Writing for the puppy, not the wolf.
Writing for both YA and adult markets, I’ve discovered the line between these two target audiences is very slim indeed. YA is typically about 13 years and above, and as sad as it is, teenagers seem to grow up much faster nowadays. Gone are the days of Enid Blyton and Narnia, these wholesome books are now only taken up by a much younger audience than they were originally written for. The generations behind us are still avid readers, but you need to appeal to the modern youth adult which has not only moved on, but is consistently evolving their tastes.
So, what are the rules and differences between the two? I’ve put together the sum of my knowledge on this below. I’m sure there’s more to it than I’m putting down here, but to get you started, here’s my opinions:
Your work should not talk down to your YA reader. I would never sugar coat my plot or characters for a younger readership. Subjects such as: drugs, sex, violence and horror, should be confronted, but not glamorized or endorsed – remember your responsibility to your reader. Also its good to remember that most YA readers like to read about characters who are older than them – so typically your characters should be late teens/early twenties.
Let’s talk about sex:
Your YA audience will be more than aware of sex. God forbid, some might even be having it already. However you should always leave your YA reader at the bedroom door. It would be boring and unrealistic to not have it at least mentioned between characters in your story, however there should be no graphic descriptions and certainly nothing kinky going on; these guys are just getting their heads round vanilla, let’s not introduce them to whole ice cream menu so soon.
I always love the warnings on movies that say ‘Contains mild peril’ – I mean, really? How do you measure peril? It’s the scary things that people love – young and old. And it’s always the most imaginative and well written horror that stays with you once you turn off that TV, or put down that book. Dr Who is designed and aired specially for a young audience, but can be quite scary (even for adults) Those Weeping Angels were a particularly gruesome concept that made me look at statues in a whole new light! Dracula and Frankenstein are now taught in school and some of the most popular YA books are packed with supernatural creatures, deadly deeds, and peril-a-plenty. So desensitizing your work could be a big mistake. I’d recommend writing your YA story to your own boundaries then letting your publisher/ editor lead you to tone down, or crank up, where appropriate.
The Super – Supernatural:
One word: Twilight. It certainly wasn’t an original book or a pioneer in the industry, but it did appeal to a massive market and got a huge amount of teenagers reading again. I personally didn’t mind the books, Stephanie Meyer can certainly spin a good yarn and although her main character was a bit wet to begin with, she came good in the end. It re-vamped vampires and made werewolves hot – in simple terms it reignited people’s interest in the supernatural and carved a path for other authors to follow suit. The supernatural has never been so popular with both YA and adult audiences and really, anything goes here in terms of horror and sweet romance.
YA audiences read quickly and can get addicted to good characters, so bare this in mind when writing your novel. Either leave it open so you can pick it up again in a second book or have a series in mind when you’re writing it. A note of caution here though…when writing a series don’t hold back action or information for an explosive finale – if your first books are boring, you’ll never get to show off that great ending. Make sure that each book has a main story line that can end, but a consistent story arc that can carry on. This keeps your readers engaged and desperate for the next one. It also means there is a definitive ending for each book, rather than just letting it go on and on – something I particularly hate as a reader!
What’s your favourite YA book series and why?