Wednesday, September 12, 2012

The Difference between YA and Adult Fiction

There is so much that could be said on this. Some of it I've highlighted in previous blog posts. But it bears repeating. YA is about the search for identity. I think especially so for the current crop of teens and young adults. Maybe because of the times we grew up in. Maybe because we were told that we were all special, unique snowflakes as children and now we're testing that idea to see if it's really true. Deep down, we want it to be true. But the reality of understanding how it's true for each of us is a complex process.

Yesterday, The Character Therapist had an excellent take on YA fiction and how it's different from Adult fiction. My guess is that she's a border line Baby Boomer/Gen Xer, but a very astute one. ;-)  (One common mistake of older generations is to write off GenYers. An equally common mistake of GenYers is to think previous generations are a bit dense and ignore the wisdom that often--but not always--accompanies age and life experience). I appreciate Jeannie's willingness to tackle this issue. For the original post that got me on this soapbox again, see: The Character Therapist: THE Post to Read if You Write Young Adult Fiction.

Adult fiction can also have the "search for who I am" element, but it tends not to be what defines most novels written for adults. For YA, defining one's identity, belief structure, life calling, etc, is core to the genre. Today we have YA of this ilk by the boatloads, but when I was a teen in the 90s there wasn't a lot of teen fiction available--and even less on the shelves at my local Christian bookstore. What was there tended to be formulaic and plot driven rather than character driven. Or if it was a story of character development, it was either unrelatable or involved horrible emotional scarring by some literati who probably wanted me to understand that the adult world is a terrible place with lots of pain. Newer YA books like, Divergent, are able to (thankfully) get a similar message across in a less traumatic fashion with a more staggering impact on how I see and interpret the world around me.

I have a lot more thoughts on this issue (usually filtered by my long-suffering husband who sits through long rants on the topic and helps me balance out), but I'll explore them later. For now I'll close with the thought that the layers of YA fiction and Generation Y (Millennials) closely overlap.

Anyone else have any thoughts on these topics?? If so, please chime in!


  1. As a writer of YA, this post was very interesting. While I think this is a generalization that applies to most YA fiction, I'd like to think that YA fiction can go beyond that. I'm speaking as someone who is still in that general age bracket (gettin' into "new adult"--20s--but it's a similar phase); we're not constantly on a journey of self-discovery, at least not overtly. We can just have fun and go on an adventure sometimes. YA doesn't need to be about self-discovery; it can be about teens just having an adventure.

    But that's just a speculation on my part... I haven't studied YA fiction to see if I can find any that doesn't have even a subtle theme of coming of age. It'd be an interesting exercise, perhaps.

  2. That is a really good point, Aubrey. Actually, there is a "non-serious" segment of YA out there. By that I don't necessarily mean humor (although there is that), but rather books where it is just about an adventure and not this deep, introspective, navel-gazing saga.

    I would claim that a number of classics actually fall into this, like Treasure Island, for instance. While character development is an aspect of the story, it's primarily an adventure.

    So perhaps it would be better for me to say that the search for identity is the most popular theme in YA, or maybe even the prevailing defining theme, but not an across-the-board requirement for a book to be YA.

    Thanks for your comment! It definitely got me thinking. Hope you stop by again!

    1. I would absolutely agree with that. I think the search for identity is the most defining and also the most common theme of YA. But I'm rather stubborn and rebellious when it comes to literary standards, so I'd like to think it's possible to write YA without that dominant theme--although I can't think of any examples. I think in a lot of YA the theme is there, even if it is not the overt focus of the plotline. (Such as in Treasure Island.)

      But I should talk--my latest YA book is absolutely saturated in "coming of age" themes! ;)

      Yes! I apologize you haven't gotten any comments from me before! I had your blog saved and kept meaning to snoop all over it, but I am ridiculously terrible with keeping up with blogs. But I couldn't resist a mention of YA. :) This was a great article, and I'll be around!

  3. Haha! That's great Aubrey! I, too, like to consider myself a bit of a non-conformist or someone whose writing isn't bound by convention (but isn't that part of the nature of writers??) (Un)fortunately for me (depending on how you look at it), writing YA on issues of identity is something that has always fascinated me and it just so happens to be popular right now in YA. Eventually, it will fall out of fashion and I can be relegated to the edges again. LOL.

    One caveat about writing on the search for identity: it isn't always overt. I think you pointed this out above. In fact, the story has to come first. At the core of one of my novels, After Her Death, is the story about a girl finding out who she is. But that wouldn't be so interesting to read about (let alone write about) if there wasn't an intriguing plotline.

    Please snoop around to your heart's content. I've had fun lurking on your blog these past few months and take encouragment by your own publishing success as a newbie! :-D

    1. I have that "problem" too... I like being a bit of a rebel, but sometimes conventions just work best (or sneak up on you and make you buy into them without your realizing). ;)

      I agree--story first! It's made me wonder if my first novel (Red Rain) has a theme of discovering identity. I've never thought of it that way, but then again, I was very story-focused when I wrote it. Perhaps it's there. I'd have to ponder it...

      I enjoyed my snooping, and I'm really glad you found my blog, too! I always enjoy your comments. :D


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