View Full Version : Where's the line between young adult and adult fiction?

2010-04-29, 09:16 AM
I'm writing a book, a series actually, have been for some time. Anyway, at least one of them is nearing the point that it might be finished soon and some family have been making noises about me trying to get it published.

My kids wanted to hear it, so I read it to them, editing some of the violence out of it, but it brought up a question: what defines the difference between a young adult book and an adult fantasy book?

For example, if a character fights with a sword, it is ludicrous to think that no one would get hurt. And describing such a fight scene properly (ie so you don't yawn and put down the book) but without referring to injury or bloodshed is beyond my skill level.

I worry that I'm not as good a writer as my favorite adult sci-fi/fantasy authors. Young adult might be a better fit, but like many a D&D adventure, it gets pretty violent sometimes. The main characters are clearly the good guys, but bad stuff does happen to them and they do fight the bad guys with swords.

So what's acceptable in young adult fiction these days? I've read Harry Potter and some other stuff and would say I might have crossed the line (people die, messier most times, a lot more often in my books), but I've also read reviews of teen books (modern day fiction, but...) where the kids are having sex with their teachers and doing gang murders and stuff, so I'd love some input.


2010-04-29, 10:07 AM
The line is pretty thin, I'm afraid. I don't think it's important enough for a writer to worry about. Just focus on your story.

2010-04-29, 11:36 AM
A lot of it has less to do with what happens than with how graphically it happens. Unfortunately, I don't read enough YA stuff to really know. Depending on the agent, you might leave it for him to decide what sort of placement works best for it.

2010-04-30, 01:20 AM
Some of my favourite "young adult" books are very violent and/or sexual (e.g. Tamora Pierce's Tortal series, The Tomorrow Series, Letters from the Inside, various other John Marsden books).
I think it's a combination of things: themes and characters relevant/relatable to young people, tone, the explicitness of the "adult" action, and so on.
For example, Tamora Pierce writes about her characters having sex and disemboweling monsters and monsters biting kittens in half, but she tends to gloss over or refer to the former in passing, and the latter, while graphic, is... not too... organy. "Blood was everywhere" rather than "you could see its spleen" (although I think there's a rather nasty description of Keladry gutting a centaur at some point...). Her main characters are young people, usually followed from childhood around 10ish through to young adulthood, around 18 or so, dealing with various problems persons of that age tend to be subject to. Finally, she uses fairly simple language, approachable and not too ambitious.

Sooo... yeah. A combination, and probably a continuum rather than a clear-cut division.

2010-04-30, 07:31 AM
I don't see it as a "line" as much as a gradient. There are different flavors depending on how ambitious you want it to be. Generally (But not always. Ender's Game says "Hi"), a "young adult" book has a young adult for a protagonist. It's alright to be violent, if not gory. An example is the Redwall series. Those are marketed to kids, and have things like being ripped apart by poisonous snakes, having half your face torn off by an eagle, being impaled on a bed of javelins.

2010-04-30, 09:24 AM
Thanks much.

It is a delemma that I'm going to have to think about for a while. I think Haruki-kun may have the right of it. Polish it until I'm happy and edit after the fact, if needed.

Ironically, the one thing I don't have is a young adult protagonist who stays a young adult. It was an interesting point to bring up, which I had not really considered. I was basing the audience choice on the content of the story (and my questionable writing talents compared to my fav adult sci-fi/fantasy authors) rather than age of characters. In the first book, he's a teen, but he grows older with each book, sometimes with years-long gaps in between. By the final book, he's got kids of his own. Go figure.

But in terms of violent action, it sounds like I'm not doing anything too outside the envelope for either genre. I'm really going to have to read the redwall series :)

2010-04-30, 10:30 AM
I don't think it's too much to describe the sword wounding somebody, as long as you keep it to simple, more general descriptions. You could say that your hero manages to strike the enemies arm, wounding him badly and making him drop his weeapon, or have the enemy curse at the hero, etc, but if you go into detail, the ripping of flesh, the blood making the hands slick, etc, it's too much.

In general, I think, kids of about 11 or 12 can take some violence, as long as it is made clear that these are fights with the intentions of winning and advancing the cause of good, not bloodsport for the amusement of a cruel character. Look at today's video games and movies, maybe, to get a basic guideline. Many videogames feature violence, and the only thing that distinguishes them from the more "adult" videogames are the characters that appear, and how prominent the violence is, and how graphic.

But that's all just my opinion, I don't really have much proof or anything.

2010-04-30, 01:01 PM
I'm really going to have to read the redwall series :)

The best part about this particular series is that it's not sequential like Harry Potter, but they're all in the same continuity (Except the first one, technically). For example, the first book publication-wise is the tenth chronologically.

Though, even as a fan of the series, I can say that they've declined in quality over the years (22 books and counting; plus the author's like 60 by now). The second most recent upped the quality quite a bit, most definitely the darkest by a fair bit. In general, though, They're alright.

Oh, and just so you know, it's about talking animals.