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The Difference Between Writing Young Adult & Adult Fiction | Explained by UK Book Editor

When it comes to choosing a category for your novel, things can become a little challenging, especially with the rise of new adult fiction, the category that bridges the gap between young adult and adult fiction.

Figuring out the differences between these three can be a challenge in itself and one that takes some time to get your head around.

So, follow along and hopefully by the end of this article, you’ll have more of an insight into the differences you should consider when writing young adult, new adult or adult fiction.

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It's no secret that extra care needs to be taken when writing young adult fiction with an adult mind, or when writing adult fiction with common misconceptions. For instance, when we think about 'adult fiction', we sometimes conjure up the graphic and sensitive images often associated with it, while young adult fiction is usually associated with a younger, more naïve point of view.

For example, you can have a romance novel for adults that isn’t full of erotica, such as The Accidental Beauty Queen by Teri Wilson, and you can have a gritty YA book that incorporates sexual themes, like Doing It by Melvin Burgess.

Why is that if YA books are typically lighter and adult books are often considered heavier?

Well, it depends on the characters, the plotline, the themes and how heavy those themes are. Teenagers aren’t likely to find a comical romance between two adults interesting (some might, but publishers know the majority won’t relate to it) and a YA novel with sexual themes will be censored for a younger audience, keeping graphics and explicit content to a minimum.

Related Post: A Beginner's Guide to Writing Young Adult Romance: 3 Dos and Don'ts!

However, although the category of your novel can sometimes depend on the ages of your characters, as mentioned above, you shouldn’t always categorise your novel in that way.

For example, if you wrote a book that follows a five-year-old boy who narrates his experiences in a poorer part of his country that exposed him to violence, abuse, drugs, and alcohol at a young age, then that book may not be suited for younger audiences and would automatically be labelled adult fiction due to the heavy themes, much like the memoirs that tackle child abuse written by Torey Hayden.

On the other hand, if you wrote a fantasy story about a new race of adult creatures (like Hobbits) who explore the dystopian world beyond their door and come across new experiences that the majority of teens could relate to, then that book could potentially be labelled as young adult fiction, much like how The Hobbit is marketed for middle-grade readers.

The best and easiest way to understand the differences between young adult and adult fiction would be to look at all the themes they include, because as mentioned above, genres and categories are different. While the genre follows the plot and storyline, the category deals with the target audience and how it coincides with the characters and themes of the book.

That being said, let's dive into the different categories and see what sets them apart from each other.

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1. Middle-Grade Fiction

Just like its name suggests, middle-grade fiction is targeted at a young audience aged 8-12, and the characters are usually around the ages of 9-13. The main themes in middle-grade books include friendship, family, growth, school experiences, and physical changes, which are apparent in many of the most popular middle-grade books, such as the Harry Potter series, Matilda by Roald Dahl, and Coraline by Neil Gaiman.

However, some middle-grade books include mature themes in the story, such as the use of substance abuse in Life in the Balance by Jen Pedro-Roy, the themes are just severely watered down to cater for young readers. Romance often occurs in middle-grade fiction as well, but it’s often limited to a first kiss or a crush, like Percy and Annabeth’s relationship in the Percy Jackson series.

2. Young Adult Fiction

Young adult fiction is incredibly popular, not just with teenagers but with adults too, mainly because YA books act as an escape, particularly those that fall into the fantasy or science fiction genre.

The characters are usually thirteen to seventeen, and often have a fresh, 'heart first, brain later' attitude to mirror the way many teenagers tend to think, and they tend to be inexperienced and driven by their emotions.

Teen characters are also likely to be figuring things out about