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Monday, February 27, 2012

Writing Books for Teens

Because I tend to write on the "sweeter side" of romance,  meaning no on-page sex or strong language, many agents, editors, and other writers have encouraged me to write for the teen or young adult market. 

I resisted for a long time.

Why? Because as a romance author, I love the happily ever after ending that adult romances promise. Conversely, YA novels tend to end only "happily for now," meaning, there are no vows of eternal love or marriage; they typically end with little more than a kiss and/or maybe an 'I love you.'  I remember high school enough to remember how long 'I love you' lasted.

However, about half of my Regency romance novels, as well as my fantasy, Queen in Exile, have heroines who are in their teens. In fact, I'm told my fantasy has a very strong YA appeal even though it was written for the adult market. Which begs the question: what's different about my adult romance novels( that have appeal to teens) from actual "YA" novels?

In my case, the heroes in my books are all older than teens; they're somewhere in their twenties. The other big difference is; in my books, there is always a happily ever after. But I wasn't really sure what else I'd have to change in order to write YA novels. And I continued to resist even considering writing them.

Yet my muse kept sending me book ideas for the young adult market as well as adult. After getting a really fun idea for a teen novel that I couldn't resist, I finally broke down and started seriously considering writing a book for teens. The challenge, then, became figuring out what other differences exist between teen books and adult books.

So, based on observation, here are some of the many trends I found in teen books that are different from adult romances:

1. Love is big, dramatic, new, and full of life-changing emotions and events. Teens also tend to fall in love faster than adults and don't usually have the fears of taking a chance on love that a lot of adult romances have.

2. Friends are more important than family as far as with whom they spend the most time and to whom they turn for help or advice.

3. Many adults are portrayed as tyrants who don't understand teens. Yeah, remember high school? Enough said.

4. Teen lingo is different from adults and so are their speech patterns. They are less comfortable expressing their feelings, and their hormones drive them to more explosive and passionate outbursts.

5. In most cases, sex either doesn't happen or is only implied. There are, of course, notable exceptions, but I've never heard of a YA manuscript being rejected because there isn't any sex in it (which often happens in adult romances, depending on the publisher).

6. The vast majority of teen books seem to be written in first person point of view (I, me, my, mine) and there seldom any switching between his and her points of view. Again, there are some notable exceptions, but this seems to be the trend.

I'm sure there are many more subtle differences, but those appear to be the main differences between adult and teen romances.

What's not different:

1. Contrary to popular belief, the language is not dumbed-down at all. The vocabulary and complexity of the sentence structure used in teen books does not dramatically change from adult. Some popular YA books are very sparse and others are quite lyrical.

2. The stakes are just as high in YA novels as adult novels.

3. The tone is all over the spectrum ranging from laugh-out-loud humor, to dark and tortured.

4. All genres sell. Paranormals and dystopians are hot sellers but so are fun, sassy, quirky romances, as well as historicals and all kinds of cross-genres.

I finally broke down and started writing a YA historical paranormal, but before I could finish it, I had a dream that I knew would make a great dark dystopian YA novel. I resisted that one for months because it was so far outside my normal genre and style, but it continued to haunt me. So, after months of saying 'this isn't my thing,' I called my critique group. They helped me hammer out that dream into a cohesive plot.
As far as research, I did very little, because the time setting is the future--post-apocalyptic Earth after a world war and a series of pandemics. I did, however do some research into the military and a medic's role within a military unit. The location of the book is the Sonoran desert, which is where I live, so that one was easy.

In my effort create a believable feel to my teenaged protagonists, I had to tap into my inner teen. I listened to a lot of rock and roll that I loved when I was in high school. It helped pull out all that teenaged rebellion and anger. I also eavesdropped on my own teens to get a better feel for their speech patterns--not their slang--but the way they express themselves and interact with each other.

The story is written, submitted, and awaiting representation.

The hardest challenge for me has been keeping up with my self-imposed writing schedule. I'm trying to finish my Rogue Hearts Regency Series, start on book 2 for a second Regency series I started, finish my YA paranormal historical, and plot a book 2 for the dystopian. And I have more fantasies in me. Oh, and I want to write a paranormal series.  But that's sorta the story of my life anyway. (No pun intended.)

Have you observed anything else about teen books that are different from their adult counterparts?


Judith Ashley said...


I really like how you outlined the similarities and differences between YA and other Romances. To be honest, I haven't read any YA so I can't answer your question.

Diana Mcc. said...

I enjoyed reading your post. You put a lot out there to think about when writing a YA.

I can't answer your question because I haven't read that many YA books.