Genre Breakdown: Young Adult Fiction


Young adult fiction is known for its big successes: The Hunger Games trilogy, Divergent, The Fault In Our Stars and The Book Thief all fall into this literary genre, and there’s a good reason why these books resonate so well with the majority of their audiences. But first, let’s define what makes a young adult story different than a story for kids or older adults. 

What makes a novel a young adult novel? 

Young adult fiction features characters generally between the ages of 12 and 18, and following that age bracket, deals with situations and themes these individuals would typically face in real life (first love, growing up, changing friendships, relationships between teens and their parents, conflicting emotions).

Some make the argument that YA stories are usually written in first person to make the narrator more relatable to the reader, but it doesn’t necessarily have to be this way. What makes a YA novel appealing to the typical teen reader is giving the narrator or main character some means of overcoming the tough situations they’re put in, maybe in cases similar to what readers might be struggling with themselves.

Recent books and their authors

All the Bright Places by Jennifer Niven

What if, every time you thought about giving up, something good came along to stop you? That’s what keeps happening to Theodore, whose thoughts of suicide always seem to lead to more reasons to keep living. And then there’s Violet, who counts the passing days but forgets to enjoy them. When the two meet, all the bright places suddenly seem a little bit brighter. For now.

Emily & Oliver by Robin Benway

What do you do when your best friend, who has been missing from your life for a whole decade, shows up again? Ten years is a long time to be apart, but Emily and Oliver don’t seem to have too much trouble picking up where they left off. They aren’t kids anymore, though. Which means love is a possibility they’ve never seen before.

Hold Me Closer: The Tiny Cooper Story by David Levithan

Those who have read Will Grayson, Will Grayson will remember Tiny from the book co-authored by John Green and Levithan, published in 2010. Now it’s Tiny’s turn to tell his story, and we bet you’re anxious to hear more about his childhood and what it’s really like to wander through a small Illinois high school with a Tiny personality. 

How to write successfully in this genre

How do you appeal to young adult fiction readers, and make your stories stand out? Basically, The Atlantic reinforces what we’ve been telling you all along: know who your audience is and what they want to read. Preteens, teenagers and even young adults over the age of 18 pick up YA novels, so while it’s okay to go deep with themes, it’s important to know which ones your potential readers want to spend hours immersed in.

It’s a misconception that books written about and for teens have to lack maturity and have to be written simply, even poorly. Don’t insult your readers. You’re not writing a dissertation, for goodness sake, but don’t change the way you write to help your younger audience understand it. Those who do read your stories will appreciate that you’re recognizing they are intelligent.

Maybe you’ll be challenging some of them a little if you tend to weave in more motifs and other techniques, but that’s a good thing, especially if they’re unknowingly learning how to pick out and analyze more complex themes and ideas on their own, outside the English class setting.

If you’re a writer who belongs in this diverse genre, you’ll be interested to know some of the sub-genres within YA fiction to further classify your stories. We’ll cover those a little later this month, so keep checking back!

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.

Three Things Aspiring YA Writers Should Know


The contemporary young adult literature circle is full of talented, successful authors who know their audiences well. “The Fault In Our Stars,” “The Book Thief” and “If I Stay” wouldn’t have been able to captivate such a broad spectrum of readers if their creators didn’t understand how to effectively grasp their attention.

If you tend to focus your stories on “adolescent protagonists” who grow and develop as a result of the obstacles they encounter—genre qualifications courtesy of Imogen Russell Williams—there might be a spot waiting for you in the YA writers’ posse. To earn your badge, though, you need to first understand what your future readers want from you, and how you can use your unique voice and storytelling skills to cater to their desires. 

Before you dive headfirst into your dreams, here’s what you need to know if you’re looking to publish your work in any of the YA “subgenres” (which you can find here).

Your Potential Readers Are Smart

While we won’t point to any specifics, there are beautiful YA books out on the shelves that could have been much more eloquently written, too. Some authors tend to shy away from using more sophisticated language and more complex plots because they want their readers to be able to follow along.

You don’t have to “dumb down” your language or simplify your storyline to please your potential young adult audience. While the age of your readers will vary, high school-age audiences don’t want to feel like they’re being talked down to, not even in the books they choose to read on their own. If readers don’t like your style or aren’t interested in your topics, they won’t read your books. There are plenty of others who still might.

You Will Become a Role Model

What you say and do, your readers will believe and follow, especially the more you publish and attract a larger audience. This means you not only have to partake in quality research to keep writing stories they want to read, but you also have to understand both sides of important issues and the backgrounds of major current events.

Younger audiences care about these things too, and it’s important that YA writers do their part to show younger readers it’s important to have an informed say on what’s going on in the world.

If you’re only interested in writing your own stories and want nothing to do with who’s reading your work, you’re not going to make it very far. Our final point illustrates why.

You Will Need to Engage 

Readers will tweet you, they will message you, even if it’s just to say they loved your book. What they want in return is a response, to know you’re a real person, to acknowledge their appreciation.

Reading is a solo experience that can be enriched by joining communities. As the author of a popular short story or book, it’s up to you to be a part of that community, and show your audience you care about their opinions and appreciate their support. If you’re dedicated to them, they’re more likely to remain dedicated to you and your work.

Not all of the above points focus specifically on your writing. That’s because, as an author, writing is only half the career. The more you write, the more potential readers you will reach. The more you interact with those readers, the more inspiration you will gather to keep writing—and the cycle will continue for as long as you create new stories.

But never forget: none of this matters if you don’t start with strong ideas, solid content and the right motivation to turn fleeting thoughts into works of art.

Image courtesy of Novelty Revisions.