miss a beat, you know? And because they are changing and that's expected in a coming of age book you can spend a lot of time just developing their characters and showing them learning and discovering themselves in a way that you couldn't really with adults. A 30 year old who sits in their bedroom asking themselves why this guy doesn't like them is really weird; but a teenager is just being a teenager and it does mean that much to them to just sit and cry and not quite know what to do and have to grow through it.

    As for writing a book with teen protagonists that is strictly an adult book; I suppose it's technically possible but I don't think it's a good idea. I think if you want to write adult characters (ie, that are not growing into adulthood) then write adult characters. Younger ones maybe, but still adults. The things that makes teenagers teenagers are things like that sense of growth and that sense of discovery and if you have that in a character then they'll always be more interesting to people who are living through that right now than people who've already done that. Really I don't understand why you would want to write a teenage character that is just an adult but younger. After all, one of the big things in a teenager is their sense of wanting to be treated like an adult but not quite being ready for that yet; pushing against their parents authority then coming running back to daddy when something bad happens and they don't know how to get out of it. Again; if a teen aged character doesn't have that in them then they've lost something interesting to them and you're putting them in a grey area where no-one really can see themselves in them. Teens won't sympathize with him because he's not acting or thinking like they would; adults won't sympathize with him because he's not really like them either even if he acts like an adult he's not quite one of them yet but neither is he the kind of kid they remember being.

    I wouldn't even try.

    Embrace being a YA writer. If people think that makes you a bad write you go prove them wrong. That's what I did. And while I am yet to get published I do write great books and I'm slowly working my way toward writing more commercially viable works. I haven't changed my writing at all. All my book are just the same in that sense, just as if I was writing for adults. And they're all great books on their own merits. And I still write really dark ideas, with really challenging subject matter that is outright harrowing in many places. They are great books anyone can read. But they are still YA books first, and I think that teens will get the most from them and that's just fine. As long as you write well what do you care how dire some YA books are? Write your book.

    In the end; what makes a YA book to me is that they are stories about the teenage experience. They have this meta-theme about growth and self-discovery. If that's what your book is about then I think it should be a YA book. A good one, yes, one that anyone can appreciate on it's own merits, but as long as that's the kind of work you're writing then I think you should aim it at the people who are interested in reading it.

    In a sense your question is almost like asking "Can I write a zombie book that's romance and not horror?". And yes, technically you could, but the people who like zombies won't read it. And the people who like romances won't read it. If you want to write a zombie book ideally it should be for people who like zombies. Same here. If you want to write teen characters then you should write it for the people who read books about teenagers.
     
    Last edited: Sep 15, 2017
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  4. Fiender_

    Fiender_ Active Member

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    [DISCLAIMER: I have read and enjoyed lots of YA books, Neal Shusterman is one of my favorite all-time authors and I cried while reading the first Hunger Games book]

    My current MS has two teenage girls, both 17, as the main characters. While I have seen many YA books address some heavy issues, like drugs, sex, abortion, politics, abuse, death, etc, they often don't hit those topics as hard as I would like. If I'm going to have issues like that in something I'm writing, I'd rather not dance around the issue's heaviness and tackle it head on. I feel we can say "Young adult books can handle the same subjects as adult books" until we're all blue in the face, and it may be true, but I've never seen a YA book tackle issues as strongly or intricately as an adult book, and the more successful YA books (the ones I've read, at least) didn't make such mature dialogue or plot developments a priority.

    I feel like most YA books have "young main character" trying to overthrow or otherwise go to conflict against "the establishment", usually an organization headed by adults. They also feature coming-of-age elements and a young, not-fully-developed person learning who they are, or who they could become as an adult. I think these are the traits that most appeal to a YA market, and my story for one does not feature these. OF COURSE a book marketed as YA might not have these things either, but I can't help shake the feeling that these are what the YA market expects, at least when it comes to YA sci-fi/fantasy.

    Of course, the mainsteamiest of the mainstream of YA might be doing a disservice to the rest of the genre, the ones aping Hunger Games, Twilight, etc. The same way Lord of the Rings and Game of Thrones (despite their good qualities, like Lotr's world building, and GoT having memorable characters) sort of do a disservice to the fantasy genre by painting the average reader/viewer's expectations.

    Marketing nonsense aside, I feel like it's doing a disservice (my word of the day) to a book to say it HAS to be in one genre/subgenre based solely on the ages of the protagonists. There are stories of teens and children that can resonate with people in their seventies. There are stories of middle aged housewives facing hardship during wartime that can resonate with a 25 year old male slacker (cough).

    As I write this, I feel like I could go in circles all day. Yes, it's kind of silly to think a book with a main character of a certain demographic has to appeal primarily to that same demographic. Of course, this is the world we live in, where some people don't want to be expected to care about anyone who doesn't look exactly like them or anyone who doesn't fit into the same narrow category as them. To try and be profitable without acknowledging this in your marketing approach, even if something in your book subverts tha genre, is a fool's task. When I resume querying for my book about two seventeen year old girls, will I label it as YA? Probably only when the agent is specifically looking for YA.
     
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  5. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    I definitely agree with you that the YA megastars haven't been as hard hitting as I would like but I think that's true of a great number of successful books generally. In general there is a bigger audience for books that are, well, more mainstream. Especially in YA where books are often being bought as birthday/christmas presents then parents and relatives are likely to shuffle awkwardly away from the book with the deep, keening pain in it, whether that manifests in drugs or self-harm or abortion. One of the things that I've always aimed for is to be utterly unflinching in handling this stuff; make it heart rending and scarring and tear jerking. Let me know if you want to read some :)

    Obviously it depends on the genre as to what the kids are going to be doing. Certainly in my books no-one is overthrowing the establishment. They are rebellious (but that's another teenager trait) but they are normal(ish) girls who go to school and have friends and go to parties and so forth. But then I write contemporary romance, not sci-fi/fantasy where the kids might have more of an opportunity to lead the rebel alliance.

    The very mainstream (ie generic) books in all genres do a disservice to the good ones IMHO.

    You're right that the age of the protagonists doesn't necessarily say anything about the content but I think the line between teens and adults is pretty substantial in terms of world view and life experience and that's why I think, in general, they stay slightly separated. Certainly many kinds of stories can speak to many kinds of people. And I do agree that the audience doesn't have to look like the protagonist to sympathize with them. Some people seek out protagonists that have a radically different world view to themselves. I like to think that my books can make anyone cry. But it's hard to argue that teens generally prefer to read about teens and adults to read about adults. And that's because, generally, people are reading for entertainment and want someone that they can very easily understand; where they don't have to put a lot into it and want someone that thinks and acts broadly like the reader does.

    Honestly; I'd skip ahead and just approach YA agents aswell. Not necessarily because you fit into that box better, just because you should approach as many agents as you can and if your book is well written then just put it in front of as many eyes as you can. If anything I think it'll be easier to sell a work as a YA sci-fi/fantasy than as an adult ones. As a YA book you won't be expected to be Game Of Thrones levels of world changing, and as I said before, I think that YA agents are more willing to cut you some slack as long as the story appeals to them. Maybe that's just me, but the second that I started trying to sell my books as YA then I got substantially more interest for them.
     
  6. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    One of the biggest selling genres is Urban Fiction (Street Lit). They often operate on very adult themes but feature teens/young adults. They are written by, and are for an audience that connects with young adults in those situations.
     
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  7. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Do you have a source for that? I read a lot of publishing info and I've never even heard of urban fiction / street lit (have heard of urban fantasy but that's obviously not what you're talking about). Would be good to hear about it if it's a bestselling genre!
     
  8. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    I can't speak to how well it sells but I read one of those books some years back; it wasn't a good book but there was violence and drugs and it was generally very grimey, but with a 15ish year old girl as the main character. These features are certainly out there, not necessarily well written in all cases, but there is definitely an 'edgy' sub-genre within YA and some kids go nuts for it. My books aren't quite written for them; I'm more going after the kinds of girls who read weird mangas and stories about vampires ravishing people, but there definitely is plenty of space to deal with harder topics in books. In the book that's waiting to be edited the girl is being beaten by her foster father and eventually her boyfriend will kick the living shit out of him, and throughout the two trade stories about being in orphanages and the stuff they've been through, including Natalie telling Luca about a boy who was sexually abused who killed himself and she's the only person who he ever told and she has no idea what she should do about that. They go and see the kids grave and say sorry they couldn't help him and it's really sad and really heartbreaking. And I don't foresee any of that being a problem in terms of selling it as a YA book.
     
  9. surrealscenes

    surrealscenes Senior Member

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    Having trouble finding sales figures.
    Here is a link to Goodreads groups for Street Lit https://www.goodreads.com/group/show_tag/urban-fiction
    Here is a link to Amazon for best selling Urban Fiction, open some and look at the sales rank https://www.amazon.com/Best-Sellers-Kindle-Store-African-American-Urban-Fiction/zgbs/digital-text/6190466011
    These are really big here in the US, and are making reading cool among low income/poverty level youth.
    For instance, A Gangsta A$$ Love Story has Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #417 Paid in Kindle Store.

    For a little balance- most people I know have no idea that books featuring gay characters sell well, or people/creature/whatever romance sells well, etc.
     
  10. Tenderiser

    Tenderiser Not a man or BayView

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    Hmm, from those rankings I'm not seeing that this is one of the bestselling genres. But cool to learn about a new genre, anyway!
     
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  11. Endersdragon

    Endersdragon New Member

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    I'm reminded of Ender's Game (surprise huh lol) that OSC never wanted to be YA fiction or worse a kid's story but started being classified that way because of the age of the main character (which he eventually stopped fighting). However, there are books like a Curious Incident of the Dog... That have a teenage protagonist but would never be considered such. I think it mostly depends on if the subject matter will resonate with a teenage audience... If so the YA label might be impossible to avoid
     
  12. Cave Troll

    Cave Troll It's Coffee O'clock everywhere. Contributor

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    When it comes to music I know a bunch along with sub-genres.:D
     
  13. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    I've heard "Urban Fiction" used as a sort of dog-whistle term for stories with black protagonists, and that seems to be supported by the Goodreads lists. I don't think it's a good term to use for a book that isn't about black characters, and there seems to be a bit of a "Gangsta" vibe to the books as well.
     
  14. Homer Potvin

    Homer Potvin I don't feel tardy.... Staff Supporter Contributor

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    (drops bone, ears perk up)

    Hey, did somebody blow a dog-whistle in here?
     
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  15. LostThePlot

    LostThePlot Naysmith Contributor

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    That's true and I don't really like the term pretty much on those grounds, and I agree that people shouldn't be trying to sell into rather specific sub-genres unless they are very sure that they fit well.

    But there definitely is a sub-set of 'edgy' books within every teen/YA genre that have more graphic, gruesome, adult subject matter. When I was first thinking about whether I could work as a YA author I talked to my fiance about it. She immediately said that nothing in my books was extreme enough to push them outside the bounds of what's already out there in the teen space and then went along her shelf of YA books goings "Rape, torture, incest, overdose, rape again, really gruesome murder...". Point is that 'edgy' isn't even really a sub-genre, it's just a thing that some YA books are and some aren't and you can put in much more challenging subject matter whatever sphere of YA you are writing in. Think about the premise of Hunger Games; teenagers fighting to the death. And that's not even marketed as being for the edgy kids, that's just 'Young Adult'. And if you can write a book about teenagers literally murdering each other and have that be a mainstream success then there's a lot of room before you even get out to edgy territory.
     
  16. BayView

    BayView Huh. Interesting. Contributor

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    Yeah, we've had this conversation before - https://www.writingforums.org/threads/putting-the-adult-into-young-adult.145604/#post-1435393
     
  17. isaac223

    isaac223 Senior Member

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    I'm just dropping this here while I finish reading the (surprisingly long) responses to my question, but I've seen seen both of these traits in some men, to be fair.

    (I'll leave a more meaningful response as soon as I finish reading through the thread. I can't thank you all enough for answering my question with such detail and thought. Such thoughtfulness is why I absolutely love this community)
     
  18. isaac223

    isaac223 Senior Member

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    I rather like Warm Bodies, thank you very much.

    I don't want to sound like a hipster in saying I completely and utterly agree with you, but I completely and utterly agree with you.


    Also, in reading on I see that the thread has derailed into a conversation about black protagonists in Urban Fiction and I find it to be a habit of mine to pull out whenever race or color comes into the equation in fear I may accidentally offend someone even when I mean not to.

    Anyway, in reading all of these responses, I can safely say I rather feel more comfortable writing what may be considered a "YA" novel. I'd like to note a visual novel I really enjoyed as something that really fits with what @LostThePlot was saying. It is called "Shinrai ~ Broken Beyond Despair" and if I were to classify it with literary genres it'd be a YA murder mystery. Despite its overly anime-esque and juvenile introduction, the mystery and the conclusion thereof was downright impressive, and teenagers being teenagers played into the mystery and character motivations finely. Complex mysteries starring teenagers/having teenagers play an important role/aimed towards a teenage demographic is nothing new for the east or games/visual novels inspired by Japanese media (Ace Attorney, Higurashi no Nako Kuro Ni/Umienko no Nako Kuro Ni *collectively known as "When They Cry*, Danganronpa, Detective Conan, Death Note, Shinrai, Murder Most Misfortunate) and I really appreciate some of these because they showcase the intellectual potential of teenagers, within the realms of reason, while still keeping the characters generally realistic and relatable and identifiable as "teenagers".

    However, of course, since us Americans are too busy writing about the next bland girl who will save the world from a hilariously inept oppressive government who took over after the vaguely-defined "end of the world as we know it", such complex mysteries told through the perspective of teenagers are in woefully short supply (read: nonexistent). Actually, the murder mystery genre is a genre I have a love-hate relationship with. I love what it could be but I hate what it actually is. I love the structure and nature of Golden Age detective fiction, but I hate how fairness is often omitted in favor of wowing us with the protagonist's deductive reasoning skills, and I love the general fairness and implementation of forensic sciences in current murder mysteries, but I hate how there hasn't been a murder mystery produced in a good many years that isn't just a police procedural, which I find less engaging than the "game between author and reader" that Golden Age detection fiction is known for being. Reasons why I love Ace Attorney so much include it finding a good mix between the structures of modern and classic mystery fiction, and this is present in other eastern murder mysteries, most notably, of course, Shinrai and Danganronpa. Of course, them being games may contribute to them being veritable games between "author" and "reader", but all the same I want to capture the magic I felt in Shinrai and Ace Attorney but in a manner that'll be more appealing to people understandably apprehensive about the nature of Japanese media. Most notably, I wanted to write a closed-circuit/box murder mystery starring a wholly teenage audience, which is what spurred me to create this thread in the first place. But thinking back to a lot of interactions with my school chums about why I'm reading Agatha Christie, I shouldn't be apprehensive about writing YA murder mysteries given I'd positively love it if some of my peers would appreciate the genre a bit more.
     

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