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View Full Version : What makes YA, YA?



sheadakota
10-28-2011, 05:34 PM
I thought I would post this question here to get a wide varity of opinions- those from YA writers those from other genres.

Now I know the obvious answer would be the age of the MC(S), But other than that are there specific things that detrmines if a novel is YA?

I ask because I have a MS I am considering converting to YA - it is now a paranormal thriller with adult Protagonists. Besides lowering the age (17 still YA?) and tayloring some of the plot points ( they wouldn't have established careers- and such) are there other things needed?

I actually did write a YA (soon to be published with MUSA) but it is unusual for the genre as its told through the MC's adult voice- anyway- just looking for thoughts on the matter and thank you-

ChaosTitan
10-28-2011, 05:39 PM
Voice. The narrative voice of a teenager is going to be different than that of an adult. The slang, the way they observe and describe things, the word choices, the point of view. You should be able to read the book and feel like a teenager is talking to you.

Theme. The biggest theme in YA novels is coming of age. Teens are on the cusp of adulthood. They're starting to look toward the future. They're thinking about falling in love. They're exploring their sexuality. Not that adults don't do these things, too, but it's more present in YA. Teens are coming into their own identities in these books.

sheadakota
10-28-2011, 05:46 PM
Thanks Chaos- of course voice- why didn't I think of that? I think I can pull that off- well at the very least it will be an excercise to see if I can pull it off-:)

Phaeal
10-28-2011, 06:01 PM
Subject matter doesn't necessarily make the difference (she says after reading reviews of a certain YA series that features attempted blowjobs in the school hallway.)

Voice is indeed critical. The other day I reread a little of my YA novel on sub and thought, Whoa, that sounds young! Whereas my other novel on sub, with an MC of the same age, reads very adult to me. The different subgenres make some of the difference. My urban fantasy tends to sound younger (slangy, informal) than my traditional fantasy, where I try for a more timeless, more formal tone.

brainstrains
10-28-2011, 06:13 PM
I have always thought that the only real requirement for a YA is that the main character must be a YA.

YA, more than any other genre, is big on taking risks, so all the other "rules of YA" seem to have been broken at one time or another.

I've read plenty of YAs where the MC's voice sounds suspiciously adult (maybe as a result of being written by one), and yet, that's okay. Just as there is no typical adult, there is no typical teen.

Momento Mori
10-28-2011, 07:05 PM
sheadakota:
But other than that are there specific things that detrmines if a novel is YA?

The other posters here have all said things I agree with but ultimately, it all comes down to what the publisher's marketing department thinks. Take Stephen Kelman's PIGEON ENGLISH for example - it has a young protagonist and is set among the world of teenage gangs and teen violence but the marketing department at Bloomsbury elected to focus on it as a literary title - hence its inclusion on the Booker shortlist this year.

I think that there was an equivalent story last year in the NYT about an author who saw their book (which had a teen protagonist) as being 'adult' fiction and was surprised when the publisher decided to push it as YA.

Alternatively there are books like THE BOOK THIEF by Marcus Zuzak, THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTIME by Mark Haddon, HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff and THE BOY IN THE STRIPED PYJAMAS by John Boyne were marketed with either YA and adult covers or appeared on both children's and adult book award shortlists.

My point is that there isn't really a magical formula, but the general consensus seems to be among publishers that YA is a strong market because it enhances cross-over appeal and so has more than one potential market.

MM

Cyia
10-28-2011, 07:11 PM
The coming of age thing is the big one to me. The kids are experimenting. They're legally becoming adults, but they're close enough to still being children that they might want (or expect) some parental help.

They're also dealing with some preconceived notions of their abilities, trustworthiness, intelligence, etc from adults who may not think teens are worth believing or dealing with.

Older teens likely have the legal right to drive, younger ones don't. Older ones can excuse being out of school during the day due to work release or off-campus classes, younger ones can't.

ink wench
10-28-2011, 07:12 PM
Everything that's been mentioned so far. But I'll spin it a different way: perspective.

A teen doesn't see the world or his/her place in the world the same as an adult. Perspective colors voice and it affects choices (actions). You have to be able to get in the head of a teen, and think like one (or try anyway). According to my agent, a lot of the YA she gets doesn't do that, and it's the make or break issue.

IMO, the best way to get what makes YA is to read a lot of it.

(Or, you know, just be really immature like I am, try to write for adults, and have everything come out YA against your will. ;))

Cyia
10-28-2011, 07:13 PM
Also keep in mind that -despite laws and appearances to the contrary, even a "mature" teen isn't biologically mature. Their brains are still in the final stages of development, so they can be prone to melodrama or even mood swings.

ChaosTitan
10-28-2011, 07:18 PM
As with anything: Read, Read, Read.

The variety of YA being published today is pretty amazing, compared to what was available when I was a teenager. And it's important to know what is popular, what is common, what is not common, and what your peers are writing. Paranormal YA has slightly different conventions than contemporary YA. If you're writing a series, what are some of the other successful series doing right?

sheadakota
10-28-2011, 09:12 PM
Excellent points all- I thank you- It would definitely be paranormal maybe even UF- so what would be some good Paranormal or UF YA you could recomend to me? I have read your series Chaos (excellent BTW!) But not Ya- I have read Shadey's books as well as Neil Gaiman, but I admit I haven't read a lot in the genre- so recomendations?

ETA: I am currently trying to survive my 14 & 15 Yr olds adolescence- does that count for anything? (one boy one girl)

goldmund
10-28-2011, 09:34 PM
So, is The Catcher in the Rye YA?

ChaosTitan
10-29-2011, 12:24 AM
Excellent points all- I thank you- It would definitely be paranormal maybe even UF- so what would be some good Paranormal or UF YA you could recomend to me? I have read your series Chaos (excellent BTW!) But not Ya- I have read Shadey's books as well as Neil Gaiman, but I admit I haven't read a lot in the genre- so recomendations?

Thank you. :)

There are probably a bunch of excellent recommendation threads in the YA forum, but I would recommend checking out Rachel Caine's Morganville Vampire series, Richelle Mead's Vampire Academy, Melissa Marr's Wicked Lovely books, and Lili St. Crow's Strange Angels. All are popular paranormal series.

sheadakota
10-29-2011, 01:13 AM
Thank you!

Phaeal
10-31-2011, 06:31 PM
So, is The Catcher in the Rye YA?

It could easily be marketed as YA these days. With "crossover potential."

Puma
10-31-2011, 08:45 PM
I don't read the YA forums, but there are a lot of times posts show up in genre SYW that immediately call out YA (and sometimes the posters argue that they aren't.) There's something about the way the manuscript is written that does this - sometimes it's sort of a talking down to the readers, sometimes it's the sensitivity to the young characters and their emotions, sometimes it's over explanation of the world and surroundings, and definitely voice of the writer. I can't say this is an absolute hard and fast idea, but it comes across to me more that adult material is harder and more direct (not as flowery or descriptive) and gets right into the story and YA is softer and takes a bit more time to set up the scenes.

I can't really express well what I'm trying to say, but if you've done much reading on SYW there's a good chance you've noticed this same characteristic which doesn't have anything to do with the age of the characters but the manner in which they and the story are written. Puma

Cyia
10-31-2011, 08:51 PM
- sometimes it's sort of a talking down to the readers

*gives Puma a dirty look*

If you're talking down to your readers, at any age, it's bad writing, not a characteristic of a category. (Unless, of course, you happen to be writing 1st POV of an ego-maniacal jerk who talks down to everyone.)

Deizelcore
10-31-2011, 09:02 PM
So, is The Catcher in the Rye YA?

It's the most popular literary YA book to date. It's actually listed as on of the genre definers in the wikipedia "Young-adult fiction" article.

But you could get to this on your own:

How old is the MC?
What issues does the novel address (is there the theme of growing up/changing)?
Does it speak in a YA voice (aka the teen slang at the time)?

Indeed, The Catcher In The Rye is YA. So is A Clockwork Orange, The Wasp Factory, Looking For Alaska and even The Portrait Of The Artist As A Young man (but only to the extent, because Joyce delves into more "mature" subjects in it, like, midst others, the issues of motherland, patriotism and religion).

ink wench
10-31-2011, 10:42 PM
I don't read the YA forums, but there are a lot of times posts show up in genre SYW that immediately call out YA (and sometimes the posters argue that they aren't.) There's something about the way the manuscript is written that does this - sometimes it's sort of a talking down to the readers, sometimes it's the sensitivity to the young characters and their emotions, sometimes it's over explanation of the world and surroundings, and definitely voice of the writer. I can't say this is an absolute hard and fast idea, but it comes across to me more that adult material is harder and more direct (not as flowery or descriptive) and gets right into the story and YA is softer and takes a bit more time to set up the scenes.Actually, I need to disagree with the bolded. I read (and write) both adult and YA UF, and in general, the pace in YA is much faster than in adult. As a result, the worldbuilding suffers, imo. Most of it has as much depth as the paper its printed on. I like adult and YA, but the strength in YA is the pace and that it doesn't bog down in description. The strength in adult is the richness and that it takes its time. Just my observations.

Christine N.
11-01-2011, 12:59 AM
All the things that have been said are pretty good. Voice definitely. Perception and point-of-view absolutely - a teenager and an adult see the same situation different.

Most importantly, as Jenn Laughran says, YA is NOT about adult shit. It's not about paying the bills, buying a house, grocery shopping. Well, sometimes it IS about those things, but again, the perspective must be that of a YA, not an adult.

Does that make sense?

sheadakota
11-01-2011, 01:15 AM
All the things that have been said are pretty good. Voice definitely. Perception and point-of-view absolutely - a teenager and an adult see the same situation different.

Most importantly, as Jenn Laughran says, YA is NOT about adult shit. It's not about paying the bills, buying a house, grocery shopping. Well, sometimes it IS about those things, but again, the perspective must be that of a YA, not an adult.

Does that make sense?
It makes perfect sense. Which is why I always shied away from writing YA. But (yeah there's always a but) Can't Ya be about adult shit that a teen has to deal with? I don't mean paying bills or buying a house or mundane stuff like that - I was thinking more along the life and death line of shit. The MS I want to convert would be about brothers who aren't, well, normal teens- they have been bred with one purpose in mind - to be used and studied for use as a psychic weapon- only they have other ideas about the matter-

willietheshakes
11-01-2011, 02:15 AM
Their brains are still in the final stages of development, so they can be prone to melodrama or even mood swings.

This is also true of many late-twenties, early-thirties folks I know.

Toothpaste
11-01-2011, 02:32 AM
It makes perfect sense. Which is why I always shied away from writing YA. But (yeah there's always a but) Can't Ya be about adult shit that a teen has to deal with? I don't mean paying bills or buying a house or mundane stuff like that - I was thinking more along the life and death line of shit. The MS I want to convert would be about brothers who aren't, well, normal teens- they have been bred with one purpose in mind - to be used and studied for use as a psychic weapon- only they have other ideas about the matter-

Actually "Adult shit" is precisely the paying bills and buying the house that people are referring to. NOT life and death issues, or difficult issues. There are YA books about violence, abuse, sex, dealing with a parent who is ill, cutting oneself etc. And practically every Paranormal Romance is about life and death. And the plot of your book reads to me like totally appropriate for YA.

"Adult Shit" means the stuff that is unique to being a grownup, adult responsibilities etc. It doesn't mean complex feelings and dealing with complicated emotions.

DancingMaenid
11-01-2011, 03:04 AM
What do you guys feel the difference is between YA and adult fiction with young protagonists? I'd say that YA is written for teens, but what qualities does a story have to have in order for that to be the case?

For example, in the novel White Oleander, the protagonist spends the novel in the YA age range, the story is from her POV, there's a big coming of age theme, and I wouldn't say the plot or plot points are that much more "adult" than what you see in a lot of YA (which often tackles difficult subjects).

I think it's pretty common for teens who enjoy reading to be well into adult literature, anyway, so aside from a young protagonist and a teenage perspective, what makes a book YA?