On February 27, I'll be giving a presentation in St. Augustine at the Florida Writers Association Mini-Conference "The Write Stuff." Please join us!
Here are a few notes and links from the presentation.
If you've been following my work, you may know I've wondered about the difference between writing for middle grade and for the young adult market. To me, the pat answer of "the age of the protagonist" was either a good place to start or rule of thumb. Surely there was more to it than that! A label attached to both The Lightning Thief and The Hunger Games seemed to be stretched to the point of breaking. More to the point, I didn't feel like the hero of Finn's Fast Books, a series in which the main character has just entered high school, was living in the same world as a John Green character. My books are written for middle grade readers who like clean, fast-paced action-packed stories. The characters travel on their own, learn to drive and design complex vehicles--none of which would be possible or believable if they were all twelve years old.
So I dug deeper into my topic (nothing makes you do this like being asked to give a presentation!) and came up with a few ideas and lots of links. Much of the online chatter on the subject comes from 2012, when YA was taking the bookstores by storm and everyone seemed to have an opinion on the subject. Four years later the market is stronger than ever, as adult YA readers have long since "come out" and admitted their addiction.
What makes the YA market different from middle grade or adult fiction? and New Adult?
YA books are targeted at teens and feature issues which concern teenagers, which is not to say that they must be shallow or lightweight. They deal with many serious issues but often from the perspective of maturing to adulthood.
Writer's Digest March/April 2016: Writing for Kids + Teens (tree-mag)
CONVENTIONS, paraphrased from Terrible Minds by the brilliant Chuck Wendig.
When compared to mainstream fiction, young adult books tend to be:
- shorter, punchier- The length of the books is often 80,000 words or under. The style tends to avoid lengthy descriptions and backstory. You the reader will be very close to the action.
- pacier, chatier - The rhythm tends to be a quick-step, YA is no place for aimless plot dawdle. Dialog moves the story along, and there's plenty of it.
- sound like adults (sometimes) - Speaking of dialog, the characters are often eloquent, witty, and sharp-tongued beyond their years.
- act like teens (always) -- But their choices and dilemmas are decidedly those of people still figuring out how the world works and their place in it.
YA books are meant for teenagers. Their protagonists are in the age group facing situations that teens face. Often, their struggles are linked to climbing the ladder of emotional maturity. Middle grade books may also deal with Here are some notes about the stages of life and what characterizes them, as explained in Peter Scazzero’s book, Emotionally Healthy Spirituality - See more at the blog
- Infants look for others to take care of them; are driven by the need for instant gratification;
use others as objects to meet their needs.
- Children are happy and content if they get what they want; unravel quickly from stress and
disappointments; are easily hurt; complain, withdraw, manipulate, take revenge and become
sarcastic when they don’t get their way; interpret disagreements as personal offenses; have
great difficulty discussing their needs and wants in a calm, mature, loving way.
- Adolescents tend to be defensive; are threatened and alarmed by criticism; deal with conflict
poorly, often blaming, appeasing, pouting or ignoring; become preoccupied with themselves;
are critical and judgmental.
- Adults are able to ask for what they need, want or prefer clearly, directly and honestly. They
recognize, manage and take responsibility for their own thoughts and feelings. They can,
when under stress, state their own beliefs and values without becoming adversarial.
Having your characters move up the ladder and develop emotionally will bring greater depth and resonance to your work.
For live discussion of this topic, join us on Saturday in St. Augustine at the FWA Mini-Conference!
About the author
First published in Brooklyn, New York in the third grade, Serena Schreiber took a circuitous route through Europe to settle in Florida. Serena has written blogs and newsletters since 1998 and taught arts-integrated literacy at Blue Planet Writers' Room. When not writing for young people or scientists, she follows her other muse, fantasy. She's a happy co-conspirator of Florida Writers Association Youth Program and runs the Howl at the Moon Writers Jam. Serena has two amazing children, a handsome husband, and a turtle named Bolt.