It takes more than a teen and a high school to make a story YA

I judge contests. I feel it’s my civic duty as an author to volunteer to judge writing contests. Writing contests are great things, and whereas I never sold a ms or got an agent through a contest, I got great feedback and opportunities through them.

However, in the last batch of contest entries and chapters I’ve reviewed for others I’ve noticed a few things.

First: Dear Writers, please don’t format your ms like a blog post, even if it’s a draft. Thanks. Love, me.

Now, back to the point of this blog.

I’ve recently read a few very lovely stories with teen main characters that for one reason or another were not young adult.

Just like there’s more to romance than hot guys, or more to steampunk than airships and goggles, there’s much more to a YA story than having a teen protag and a high school.

YA isn’t an age group, it’s a state of mind, it’s an attitude.

You can have a story with a teen protag that’s not YA.

What’s the difference?

Everyone’s going to have their own opinion. To me, it’s a combo of things.

Part of it is the focus of the story. In a YA story it’s about journeys, growing, testing of limits, pushing the boundaries. It’s also their story. Yes, it’s the world from their POV, but in the end, it’s really all about them.

Part of it is the voice. The story should be able that teen and that teen life. It should sound and feel teen. When you’re a teen everything is immediate and a big deal. There are so many firsts and new experiences; a YA story usually captures that.

Part of it is POV. It should be told looking forward, not in retrospective (because then you have the voice of experience). Also, the story should be told by teens. If you have adult POVs, especially if you have a lot of adult POV, it generally pops it out of YA.

Part of it is pace. It’s probably not going to read like a lyrical, literary tale that moves at the pace of a wander through the countryside on a beautiful summer’s day. No, it’ll be a romp or a run, maybe even a mad dash (though the prose can still be lyrical and pretty.)

These are just a few things that have stuck out in my mind. What do you perceive as the biggest difference between YA and adult books told by teen characters?


Catherine Stine said...

Your points are all on target. A YA novel would most likely have less POVs and time-jumping, and the theme of an adult novel, regardless of having a youngish protag may not be fitting for a teen audience. Any kind of "looking back" on teenhood through the character, as Mary Karr did in Cherry, is not YA. BTW, Cherry is a must-read! It is stunning and completely lush in sensibility.

Dawn Brazil said...

I absolutely agree with your points. A YA novel is the voice, all about the teen protag and the plot is centered around teen issues...even if the adult in us feels the issue is silly or irrelavant. That's kinda the point. The littlest thing made us blow-up when we were younger.

Our parents were trying to ruin our lives by giving us guidance. Someone looked at us funny in the cafeteria. Our best friend didn't tell us first about her new crush. Our new crush hasn't spoken to us...These are teens issues.