5 Reasons to Write YA

When I first started writing fiction, I never expected to end up writing YA. But once I discovered what a vibrant, challenging category it was, I was hooked. I love young adult fiction, and I love the authors working in the category. Explaining to my friends and family, though, what YA is and why I was taking my career in a new direction was a bit of a challenge. Here are some great reasons to write or read YA, and why I do it myself:

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Screen Shot 2014-10-27 at 3.32.16 PM Column by Kate Brauning, author of HOW WE FALL, a YA first cousins
romance releasing November 11, 2014. She grew up in rural Missouri and
fell in love with young adult books in college. She’s now an editor with
Entangled Publishing and pursues her lifelong dream of telling stories
she’d want to read. Kate loves unusual people, good whiskey, dark
chocolate, and everything about autumn. Visit her on Twitter: @KateBrauning.

1) A wide audience. By writing YA, we’re not crossing out adult readers. YA isn’t a reading level, it’s a category of story about a particular stage in life. Many of my adult friends thought if I started writing “teen fiction” it wouldn’t be a story they’d enjoy. But about half of YA readers are over 18, and a huge portion of the adult readers of YA are over 30. I didn’t find YA and start reading it myself until I was in college—and I’m so glad I did find it, because it reminded me how honest and surprising and deeply human fiction can be.

When you write YA, you’re writing to a wide, diverse audience. Adults buy and read YA all the time. Of course, it’s important to write with teen readers in mind, too, since they’re a significant portion of the audience, and no one can sense preachy messages or condescending stories like a teen.

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2) A point of change. YA explores the teenage years of a person’s life, and those years are a significant point of change for most of us. Teens are tackling adult issues for the first time—serious relationships, jobs, shifting authority structures, new limits and opportunities—but they’re doing it without the experience and often without the resources that adults may have. It’s a vulnerable, heady, thrilling stage in someone’s life. Teens are also adjusting to greater independence and more authority in their own lives, but might still be dealing with limitations at odds with those things, like curfews, not having a car, house rules, and the structures of school. I didn’t start reading YA until I reached my twenties, and I wish I’d found it earlier—seeing so closely into the lives of other teens who are wrestling with the same changes and struggles I was would have been so helpful as a teen. I still find myself identifying with the characters in these stories, because people never stop struggling with change. You don’t grow out of YA.

The experiences we have in our teenage years are formative ones, and the mistakes and choices we make can follow us into adulthood. There’s great opportunity, uncertainty, and passion in those years, and they leave a mark on us. So when you write YA, explore that point of change.

3) Trying new things. Experimenting with craft is another reason I love YA. It’s a brave category. Novels in second person and novels in verse. Unreliable narrators. Thick, several-hundred-page stories. Companion short stories or novellas. Genre-blending, and epistolary-style novels with texts, blog posts, letters, and graphics. So much can be done in YA, and no story is off-limits. I love being challenged as a writer, seeing a tough story and figuring out how I can tell it, and YA is a great place to be doing that. Don’t let yourself be limited by what has or hasn’t been done before—explore new devices, new ideas, and new ways of telling these stories. Like teens themselves, YA is known for being brave and taking risks.

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4) Exploring tough issues. One of the main reasons I love reading and writing YA is that the category tackles such tough issues. Along with all the new independence, vulnerability, and vibrancy of teen life come problems—things we’d like to think teens don’t have to deal with, but are so often a part of their lives. Our ideas about adolescence are often at odds with the struggles of it. The weighty, bitter truths of growing up sometimes get painted over when we think about childhood. Like adults, teens have to deal with bullying, neglect, abuse, physical and mental illness, assault, discrimination, addiction, broken relationships, loss, regret, and personal failures. YA fiction is a great place to explore what those teen years really look like, and how we can adjust, heal, and reinvent ourselves. And sometimes those harsh truths take over, and YA can give us those stories, too. Sometimes the biggest struggles are crushes and cliques at school, but that’s not usually the case. The best YA is genuine and honest about what it means to be a teen.

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5) Why not? A final reason I love YA is that there’s no reason not to. Teens are every bit as complex as adults, and they can think as deeply, too. Of course they can. Teens aren’t a more simplistic or less demanding audience, and their stories aren’t any simpler or less worthy. When I came to YA as an adult, what drew me in was the depth of these stories, and that’s what I’ve stayed for, too.

Teens are people, and people have fascinating stories. There’s no reason we shouldn’t write or read their stories, and there’s every reason to do exactly that. We read and write YA to remember that stage in life, to explore, to see someone else’s life, to empathize. To keep the teenage part of ourselves alive. For catharsis. For fun. To be challenged. To think. To create, and to participate.

The stories in YA are first and foremost human stories. When you write YA, keep that in mind, because regardless of which category we put it in, that’s the core of a good story.

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9 thoughts on “5 Reasons to Write YA

  1. hrfarmer

    Same here – really got into YA reading when I was in college and haven’t looked back since. There’s so many possibilities in this category, and so many writers that I look up to. I write YA because I love reading YA. Completely agree with your statement that we don’t grow out of YA. Granted, I’m still in my early 20s, but still I don’t see myself ever growing out of it. http://hrfarmer.blogspot.com/

  2. sefmac20

    I teach 8th grade, and I love watching students of all kinds carry awesome YA books like a badge of honor. They are so eager to connect with characters that “speak” to their lives and struggles. Sometimes I think kids face the real problems in life, since so much is out of their control.

    Reading/Writing YA helps me connect to and relate with my students.

  3. LaineC

    The very first part says it all for me: YA isn’t a reading level, it’s about a particular time in life. That’s important to remember with this genre. Thank you for the thoughtful article!

  4. JRSimmang

    It was “The Hunger Games” that sucked me straight into YA. It was the first series that I wrote curriculum around for my 7th grade students. Since then, it’s been one book after the other. I’ve found I’m partial to the post-apocalyptic/ alternate futures subgenre, but enjoy others nonetheless. I’ve even found YA creepy steadily into more adult genres. I think of Alice Sebold’s “The Lovely Bones.” The MC is a preteen caught between the world of the living and her interpretation of Heaven. How much more complicated can a teen’s life get?

    I’ve set out to write my first attempt at YA, and you’re absolutely right it’s a challenge. It’s difficult, sometimes, to go back to those years of insecurity and pressure.

    Thanks for the post!

    -JR
    http://www.letitmarinade.blogspot.com

  5. dawn.blanchard

    Like you, I did not discover YA until I was an adult. I have to admit I was hesitant to read the first one that was passed on to me by my husband – I felt I would not be able to relate. Boy, was I wrong. Since then, I have bought many YA books, and have just begun writing one of my own. Thank you so much for your helpful and encouraging article.

  6. djessop

    I must admit that I really like your third item “3) Trying new things”. As someone who is over the age of 50 reading YA might seem a little strange to some, but I have become bored with the “traditional” and I like the fact that YA authors are willing to go against the grain and try something different. It is this variety which has given my reading habits new life in the past few years and I am thoroughly enjoying what is out there. The only problem so far is that I read faster than my daughters so I have to wait for them to catch up before discussing the book with them.

  7. JanelleFila

    I agree, reading and writing YA is so much fun because of the experimental stories and surprisingly tough issues (and I am in the 30+ category). Novels in verse are my new favorite! I also love unreliable narrators. But even more than that, I love sharing a moment with my 13-year-old son. I like taking a story to him and talking about the issues the characters face. Because of the common reading ground, we have frank, open conversations about intimate issues that he lives through every day! My advice to every parent who wants a better understanding of their angsty teen? Read YA! Janelle http://www.janellefila.com

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