When you think young adult, you’re probably imagining a person over twenty. Yet, when it comes to writing, it means their “reading” age, not their chronological one.
A young adult reader is probably in the 6th to 8th grades, or loosely 10 – 14. They can read as well as adults, but the subject material isn’t as graphic. But listen, don’t call these kids “children” or you’re in for a pile of trouble.
Adolescents want to be adults (or at least older teenagers that can drive) in the worst way, and they want to read stories with substance. Nothing simple will engage them. They want to read about life, death, and even age-appropriate sex , which is recognized, but never explicit. Oh, and they love drama, but it has to be believable drama. Just think about angst-y Twilight, The Outsiders, or the Sweet Valley High series.
Although the mechanics of writing for adolescents isn’t much different than writing for middle-graders, “Young Adult” fiction is more advanced in style, plot, and characters are better developed. They want to see more than the basics, and so like adult novels, we’re talking plot and sub-plots.
Main characters should be junior high or high school age, and although no subject is off limits, good taste is still in order. They want to see characters that are suffering the same teen woes as they are. They want to relate.
Even in nonfiction writing for this group, as with my book The Navajo, they can handle most of the gory details. They so innocent anymore and the know how the world works. If you try to present a world that’s too perfect, they’ll be bored — unless of course, you’re working the science-fiction or fantasy genre. But even then, they’re not kids anymore. The dualities in life are important to them; they want to see both sides of any issue so they can make their own decisions.
If you want to write for young adults, you need to know them. Start reading their books, watching their television, know what sites they frequent online, and listen to them. Hear what they say and how they say it. All of it is important for you to understand them.
Spend some time in the food court at the local mall today. That should help immensely.