May 7, 2014

Writing Club Wednesday: Switching Gears - Young Adult vs Adult

In the last year or so, I’ve started writing both young adult and adult books, which often gives me a challenge when starting to work on a new project. Because I feel equally comfortable writing in both categories, it can take a while for me to pin down a story – does it need to be a young adult story? Does it deal with those kinds of themes? Or would it be better off as an adult book, with all of the challenges inherent in those?

 (photo courtesy of

Most of the time I have a pretty clear idea of a main character and a general plot, which helps me decide what direction to take the story in. But there are times where I start out writing a young adult sci-fi, and end up with an adult book. (Actually happened to me with The Star Thief).

I was talking to a CP the other day and she couldn’t figure out how I switched so easily between the two categories. And I started thinking about it, because I’ve heard from a lot of writers that they only write YA or only adult. Something in each category calls to them, or they feel their writing voice is better as a teen, not an adult. The more I thought about it, the more I realized there were three things that helped me switch between writing the two types of books

Get your brain in the game:
When I write a young adult book, I’m always super conscious of the voice of my characters, the way they experience the world, and how it felt to be a teenager. Trying to be authentic and vulnerable is really important for my YA characters, and I use music, images and even day-dreaming to get me into that zone where I can write that kind of book and tap into those feelings.

I seem to slip into an adult voice a bit more easily now, and delving into my characters and getting to know them is often enough to fully immerse myself into the story and create something that works. Either way, for me to work on a book, I need to find the voice of the characters, and have a fleshed out plot to focus on. Once I have that, it doesn’t seem to matter if it’s YA or adult.

Don’t be afraid to make it real:
I’ll admit, it’s kind of freeing for me to write adult books after focusing on YA for several years. I don’t feel the added pressure to make sure the content is acceptable to parents, or that I’m not too graphic in a sex scene. I know most of this is in my own head - I love that YA is becoming more open and accepting about discussing hard issues - but I still feel responsible for people reading my books and the content I present.

That being said, the most important thing to me is making sure the book and what happens in it feels real, that it’s true to the characters and the plot line. And if that means tackling a difficult topic, in either Adult or YA books, I’ll do it to the best of my abilities. Doesn’t mean I’ll always get it right, but I want to make sure I’m honest and real about what I’m writing.

Have fun with it:
I’m firmly one of those authors who writes the kinds of books she wants to read, both YA and Adult. So my books are usually full of the fantastical, the magical, and the romantic. It doesn’t matter which category I’m writing in, I find my brain just gravitates to those kinds of themes. There’s not so much difference between the categories in this case, but I do find that my adult books tend to be quite a bit darker.

That being said, I believe that having fun and loving what you write can carry over to how a reader experiences your books, and I try to make sure that even when I’m struggling with writing or characters or plot, I still love them and want to see them fully fleshed out.And hopefully that means my readers love it too.

So there you go, a few of the things that help me move between writing young adult and adult books. I’ve become comfortable writing in both categories, but it’s still a daunting task starting a new book, whatever its target audience. There are different challenges for both, but also different rewards. And for me, there’s nothing better than a reader loving my book, no matter what their age!

So how about you guys? Do you switch between Adult and YA in your reading or writing? Or do you focus on one category more than another? Why?


Elizabeth Briggs said...

Great post Jamie! I also found switching to adult very freeing after years of writing YA.

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