The Characteristics of YA Fiction

My area of expertise is Young Adult (YA) contemporary fiction. I write novels that focus on teenagers in today’s modern world. Usually, my work has romance blended in, but for the purpose of today’s blog, I will be discussing YA as a whole. If you need help getting started on your book, check out my post on Six Steps to Starting Your Novel.

1) Characters are roughly between 13 to 18-years-old

YA fiction generally focuses on teenagers—like in The Fault in Our Stars by John Green—or young adults, like Fangirl by Rainbow Rowell. These teens and young adults are usually on their own as they navigate their problems.

Adults usually add to the problem or don’t contribute to the solution. In Just Listen by Sarah Dessen, the MC’s parents are so focused on her older sister that she is left to her own devices. If adults stepped in to solve most of these problems, there wouldn’t be a story. The point of YA is to have the teenager tackle the problem themselves.

2) Typically written from a single character’s point-of-view

YA is usually in first-person. All of Sarah Dessen and John Green’s novels are written in this fashion. But YA fantasy can be written in third person, like Cassandra Clare’s novels. Writing from the first-person perspective allows readers to get inside a character’s head. Some books, like One of Us is Lying by Karen M. McManus, jump between multiple points-of-view.

3) Pacing is critical

YA novels are fast-paced. Simple as that. You need to hook the reader from the first line, but in YA it’s so much more crucial. You’re inciting event needs to happen quickly, without a lot of backstory or buildup.

While you can certainly build tension, you constantly need to keep your readers’ attention or they’ll put the book down and walk away. Nicola Yoon opens The Sun is Also a Star with: “Carl Sagan said that if you want to make an apple pie from scratch, you must first invent the universe.” That line had me hooked and I had to keep reading more. You want to make sure every line moves you closer to your ultimate goal.

4) The problems need to be teen problems

Now, I’m not saying you can’t write a YA murder mystery. Karen M. McManus’s One of Us Is Lying and We Were Liars by E. Lockhart are YA murder mysteries. But you need to center the story around the teenager and their problems.

Richelle Mead’s Bloodlines throws a teenager into a corrupt system that she is taking down while simultaneously dealing with her own self-discovery and identity. The Harry Potter series is about a boy who is fighting a war against dark wizards. But he also tackles love and friendship like any other teen.

Now, these are just a few of the characteristics of YA fiction. I’m sure I could go on for days about them. But if you’re an aspiring YA author, I recommend you read. That’s the best way to learn the craft. Read and write.

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