Thursday, October 2, 2014

What’s the difference between ‘new’ adult and ‘young’ adult? PLUS a contest!

Guest post by Editor & Author of Writing New Adult Fiction Deborah Halverson, Writer's Digest Books (July 24, 2014), Sylvia Day (Foreword)

I bet the most common first question I field after telling writers that my new book is Writing New Adult Fiction is, “What’s the difference between ‘new’ adult and ‘young’ adult?” My answer usually starts with a single word: sensibility.

YA fiction has a youthful sensibility that matches the age range of its 12- to 18-year-old protagonists. Let’s leave the under-17s out of this, though, since it’s really the upper edge of teenhood that plays into this discussion. The way these older teens process the world and their place in it differs greatly from the way new adults do the same, and those differences play into how YA characters process their fictional world and react to it. Teens don’t have much experience with the world yet, so even when they are intellectually advanced, their emotional and social naïveté causes them to judge, act, and react differently than they will in just a few years, after they’ve lived through the hard stuff we throw at them in a YA story. These older teens are often desperate to get out from under their parents’ thumbs, or from under other authoritative oversight, and they believe that when they do, life will be so much better. They are an optimistic bunch—usually overly so, thanks to their inexperience. Their ability to put things into perspective is still budding.

NA fiction features 18- to 26-year-olds fully engaged in wisdom acquisition. They’ve got that freedom they dreamed of—only, now they carry the responsibilities that come with it. Turns out, it’s stressful living a self-responsible life when just about everything in your life is in transition. New social circles, new jobs, new living situations…. There’s lots of exploring and experimenting going on, lots of planning and reassessing plans and reassessing again. This is why NA fiction includes first forays into careers—that’s still a time of experimenting and assessing the Life Plan that they’ll settle into as adults with spouses, kids, and committed careers. New adulthood is also the time when young people use the wisdom they’re attaining to form their world view (which includes things like faith, political views, personal well being) and to establish their identities. They began identity exploration in their teen years but give it a serious work-through during this phase.

All of this plays out in a fictional character’s priorities, concerns, words, and actions, and in what the narrative focuses on (especially if that narrative is a first person point of view, which essentially puts readers inside the protagonist’s head). The things your characters talk about reveal their priorities and perspectives, and the way they act or react to situations makes those priorities and perspectives clear. A teen might think, “Is this what love feels like?”, whereas a new adult might say, “How do I behave when I’m with him? What do I want in a guy, in this guy? What do I need from a relationship?” All of these things—point of view, dialogue, action, word choice—contribute to a narrative’s sensibility.

So that’s why I say that the key difference between NA fiction and YA fiction lies is their narrative sensibilities. Yes, the ages of the characters are different and the settings may be different too (think high school versus college), but it’s the way the characters process their experiences that define the category. Send a seventeen-year-old protagonist to college early and she’s going to interact with that world through the emotions and social filters of a seventeen-year-old. Thus, it’s up to writers to make sure all the elements in our stories sync—character age, setting, problems, coping skills—so that the story is believable to its readership. NA characters talk and act like new adults and face problems that would befall new adults. If you don’t, you’ve got a YA that feels preachy or an NA that feels too young. And of course what we want is a book that feels right on target for our chosen category’s audience.


Luckily, as abstract as narrative sensibility seems to be, you can actively sculpt it from many different directions, using techniques and strategies for tangible elements like dialogue, plot choices, characterization, and even setting. That’s how I filled up an entire book with NA-focused writing advice, and why I dare to believe that writers will find Writing New Adult Fiction applicable as well
as informative.

WIN a signed copy of Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson!
In comments, let us know if you are writing YA, NA or both and then head on over to and join the A PATH TO PUBLISHING Facebook Group to talk with 1,600+ likeminded authors, editors, agents and illustrators:  https://www.facebook.com/groups/apathtopublishing/

We will randomly choose one person who both commented and is an A PATH TO PUBLISHING Facebook Group member to receive a signed copy of Writing New Adult Fiction by Deborah Halverson! Winner will be chosen and notified via comments in this blog on October 15, 2014.

BIO: Deborah Halverson is the award-winning author of Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies, Writing New Adult Fiction, the teen novels Honk If You Hate Me and Big Mouth, and numerous books for young readers. Deborah was an editor at Harcourt Children’s Books for ten years—until she climbed over the desk and tried out the author chair on the other side. Armed with a Masters in American Literature and a fascination with pop culture, she sculpts stories from extreme places and events—tattoo parlors, fast food joints, and, most extreme of all, high schools. She is also the founder of the popular writers’ advice website DearEditor.com. Deborah speaks extensively at workshops and conferences for writers and edits adult fiction and nonfiction while specializing in teen fiction, New Adult fiction, and picture books. She lives in San Diego, California, with her husband and triplet sons. For more about Deborah, visit DeborahHalverson.com or DearEditor.com.



Here's to all of your publishing dreams coming true!


28 comments:

  1. I'm writing NA but I don't want the characters to sound too young. This is great food for thought.

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    1. That's a very important concern for a story. It's clearly on your radar, though, so I'm sure you'll get it covered!

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  2. I write mostly YA. However, I have one idea for an NA that follows my main character from my current YA book into college and I have another idea for a stand-alone NA. I would love to win your book!

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  4. I am writing NA (and YA). Thanks for this information.

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    1. Good luck with both of your projects, Amy. I'm glad this was helpful to you.

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  5. I have been writing YA but I am very curious and excited about NA - thank you for this great post (and contest!) Lisa McManus

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    1. Good luck, Lisa, with your WIP and the contest!

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  6. Hi! I loved this post! I thought I had been writing a YA story but after reading this I realize it's actually a NA story. This book will help me emmensly!

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    1. So glad to know it was helpful. Happy writing!

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  7. I thought I was writing a historical YA fiction but after reading this post, I realize that it's NA. Your book will help me emmensly. I hope I win it!

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    1. I'm so pleased to hear this. Good luck with your historical fiction!

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  8. Many thanks for clarifying these categories, Deborah.

    My story begins in London in 1820, when 10 year old James Lucas contracted tinea of the scalp. The treatment involved pulling his hair out by the roots and worse, and his personality changed, he was expelled from two schools, fought his parents’ wishes and refused to get a job. So I initially imagined this to be YA.

    The family moved to the country to hide, so the children’s life there falls into ‘New Adult’ as James is indulged, his three sisters marry European nobility and his brother George trains as a lawyer. I’m sure I’d find your book most useful in writing this period in their lives.

    The father died first, and James was alone in the house when his mother died. He bolted the doors and refused to release her body for burial for three months, then barricaded himself inside the house and never left it for the next 25 years. He slept on ashes, didn’t wash or cut his hair or nails and wore only a horse-blanket. The family had accumulated a fortune from sugar plantations in the West Indies, and up to 400 visitors a day (Charles Dickens was one) watched to see James giving money and gin to some people and pelting others with rock-hard stale loaves.

    But with James incarcerated in the house, George and the sisters could not realise their inheritance. Though George was admitted as a barrister, he was so embarrassed by his brother that he never practiced, but tried to have James certified as a lunatic and removed to an asylum so that the house and estate could be accessed – and I’m telling the story from George’s point of view.

    (James would be treated today as a paranoid schizophrenic.)

    Maybe this is another story that’ll remain forever in the bottom drawer, as I wonder how far outside each ‘age bracket’ readers are willing to read. Perhaps I need to discuss ‘Concept’ with you, Jill – I’ll let you advise me which of your ‘products’ I am likely to find most useful.

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    1. Probably the best way to get a handle on "what" this story is category-wise is forget the ages of your main characters for a moment and instead pinpoint which audience would be most interested in the whole storyline. Young people might be interested in James's experience, but I'm thinking they wouldn't be hypnotized by the inheritance battle and law career stuff. It's more likely you've got an NA novel (or even adult fiction) that happens to include young characters, too. George sounds like he is a young man training for and embarking on a career while dealing with family obligations regarding his siblings. That sounds NA to me. Good luck with developing it.

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    2. Much appreciated, Deborah. So far I have a 15,000 word sequence of events and I'm just rearranging my studio to make room for a giant cork board for re-plotting and expanding this story. A long way to go - but I'll get there. This suggestion is most useful.

      There were two 'definitive' accounts of the hermit's life, written in 1930 and 1980, both saying that one of the sisters, Harriet, married a Polish Count and was never heard of again - but with the availability of easier research via the internet, I've found this is untrue. Her husband became a famous European gambler who the family believe was the Man Who Broke the Bank at Monte Carlo, and Harriet is in fact buried in the same tomb as her brother George. I've discovered and connected with her great-great-grandson on Facebook, and he's shared a wealth of information - enough for a sequel.

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  9. This is a fabulous post, Deborah! Thanks so much for all the tips! I'm in the middle of revising a YA/NA (dual POV), and this lets me know where I'm on track and where I have to tweak things. Thanks!

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    1. Perfect timing. Excellent. Good luck with the WIP, Lexa.

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  10. It's a pity that YA got branded as it did when it did, because early teens are not young adults. Too late to change now.

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    1. The labels and category distinctions can definitely confuse people who aren't already in the know, that's a truth. I hope I'm helping people get a handle on the YA/NA split. Certainly trying!

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  11. First manuscript is adult, protagonist in her late 20s. Second MS is NA, protag at Stanford and meets her prospective husband. My biggest "fear" is writing appropriately for the NA protag and her story. Going to buy this book as a guide. Thanks for seeing the need and filling it.

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    1. I'm so pleased to know how this book could be helpful to you in your specific efforts, Dianna. Good luck with your projects.

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  12. I wonder how we can treat our series when they bridge the gap between YA and NA? My first in the series has a female HS senior. Solidly YA. However, the second will address the problems with her navigating college, career, maturing relationships. Will publishers expect this crossover in the future with the new audience category? How will this impact bookstores' shelving?

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    1. That's definitely problematic, as you're asking one target readership to make the jump to the other. It'll be fine for those readers who are in the "crossover audience" and are already adults, they just happen to like to read YA and NA. Many NA writers, editors, and agents believe that YA crossover readership makes up much of the NA readers. College-aged readers will be okay with the transition, provided they want to start with a YA. Teens might find the character's problems age out of her area of concern. Ultimately, you would find this issue easier to navigate if you could age your HS to the very end of high school, perhaps already dealing with NA problems and mindset in a more mature way. You could call it "Mature YA", although right now that tends to be seen as a flag that there is explicit material rather than just more sophisticated mindsets and concerns. Not an easy answer for you unless you want to take her fully out of high school, past adult oversight and regulation.

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  13. I am writing a YA novel. A teen's drug-addicted sister disappears, only to return 8 months later pregnant and twisted.

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  14. I hadn't considered my novels to be anything other than mainstream fiction, but now I believe they fit this new category perfectly. I need your book!

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