8 Steps To Cracking The YA Mindset

8 Steps To Cracking The YA MindsetYoung Adult fiction is wildly popular. I write it, and I know several dozen other writers that do too. It’s becoming the front runner for the biggest share of sales across the whole book/ebook market. So what makes it so popular? And how does one write the YA genre well enough to get a share in the market?

You have to be in their mindset. The YA mindset. See, I have this theory that people stop ageing. I mean, yeah, sure, chronologically we ‘grow’ old. But how many people do you know in their 60’s, 70’s or 80’s who actually act like it? My guess is not many. It’s because people stop ageing. We get to a certain level of maturity or chronological age and then poof. Things stop developing, we think as we did at that age, we just add more experience to help reason our decision making. So what does this mean for writing effective YA stories?

Well, here’s the science. 95% of our brains are fully formed by the time we are 6 years old. Most of the last 5% develops in a spurt around adolescence. What does that mean?  YA brains are basically adult brains. They possess the same intellectual abilities, reasoning and capacity as that of fully fledged adults. The only difference is experience. I stopped ageing at 16. My wife, at 21. My mum at 19. When did you stop ageing?

I think the fact I stopped at 16 gives me a small advantage writing for the YA genre, because I can slip back to thinking as I did back then. I have an addition to my theory… and I say this tentatively because I don’t want to offend anyone or make anyone think I’m ageist… I’m not. But, I think baby boomers and older generations stopped ageing slightly older than the X, Y and current Z generations. This is for various reasons. But all societally driven.

X, but specifically Y and Z generations typically grow up faster, are exposed to more at a younger age and more frequently than previous generations. Just look at cinema ratings, there are 15 rated films that terrify me. They are immune to traditional marketing ploys too – because they have seen it, got the t-shirt and bought the gadget last season. They don’t get a chance to age further than their teens.

I think this is the reason the YA market is becoming so massive is because you have an entire generation of teens (Y) who stopped growing and are now adults who brought their YA fiction love with them. And now you have another generation Z who are doing the same. Finally, the older X generation are in my opinion a hybrid of Y and boomers. But what does this all mean? And how does this help write YA fiction?

Here’s a breakdown of what I’ve learnt so far.

ONE

YA stands for Young Adult. The world adult is in there for a reason. Science says they already have adult brains, so as writers we need to respect the fact they are actually adults. This means no simplification, no patronisation and absolutely no holding back.

TWO

They are adults BUT, without experience. Just because they have adult brains doesn’t mean they have had adult experiences and in fact, a lot of these ‘first’ experiences are the subject matter for YA books.

THREE

Not having had experiences means they don’t have examples of reasoning and rationalising decisions. That means sometimes they will make fantastic decisions and other times they will make catastrophic choices – if you don’t have experience to tell you likely outcomes your going on trial and error and emotive (i’ll go into this later) judgements.

FOUR

Sex. Sex is generally the deal breaker between classifying your book as YA or NA (New Adult). But, most 16 year olds have had sex. Actually, lets be honest, most 15 year olds have, and if they haven’t had it, have had their hands down pants and in bras. A lot of writers are shying away from writing first fumbles and awful cherry popping sex because it makes them uncomfortable.

Stop that. Seriously. Stop it. Young adults shag just as much as we adults do. Get over it, and write about the tingles that rushed down her back as his hands slipped up her top and unhooked her bra. How she moaned and then caught her breath as his hand ran over her breast…. see is it really that hard? You don’t need to be crass, this isn’t erotica.

Remember point two – they have no experience. Sex and any associated fumbles are their first… you have to write it with the innocence of a first time… can you remember your first time? The anxiety, anticipation and then exhilaration? Capture that.

FIVE

I am going to have a rant now. I have read a series of cliche bashing posts in the last week, thats what prompted this one. Stop bashing cliches. YA literature is full of them sure – your handsome love interest, a love triangle, a ‘saviour/ only possible hero,’ etc etc. You know what, there are hundreds of super famous YA authors who use cliches in their YA fiction. IT WORKS. Look at Divergent, Uglies, Hunger Games… all using the same formula. Sure – do something unique or you won’t sell a book and you wont have a hook, but don’t dismiss a cliche just because its been done. They are popular for a reason. People like them.

SIX

And the reason they work? Because this isn’t real life. It’s fiction for a reason people, and fiction that’s often (ok selfishly) fantasy. It’s a chance for YA’s to play through all those first experiences in a safe environment – they read about them, understand the mistakes characters make so they don’t have to. If I wanted to read literary fiction, and a masterpiece in societal philosophy I’d pick up that yawn fest. But that’s not why I read YA. I read it to escape. To live the dream, and to witness the struggles you have to go through to get to happily ever after. Because, god isn’t that so sweet? That conflict and hardship that ends in true love and heroes conquering evil. That shit doesn’t happen in real life. I want to read it in a story.

Give me hope damnit.

SEVEN

Emotions. Young Adults in the early years go through puberty, in the later stages they experience new things for the first time. Both these phases of life are extremely emotive, without the added stress of dealing with hyperactive hormones. I mean PMT is bad enough, let alone the raging hormones of puberty.

First experiences are scary, especially because you don’t have any knowledge  to predict outcomes or what the consequences of your actions might be. When was the last time you did something for the first time? Maybe you should try something new – remind yourself how it feels.

EIGHT

It’s a fact we live in a fast paced world. But younger generations are faster than any that have come before. They can have everything on demand Now, Yesterday. Accessibility to technology, information, education, fashion, sex, money and experiences is easier and simpler than ever before. If they make a mistake they can press backspace and delete it. YA’s are hungry. Hungry because they have everything and they can get more. Give it to them. Because secretly we all want it too.

 

 

 

 

60 comments

    1. That’s a good question, I think it’s a personal thing a sense of when you think you stopped. Is there a particular age in your teens you relate to? For me I still ‘feel’ the same as I did at 16/17/18 that’s how I know that’s my age.

  1. I don’t read many YA novels but i am quite a fan of Cat Clarkes and i think the reason is that i can relate to the characters she creates in her books. she brings to the surface the whole mix of emotions that most teenagers usually experience.her books are quite dark but then that chapter of my life was quite dark also so i totally get her books and the characters.

    1. I agree Sarah – u nailed it. I hope that’s kind of what I conveyed in this post ? It’s about the fact none of us really grow up and that’s why this is such a popular genre – we relate to what’s happening – I should have made that clear 😊

  2. In The Haunted Tide I am just working up to my main character’s first sexual feelings. She was fairly innocent, having gained any knowledge of sex from TV, films, magazines and books, so she is shy and nervous but also curious. I am planning to give her her first sexual feelings in the classroom when her boyfriend, who sits next to her, accidentally brushes her nipple. I’m a bit nervous about getting it right and a girl I used to teach, who is now fourteen going on fifteen, and is a staunch member of my Chatterbooks group, has read the first eight chapters and annotated it where I have got the teenage voice right and where I have kind of slipped up, which has been really helpful. But I don’t know what she will make of the sexy chapter. I still feel young in my heart and mind, and think I can just about remember feeling like this, but my teenage years were such a long time ago. Do you have any useful tips for handling this kind of scene?

    1. That’s fab that u have young readers to beta read your stuff that’s so important

      What’s the age of your protagonist?

      See the whole sex thing is interesting and it’s kind of in two halves sex for older teens 16 + and younger 16 and below. And they are VERY different.

      On my list of ‘to do’ posts is one about sex and YA – but I do write mostly for 16+. That being said I have done a few bits for 16 and younger.

      I’ll tell u what. I’ll do a two part series on sex and YA and draw together all my research. By way of a starting point and I’m masking an assumption your character is younger than 16 have u read any scenes like that in published fiction? What about Jacqueline Wilson? The girls in love series is a fantastic example of doing sex/kissing for 16 and unders

      1. Thank you Sacha. My character is 14 going on 15 – she’s one of the oldest in her class. In some ways she has an old head on young shoulders but not in regard to sex – in that she is quite naive. This is based on teenagers in the UK, who are a mixed bunch, especially the girls. On the one hand, some are sexually aware and active by fourteen, while others leave it much longer I will look into the Jacqueline Wilson girls in love series – brilliant idea!

        1. Where are u based? Not UK?

          I agree they are a wildly different bunch – I guess it depends on your genre and specific audience as to how u pitch it – what is your genre? Other than YA? It’s worth looking at patterns across popular books for your target audience to see how much sex is reflected in them at the moment. I spend a lot of my time analysing genres and current trends. But there are definitely general principles that can help writing this stuff.

          I’ll draw something up 😊😊

  3. Great post and I love all your points about YA, I enjoy reading this genre, there’s something about falling in love with a little innocence and no huge amounts of adult relationship baggage that appeals.

    1. Oh and with regards to sex, it should be remembered that whatever age your protagonist is, your readers are more than likely to be several years younger than that… the protagonist is someone they aspire to be. So be careful with the sex, if it has to be there. Eg my protagonist is 14 in my first book. That means readers could be as young as 10. I know some parents who gave that book to their 8 year olds… that was too young. In my next book, as a year older, he fell in love and had his first kiss. I dont know yet how far book3 will go, but as its more an adventure, any fumblings, should they get the chance to occur, will probably be quite vague.

  4. I agree with point two because young adults like to look toward the future and towards the new things they will need to do. So showing new experiences for the characters are often what makes YA books relatable.
    Great post! 🙂

    1. Hey, thanks for reading, I am glad you agree with this point, as I think its so important. You’re totally right, they do look to the future. And I think you hit the nail on the head there – ‘relatable’ thats the whole trick to YA – theres something in there for everyone to relate to.

  5. Great post, Sacha. I don’t know when I stopped aging. I’m very childlike, but people also say I’m more mature than other people my age. I’ll have to think about that one.
    When it comes to YA, as long as I can relate to the characters, I’m in love. Basically what you said in your post.

    1. Its an interesting one – you’re 21 right? My step dad stopped at 25… so maybe if you’re not sure, then you haven’t got there yet? Kind of a weird concept though, so if you haven’t thought about it, then you wouldnt automatically know. Let me know when you work it out – it fascinates me.

  6. What a wonderful post. When I was fifteen I used to read my dad’s Wilbur Smith books and every James Herbert book I could get hold of. Now I’m forty…er older, I adore YA. I definitely stopped aging at about seventeen. I also write YA, mainly because I love the genre so much but also because I wanted to return to a happier time. The innocence stays with you when you read YA and makes a welcome change from the harsh reality of adulthood. Great post 🙂

    1. Thanks Shelley. Appreciate the comment and I agree, I write it for very similar reasons I love the genre and the escapism. It’s just so… Full of excitement and adventure and in the end happy endings – who doesn’t want that?!

  7. Hate to admit that I was looking for the ‘sex’ step because I’ve always wondered about that. Quiet a few people were complaining that I had too much of it in what they considered my YA fantasy series. Got bad enough that I don’t like using the term. Funny thing is I never show more than making out, innuendo, afterglow, and conversations about it without going into details. I’m guessing a lot of people reverse Step 1 and focus more on the ‘Young’ part of the genre. Probably explains why I always got a sense that people looked it like anime in that it’s ‘for kids’.

    Totally agree with the cliche one. Besides, how would you even decide which book has the cliche and which ones can use it? You’d have to ban the concept entirely or go solely by how old the book is.

    1. Ha. Well, the whole sex thing seems to be a bit of a sticking point – think I will do a two parter on that starting next week if i can. Interesting that you have been told theres too much and yet no actual sex. Your books, like many of my friends in the bloggisphere are on my rather large TBR pile, so I will have to see what thats about.

      Glad you agree about the cliche. Quite frankly after the third Cliche bashing post I read I was actually pretty pissed off. What’s wrong with all these people. Get off your snobby soap box and get a grip. Books with cliches in have sold MILLIONS. What makes these people think they don’t work? *humph*

      1. It’s strange how sex gets more criticism than violence, especially in YA. I had some big action scenes and detailed injuries/deaths, but those never got a peep of concern. So it’s a really strange thing to tackle.

        I think it’s personal experience. A reader sticks to one genre and has seen it all. So they start getting annoyed at all the cliches while a casual reader of the genre or a new person won’t notice it. Just add in the Internet’s ability to draw the rant out of a person and there’s the post. 😀

  8. I enjoy reading YA because it is easy to digest and moves fast. I have to cram my reading time into a handful of minutes before I go to bed or during my lunch break. All I want to get lost in a story for a few minutes and with YA, it is practically guaranteed that I will do just that.

    1. Hey Allie, thanks for the comment. I agree. I love that YA is fast paced too. and like you, I am cramming 5 minutes here, 10 minutes there. Its also why I am a kindle convert! because I can carry books around with me everywhere on my phone!

  9. My last novella was originally marketed as YA by its first publisher, and I was really surprised because I hadn’t intended it to be YA. For a while, I was a bit miffed by that but now I see there’s actually nothing in my book that means it’s NOT YA!

    1. Hey Icy, link me up to that book – I wanna add it to my wish list 😀 interesting isn’t it – how we self classify. But actually, the thing with YA is that it really is vast, and encompasses a lot more than we realise – especially for the older YA’s – theres basically nothing they won’t consume! 😀

  10. This was a really great post. I am in my late-twenties and love reading YA, and I also agree with children growing up much faster in this day and age as opposed to when I was growing up. My daughter is eight and barely plays with Barbie dolls anymore. Though she does keep asking me for her own phone :/

    1. I’m in my late twenties too and I too love to read YA.

      Exactly at 8 well I would say at 8 I love dollys but actually I mostly just loved books! It astounds me that 8 year olds can want phones but I suppose that is the way of the world! Kids grow up fast and society allows it. It’s not necessarily a bad thing more that childhood is fun and when u get to be an adult u have boring responsibilities I wish I’d appreciated childhood more!

  11. God I hate this. I’m going to agree with you. Yawn. I almost can’t be bothered to comment if you’re not going to chew my ass. Anyway, now I’m here… You are so right about finding your inner age. There’s a reason my first book is narrated by a 19 year old… I’ve not moved on. I know they say I wish I knew then what I know now but for me that would only make my failures even more difficult to bear. And the joy of writing as a 19 year old is the sex is utterly awful and comic. Now I find people think being over 50 is a recipe for slowing down. Bollocks – if I’m over the hill then I plan on hurtling down the other side shouting weeeee and hoping that’s an explosion of exhilaration and not from my bladder.
    The discussion on the appropriateness of sex is also fascinating. My book is definitely adult. 16+ for sure so writing younger than that must be tricky. Ali makes a good point about younger readers. I look forward to your posts on this. I think!

  12. Hmm. Not sure I agree with all of these. So…I guess I get to unyawnify Geoff’s response this week. (Is that a thing? Because it totally should be.)

    The aging thing. Two thoughts on that. One. I feel like I’m 80. On a good day. And I love <3 YA. Two. So many people use this exact excuse to NOT read YA. "I'm not a stupid 16-yr-old. I don't want to read about stupid 16-yr-olds." Anyone at any age (emotionally, chronologically…) can enjoy a well-written YA with a great story. Period. I hate when people say they won't read YA because they are 30/40/50 years old. Also, a lot of the "kids" in YA are incredibly interesting. They are smart, witty, courageous and, if the story is written in first person, they create a really great read. People who don't read YA often think storylines are boy-meets-girl, girl-saves-world or something. Also, they think dialogue is:

    "Like, OMG! How did that even happen?! Like did you even know he was crushing on you or what? Tell. Me. Everything."

    "I know, right?! I'm like fucking losing my shit here! But you'll have to wait because our math teacher will like kill me if I'm late to class again. Tell you at lunch!"

    End scene.

    Also, I think it's a publishing rule that sex is in a different category. Might be NA. Not sure. And I agree with Ali (because I have kids) that the readers are usually much younger than the MC. That's got to be part of it.

    Love the rest of the post. Especially #5 "Stop bashing cliches." "They are popular for a reason. People like them." 😀

    1. Ah for some reason I only saw part of this comment on my phone. So the bit you disagree with is the sex bit? That’s ok. I think maybe I can convince you in my next two parter – basically I think ‘sex’ as a reference term encompassing everything from holding hands to a proper schtupping, should be broken down into two categories – 16 + and 16 -.

      This is because those reading 16+ are generally a little older – 14 and over. Don’t get me wrong – I KNOW younger kids read books like hunger games etc, but generally speaking you’re not going to find an 8 year old reading the Hunger Games. I sure wouldnt let mine read a book about kids killing each other anyway. So the way I reason it, is that for the 16+ readers, you can go that bit further – kissing smooching, getting a bit frisky – I actually read quite a frisky piece in a YA book recently – I’ll cover that in this two parter. Then you have the 16 – these are the younger end of teens – 8/9 up to 14ish …. I always think 14 is that kind of barrier between the two – a just turned 14 year old is a hell of a lot different to a basically 15 year old. anyways. for them its all first crush and hand holding, maybe a first kiss – that kind of thing. But believe me, I know there is a world of difference. I guess I have to be a little antagonistic in posts just to get people to comment!! I think also that the 16+ category is starting to merge with NA (like you say New adult) which tends to encompass a little more sex.

      As for the other bits, 100% agree on the whole – I’m too old for YA – I call bullshit on that. good YA has something for everyone – I don’t know a single person that can’t relate to it.

      Haha – gotta love a cliche!

      1. Yah, it was mostly the age thing. I feel so old yet love YA. Now I wonder… Did I stop aging? But I hate that shit excuse to beat up YA because “I’m not 16.” And what is your point?

        I like your categories of 16+ and 16-. My son’s classmates were reading Hunger Games in 4th grade. You heard me. I mean, read me. I love that series but FORBID him reading it. These kids were 8-9 years old. I don’t understand it. There are kids in grade school (K-5) reading Divergent, Hunger Games, et al. Really. So, add sex to these and I don’t know what’s left for their childhood.

  13. This is a great post I think you may have simplified the bit about ageing. Some days I feel 20 again others much older than I am. Totally agree about cliche. It only becomes one because people like it so it’s used a lot.
    I’m not writing my book as a YA but my main character is 13 but includes a very tame gay sex scene between two of the other main characters. So if it’s thought as a YA book then will it come in for a lot of stick? If it does should I care

    1. Thanks Eric, ha, yeah well I guess you may be right about the age thing. I too feel pretty old some days – especially after a run of sleepless nights with my toddler. But generally speaking I tend to feel like my 16 year old self. Your book sounds very interesting. being LGBT myself I would be fascinated to read it. 😀

      1. wahoo 2nd potential sale after my dad. I t made sense to make them gay i wanted one of them to act against his character and only love will make you do that – at least that’s what I think anyway.

  14. I don’t read a lot of YA, but every once it awhile I’ll find one I just have to read..Sex is positively something YA readers are looking for, and as long as it is age-appropriate, I see no harm in including it. You are right, they’ve probably dabbled there themselves, and if not they are probably thinking about it a lot.
    Great post, Sacha. I enjoyed reading.

  15. Hi Sacha! Sorry I’m a bit behind with my post comments this week – been finishing my final edit. This is a great post, so much useful information. Also the perfect one for me to read as my character is going to have a ‘first experience’ in my next book, and I hummed and haaed over it at first but really, when you have two teenagers with no supervision and their own room who are hot for each other, what else is going to happen? So thanks for reinforcing my thoughts xx

    1. WHAT THE F? I just discovered that you have left a comment that was not responded to MONTHS ago. I had a bunch of problems responding to comments on my phone for a while, so now I do them all from my computer -its a real chore, but it means I don’t miss them. Thanks for commenting on this REALLY old post! I didn’t intentionally not respond!

      1. Hi Sacha, that’s totally fine! I’ve had the same thing happen to me, especially before I figured out what the little bell/star/comment icon in the corner meant! 😀 So no need to worry at all x

  16. Interesting post, Sacha. I don’t think YA existed as a genre back in the dark ages when I was in that age group! I don’t remember reading any, anyway. I went straight into literary titles. I have read a few YA books and thoroughly enjoyed them, but don’t necessarily seek it out as a genre. Aging – now there’s the thing. I agree. I don’t think we do “change” much over the years. We just get older, physically. I expected that by the time I got to my mid-forties I’d achieve some semblance of wisdom (when I was a child adults seems so confident and knowing). When I got there and realised I was no wiser than I had been before, I decided it didn’t matter and I wasn’t going to worry any more!

    1. WHAT THE F? I just discovered that you have left a comment that was not responded to MONTHS ago. I had a bunch of problems responding to comments on my phone for a while, so now I do them all from my computer -its a real chore, but it means I don’t miss them. Thanks for commenting on this REALLY old post! I didn’t intentionally not respond!

      1. That’s okay. As long as you forgive me for not noticing! I like to do all of my comments etc on the computer. I find different devices respond differently and confuse everything (or is that just me!)

  17. Hi Sasha, Just discovered your blog and it’s great. You’re very generous with your comments and advice…I’ll be reading your tips in detail. As for aging stopping, you’re right – there is Adult in YA for a reason. It’s the experience they’re lacking. I write YA, and I’m finding many adults like it too. I deliberately have a diverse range of characters and ages and ethnicity…because that’s authentic. Wisdom and being open to ideas/ learning are the interesting things…I’ve met wise ten year olds and bloody immature fifty-five year olds who have never moved past a particular emotional intelligence. Age in a way can be completely irrelevant.

    1. Hi There, thanks for stopping in, does PJ stand for something longer? Or does everyone call you Pj? Either way, lovely to meet you – think I replied to your other comment already. Thank you for your kind words. I am glad you like my post. It’s like loads of adults think liking YA is some kind of a dirty secret to be hidden away – but were all really teenagers at heart – we need to be kind to ourselves, we can’t help what we like. you know?!

      What kind of YA stories do you write?

      1. PJ Byer is my writer name, Peita is my actual name! Happy to be called either!

        I’m writing the Trial Bay series at the moment. My debut indie published YA Collision came out July 2015, I’ve almost finished the prequel and hope to have it out July 2016.

        Collision is a clean read, a contemporary Mystery about a runaway teen girl with a touch of romance and historical fiction. It’s based around a forbidding gaol at Trial Bay which is set on a spectacularly beautiful head land on NSW mid north coast; we holidayed there for years and I became fascinated by it. The story is all fictional, based on historical research I did.

        I’m glad I’ve found your site, there’s so much on there. You’re quite prolific!
        PJ

        1. Beautiful name 😀 I have an unusual first name too – although I write under a pen name (Sacha)

          I shall have to check out your YA books – I ADORE YA I don’t read much else these days! Your story sounds amazing – especially as you have first hand experience of your setting. I always think you can tell when someone has personal experience of a setting in their novels.

          Thank you – that’s a lovely thing to say. I do blather on its true! hahaha :p

  18. Holy crap. I love you for saying this. Absolutely love you. I personally love young adult books. I love the changes the main (usually female) character goes through. By golly, growth is a beautiful thing.

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