Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Genre: Age range dilemmas

Remember when I talked about all those lessons that I learned from my experience with Oracles Promise? Well, one of the biggest that I'm learning is that perhaps I shouldn't be writing YA.

My trends in MCs:

Short story #1: 21
Novel #1: Mid-20s
Oracles Promise: 10
Lodestar: 26
WiP short stories: 20s
Short story #2: 20s
Short story #3: Old.  Like 50s, maybe.  But she was recounting events from her 20s.

Noticing anything?  Also, in Oracles Promise, some of my favorite characters were the adults.  When their role was cut drastically in the doomed first round of revisions, I felt a good chunk of my interest in the story go away entirely.

And that wasn't good.

So, I figure I should pay attention to this sort of trend.  But maybe I shouldn't.  "Write what you know" should only extend so far.  I mean, plenty of adults write YA and MG, right?

I am continuing our discussion of genre today with a little discussion on the age ranges between MG/YA/Adult.  In part this is to facilitate the genre discussion and allow me to move from genre to genre with clarity and cohesiveness.  (As opposed to jumping from genre to genre to accommodate age ranges.)

Middle Grade:


  • Ages 8-12 (both MC and reader)
  • between 80-200 pages
  • Clear plot with a conflict-driven story
  • Quick pacing
  • MC solves the problem, no adult interference
  • Inward focused
  • MCs learning their place in the world, "learning how they operate in their own world"
  • Changes are on the inside

Anything from friends to school to family relationships and beyond

Young Adult:

A definition:

"An age group including persons from about 12 years to about 18 years old: used as a reader category in libraries, book publishing, etc."


  • adolescent protagonist
  • subject matter and plot consistent with age and experience of the MC
  • The rest is a wide open field
  • More complex plots than in middle grade
  • internal change for the MC that is triggered by external events
  • MCs begin to see how they influence the world and how the world influences them

  • Challenges of youth (creating a sub-genre of so-called "coming of age" stories)
From QueryTracker:

"Readers can handle complex sentence structures, advanced vocabularies, and multiple points of view.  Plus, with some books being in excess of 100,000 words (ahem, Twilight) authors have more room to write and explore sub-plots and multiple points of view."

Then there's this gem from Nathan Bransford:

"To me the separation between YA and Adult is not necessarily thematic, it has more to do with pacing and presentation.  When you read a YA novel the pace tends to be quicker, the books tend to be shorter, and things happen in a more straightforward fashion...In an adult novel, even an adult novel about high schoolers, things unfold more slowly, there tends to be more subtlety and ambiguity."

So, my biggest problem, I think, is that I find adult conflicts more interesting.  There's a lot of past when you're an adult.  That's a lot of stuff to explore, to let influence actions and thought processes, to incorporate into a plot or sub-plot.  I really didn't like my childhood.  Well, that's not true.  There were good parts and bad parts.  And I choose not to relive any of it.  Which makes it hard for me to write MG or YA.

Adult books are more ubiquitous.  There's so much to explore with it.  And some adults are still reading YA.  (Okay, a lot of adults are.)  That's evidenced by St. Martin's new imprint that they recently launched.  (And, really, by the majority of my friends out here in the blogosphere.)

Remember this post from here ages and ages ago?  (It's ok, I didn't either.)

That's it for our age range discussion.

Linky, copyrighty stuff:



  1. It does seem that you prefer writing for an older audience. I love Nathan's thoughts about YA. I think he's right on the money.

  2. I agree with Ms. Susan. lol You do like an older character. Maybe you should write the WIP with the 20something and see if the age does in fact call to you.

    But, I think no matter what character you write, they'll stand out because of your awesome voice! :)

  3. I think something that goes unsaid a lot when people say "write what you know" is that you should "write what you're comfortable with" too. In that, I mean, not necessarily that you shouldn't branch out, but if writing YA is boring to you, then make your characters older. I mean, even in TV the shift of the high school dramas a la One Tree Hill and Gossip Girl have phased on, into college and beyond. Just because YA is "hot" right now doesn't mean that's the age bracket for you. Because eventually, all those characters in the YA section gotta grow up. :)

  4. I think that writing what you feel comfortable with is key. I have been writing YA, but that's what I read mostly and that's what I relate to the best. If you like older characters/stories, definitely go that route.

    I can't even imagine trying to write MG. I just don't have a grasp of it.

  5. It's all discovery. I once wrote a romance story 'cause I figured, 'how hard can that be?' Ha. It was so woeful, I hated my characters because I found them mushy and it was just bleh. I got onto writing middle grade for a uni assignment and found I loved it. I envy those few talented souls that can write anything, I'm not one of them.
    Enjoyed your post :-)

  6. It's interesting to read the differences between YA and adult because I tend to have YA characters but adult-style writing with a slower pace. It's hard to match them up sometimes.
    Thanks for a great post!

  7. Actually, I find the editors and agents I talk with have a general consensus that most kids (particularly MG, but it can be true with YA, too) like to "read up." As in, a 12-year-old wants to read about the life of a 15-y-o, a 15-y-o wants to read about an 18-y-o, etc. And I talked with one editor recently who is really gun-hoe about having a category that is a little older than YA, for 17-25-y-o.

    And adult characters can work even in children's books (http://www.gailgauthier.com/2009/04/pondering-adult-characters-in-childrens_24.htm). Particularly the quote by DWJ. And I sure know that when I was 14, my favorite books were Agatha Christie mysteries, with nary a child in sight. So forget the age range. Pay attention to the wise words of Mr. Bransford. It's not about the characters and themes, it's how you tell it.

  8. YA is such a hard genre to pin down because it has such a wide variation within it. Some YA is more for 14-year-olds, while some are for 17-year-olds. This wouldn't be such a big deal except there's a huge maturity difference there.

    Unfortunately, I like to write about MC's in the 18-21 age, which is college...which is a black hole of a genre. lol They should start a new genre called "college kids." :)

  9. Thanks everyone! I'm glad y'all liked this post.

    As for age ranges, I'm skewing the same as KM. (And a little older.) I agree that there needs to be some sort of re-evaluation of divisions. St. Martin's Press launched a new imprint for new adults who might still want to read YA, but with characters who might be going through more similar circumstances, like college. So that's encouraging.


All content copyright of the author. Please ask permission before re-printing.

Fair use quotations and links do no require prior consent of the author.