Posts Tagged ‘fiction’

I promised my friends at the Colorado Gold Conference this past weekend that I would post my presentation on When is it YA? on my blog, and I’m keeping that promise here.  Some of this may be a bit familiar, since I’ve written on the subject before, but there’s new here as well.

So, when is it YA?

It’s important when targeting editors and agents to how where your work fits, and there’s often confusion about when something is middle-grade or young adult vs. new adult or adult fiction. Is it just the age of the protagonist? Well, no.

For a quick overview:

Middle grade is considered fiction for kids 8-12. There’s, of course, a range within this from chapter books like the Magic Treehouse to series like Percy Jackson and the early Harry Potter books, which I would argue aged up with the reader. These books mostly have protagonists on the older side of the reader scale (kids will read up in age but not down). So, it’s very likely your hero or heroine would be 11 or 12. Word count generally hovers around 40-55,000 words, give or take.

-Young Adult is for ages 12-18. Of course, there’s a range here as well and again you want to aim for older protagonists to give yourself the broadest readership. Word count is generally 60,000-80,000 words though, of course, this varies as well. It’s not just about the age of the protagonist, but about themes and where the protagonist is in his or her life.

New Adult this is for older heroes and heroines and has more adult, often sexual themes. It’s generally the next step in the protagonists’ lives—the first really adult relationship—and it’s mostly seen and shelved in romance. Heroes/heroines will be late teens or early twenties and the books will generally be the length of adult fiction.

Adult: adult fiction can, of course, have younger protagonists, like Mark Haddon’s THE CURIOUS INCIDENT OF THE DOG IN THE NIGHTTIME or Jodi Picoult’s MY SISTER’S KEEPER or Orson Scott Card’s Ender series, but the themes and situations are adult. The characters aren’t dealing with high school and issues of identity, but having to deal with adult situations even at their young age.

So when is it YA?

Young adult and middle-grade novels do not simply have young characters dropped into an adult world, dealing with their issues.  They have young people in situations and settings that are relevant to their current experience and to what they’re going through. Generally, the characters are in a school and/or familiar setting, dealing with family and social issues that are universal to that period in life.

Common themes (and I say “I” and “you” because what any writer needs to succeed is to become his/her character while writing):

Finding belonging – where do I fit in? Whether your character discovers s/he belongs in the wizarding world or the in crowd, finding a place in the world is a major theme.

Rebellion – young adulthood is definitely a time for questioning the status quo and deciding what you really believe in and what you’re willing to fight for.

Survival – sometimes you’re fighting just to survive. Zombies. High school. Minefields. Mazes.

Self-reliance or the flipside, allowing others in – no matter who your character is, he or she won’t be the same by the end of the story. If she’s a loner, she might learn that she needs people and that there’s sometimes strength in numbers. If he’s used to a certain amount of safety, whether it be in financial or social status, something will happen to teach him how to stand on his own.

How to make a difference – change is sort of the buzzword. Whatever’s going on, there has to be a way for the teens themselves to make the difference and affect the change. Control and coming into their own are all important.

Overall, the most important thing is that the young adult protagonists in your story are the agents of change. They’re not catalysts or observers, they’re active participants, without which…nothing.

What about Language?

Just like it isn’t all about the age of the protagonists, it’s not all about language either. Here are some important things to keep in mind:

-Don’t talk down to your readers. Ever.

-Don’t preach

-Make sure you use relevant cultural references and not those that will be gone in a year. Your heartthrobs will not be theirs!

-Know how kids talk. Dialogue should be natural and contemporary. Language and sentence structure appropriate for your viewpoint character. They know when you’re faking it.

-Cursing – sometimes it’s necessary. Good rule of thumb, always make sure it is. Don’t use it gratuitously and be aware that for some lines, even that’s too much.


Here’s a hint – teens know about sex and drugs and drinking. It’s part of their experience, so it will often factor into to realistic portrayals, although some publishers are certainly more open to this than others.

Young adult fiction isn’t adult lite.  It’s not the place to preach to kids or present things as you’d have them appear rather than as they are.  It’s the place where you address teens’ actual world, experiences, insecurities, pressures, etc.  Even if you throw vampires or werewolves into the mix, you’re still dealing with peer pressure, bullying, friends/parents/faculty/enemies with agendas of their own.  And the big secret…none of this ends with high school, which might be why so many adults are attracted to young adult fiction as well.  We’ve all been there, and in many ways have never left. 

The LA Times had a wonderful article recently on the widespread appeal of young adult fiction, where one author (Lizzie Skurnick) speculated that part of the attraction may lie in the fact that “a YA book is explicitly intended to entertain.”  I think another factor may be that young adult fiction isn’t broken down along genre lines, but is a category all by itself, which means that writers are less tied to any particular conventions.  A book doesn’t have to be A or B, but can be something all its own.  (Not that genre boundaries haven’t become increasingly blurry in the adult fiction market as well.)

I don’t think there are taboos of subject so much as differing levels of graphic presentation.  There are times where something might happen off stage or that different language might be used, but the world is not always a perfect or pretty place, and fiction should reflect that. 

That said, if what you want to write about is sexual awakening, you might be writing New Adult rather than YA. It’s a matter of the focus and the nature of the experience.

But death – yup, got it – THE FAULT IN OUR STARS by John Green. Drugs –yup, that too—Ellen Hopkins. Eating disorders – HUNGER by Jackie Morse Kessler. Suicide – THIRTEEN REASONS WHY. Reproductive issues – UNWIND by Neal Shusterman. And those are just examples.

The important thing in young adult fiction is to be authentic and to make sure you truly understand your characters, their struggles and the significance of their triumphs.

Tomorrow I hope to be posting a write up and some fabulous pictures from my trip to Sydney, Australia, first for the Romance Writers of Australia Conference (which was wonderful!) and then from my sightseeing (amazing!). Today, I’m over at Magical Words with a post “It’s a boy thing…” on sexism, bias, fiction and frustration.

Last week, Amy Christine Parker and I posted our last YA Rebels video – author tips, as translated by our husbands. We had fun with it, and I hope you will as well!

Hey, all!  I’ve been quiet for awhile because I’ve been crazy busy (all to the good).  Trying to make up for it today with TWO new vlogs, one a video interview the awesome Jean Marie Ward did with me for Buzzy Magazine.

The other is Amy Christine Parker’s and my latest YA Rebels video.  In this one, we talk to a panel of YA writers and teachers about teens, fiction and trends.  Check us out! (L to R: Amy Christine Parker, me, Heather Burch, Lisa Iriarte, Joe Iriarte)

I hope you enjoy!

You all may know Alethea Kontis already (or Princess Alethea as she’s sometimes called).  If not, I don’t know what you’re waiting for.  She and her books are just lovely, and the author herself is the very definition of gracious!  But you don’t have to take my word for it.  You can see for yourself in my interview with her below for the YA Rebels.

If you’d like to hear more fairy tale rants, you can always check her on the web:


Fairy Tale Rants:

Fairy Tale Theatre:

Perhaps you will even learn the queen’s wave done properly, as I did.  Darn, should have fit that into the video!

Today on my blog, the superlative…wait, no…the stupendous…no, no, that’s not quite it either…the, well THE Keith R.A. DeCandido, author of everything from the Serenity novelization to tie-ins for Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Supernatural, Resident Evil, Spider-Man, etc. to original fiction, like his newly released SCPD: The Case of the Claw.  He’s talking today about collaborative fiction and inspiration from working with other authors.  Enjoy!  (And, hey, give him a shout out, if you’re so inclined.)

Lotsa Sandboxes

by Keith R.A. DeCandido

Traditionally writing is considered a solitary activity, but there are ways to make it a collaborative medium while still maintaining your own voice.

One method I’ve mined pretty well is to work on tie-in fiction. While many tie-in lines go the standalone route—where each novel is just an independent story that takes place in the same universe as the TV show, movie, game, or comic book that it spins off of—others have encouraged a more collaborative method. The most obvious example is the Star Wars novel, which even has the rather cool title of “Expanded Universe.” I myself have participated in such in the Marvel novels of the 1990s (which was actually administrated by me as the line’s editor) and the Star Trek novels, which went from being traditionally standalone to becoming more integrated in the 21st century. Getting to jam with other authors on such sub-series as the Starfleet Corps of Engineers and the post-finale Deep Space Nine fiction and the A Time to… series of Next Generation novels was just great fun. Getting to bounce ideas off fellow authors and inspire each other is a creative jolt that just can’t be beat.

More recently, I’ve gotten to do that in settings that aren’t corporately owned.

Aaron Rosenberg and David Niall Wilson invited me to be part of a science fiction shared world concept called “The Scattered Earth.” The basic setting is a far future where humanity has died out—but slivers of the human race have been re-seeded on other planets by powerful beings once worshipped as gods. My own corner of it has people who derived from the people of West Africa, and who have conquered their entire star system under the rule of the Olodumare Hegemony. My first Scattered Earth novel Guilt in Innocence reveals the ugly secret behind the Hegemony’s dominance—upcoming novels and stories will start to bring the threads together as the different bits of humanity (seen so far in Aaron’s The Birth of the Dread Remora and David’s The Second Veil, among other places) will start to come together.

Meanwhile, Jonathan Maberry has started up a shared world of his own, in which vampires are real—but not the ones you know from the film, television, or literature. No, a virus activates people’s “junk DNA,” and they become the vampires of their ethnic heritage’s folklore. A Chinese guy turns into a hopping ghost, a Haitian man turns into a loup garou (that’s in my story, “The Ballad of Big Charlie”), and so on. The first batch of stories by me, Jonathan, and bunch of other cool folks will be in IDW’s V Wars this spring.

And Steven Savile created a little thriller series called Viral, wherein the same series of events—in this case, a CIA operation that uses Third World immunization programs to further the agenda of the war on terror—from a variety of angles. In my case, what interested me was something Steve said about a journalist who is confronted with this intelligence, and has to decide whether or not to report it—a decision made more complicated by the CIA strike team trying to kill him. That story is told in the first novella of the four in Viral, my own -30-.

In each case, it was so much fun to take ideas from other writers and incorporate them (with permission, obviously) to add texture. It was a true collaboration, but still my own story each time.

Of course, there’s a lot to be said for making your own damn sandbox. Right now I’ve got two fantastical police procedurals going—one in a high fantasy setting (Dragon Precinct and its sequels Unicorn Precinct and the forthcoming Goblin Precinct), the other in a city filled with superheroes (SCPD: The Case of the Claw). Both take place in fictional cities—Cliff’s End in the fantasy world of Flingaria in which elves, dwarves, gnomes, and halflings live in something like peace, Super City, which is in our world in much the same way Metropolis and Gotham City are—and part of the joy is in creating the feel of those cities. The neighborhoods, the people, the tone of each one, the pulse of the mass transit system in Super City, the differences in the precincts in Cliff’s End. It becomes a real place, with real people.

Sure, writing is a solitary profession. But there are lots of folks around to give you a hand, you just have to know where to find them.

Keith R.A. DeCandido is, as you may have guessed, a writer. If you go to his web site at, you can find links to his blog, his Facebook page, and his Twitter feed, to purchase his most recent books, to his editorial service KRADitorial (serving both personal and corporate clients), and to his podcasts: Dead Kitchen Radio: The Keith R.A. DeCandido Podcast, The Chronic Rift, and the Parsec Award-winning audio drama HG World (for which he does the voice of Todd Rage), among other cool things. Oh, and look for his Leverage novel in the near-ish future, as well as all that cool stuff he talked about above. You’ll be glad you did.

I’m over at Magical Words today talking about “The Writer’s Journey.”

Over here I want to wish my Girlfriends Cyber Circuit sister Laurie Faria Stolarz a happy belated book birthday for DEADLY LITTLE VOICES!

ISBN-13: 9781423131618  
Disney/Hyperion Books for Children


Camelia Hammond thought her powers of psychometry gave her only the ability to sense the future through touch. But now she’s started to hear voices. Cruel voices. Berating her, telling her how ugly she is, that she has no talent, and that she’d be better off dead. Camelia is terrified for her mental stability, especially since her deranged aunt with a suicidal history, has just moved into the house. As if all of that weren’t torturing enough, Camelia’s ex-boyfriend, Ben, for whom she still harbors feelings and who has similar psychometric abilities, has started seeing someone else. Even her closest friends, Kimmie and Wes, are unsure how to handle her erratic behavior.

With the line between reality and dream consistently blurred, Camelia turns to pottery to get a grip on her emotions. She begins sculpting a figure skater, only to receive frightening premonitions that someone’s in danger. But who is the intended victim? And how can Camelia help that person when she’s on the brink of losing her own sanity?


“You’re just one big fat joke,” the voice hisses. 

I cover my ears, but the insults keep coming. 

“Just do it,” a voice whispers.  It’s followed by more voices, of different people.  They talk over each other and mingle together, producing one clear cut message – that I’m a waste of a life.   

I rock back and forth, trying to remain in control.  I smother my ears with the sheet.  Press my forehead against my knees.  Pound my heels into the floor, bracing myself for what comes next. 

Meanwhile, there’s a drilling sensation inside my head; it pushes through the bones of my skull, and makes me think that I’m going crazy.

“Please,” I whisper.  More tears sting my eyes.  I shake my head, wondering if maybe I’m already dead, if maybe the voices are part of hell.

And now from Camelia Hammond, the main character of Laurie’s TOUCH series…

How to bring your psychometric senses to fruition

1. Make yourself comfortable in a place that feels “sacred” to you. For some it’s outside, surrounded by nature; for others it’s a favorite chair or surrounded by candles; for me, it’s wherever I’m doing pottery.
2. Close your eyes and concentrate on your breath, letting go of any stray or nervous thoughts.
3. Now, take an object in your hand. A good idea is to have someone give you something they’ve owned for a long time, i.e. a favorite bracelet or a set of keys.
4. Close your eyes again and concentrate on this object. Be aware of any thoughts or feelings that come about as a result of holding this object. Talk those ideas through, even if they seem silly or insignificant, but never make information up.

Remember, this takes practice and a bit of experimenting. The goal is to begin tuning in to your own inner awareness and your ability of perception. What often works for me is asking a question aloud, and then sculpting out the answer, using my power of touch in a creative and organic way.

Good Luck!

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