WRITING NEW ADULT FICTION Launch Week, Day 1: NA Fiction v. YA Fiction – What’s the Diff?

*Scroll down to enter today’s giveaway.

I’ll kick the week off with a quick compare-and-contrast of Young Adult and New Adult fiction. The new adult experience differs from the teen experience in important ways, influencing the narrative sensibility of each category and the actions and reactions of their characters.

Young Adult fiction features characters aged 12-18, covering a broad range of emotional, social, and intellectual development. It’s the 17- and 18-year-olds who figure into the YA v. NA discussion. Developmentally, these teens have begun looking outward as they try to find their places in the world and realize that their actions have consequences in the grander scheme of life. However, their dearth of experience affects their decision-making and perspective, contributing to the youthfulness, or lack of sophistication, that marks YA’s narrative sensibility. Even intelligent older teens who can think deeply about the world lack the emotional or practical tools to fix what’s broken, or the wisdom necessary to accurately diagnose a problem in the first place. In YA fiction, teens judge (often erroneously) then act based on that judgement (often not considering all ramifications). When they see that they messed up—which they will, because that’s where we get our conflicts and character growth—they must then react. Our goal as novelists is to push them through the judge-act-react sequence to the new level of maturity or enlightenment that comes with their triumph. We start them on their path of wisdom attainment that will kick into full gear during new adulthood. This time of life is often about the desperate desire for freedom to run their own lives and about learning how to cope, survive, overcome.

Mature YA is a label that distinguishes YA stories featuring those older teens and having explicit content. That graphic content isn’t enough to roll it over into the NA category because these young people are still struggling to process their world from the teen perspective I just described. And it’s not a matter of the issues explored—plenty of general YA fiction explores sexual attacks, drugs, murders, and similarly intense (“dark”) topics or themes, and many cover teen sexual experiences. Because these stories still deal with the teen experience, they are YA not NA. The “mature” distinction tips off readers that the sex isn’t merely alluded to or handled off-scene but rather written of in more explicit terms. This cut-and-dried definition blurs a bit when characters are still young but already in the new adult mindset I describe below. When determining whether your story is Mature YA or NA, consider your protagonist’s emotional and social levels, not just their intellect or life circumstances. It’s helpful to decide this before you craft the story so you can sculpt your character’s experience with your desired reader in mind.

New Adult fiction features characters aged 18-25 that have the independent life they yearned for and are in a “Now what?” phase. The NA experience ranges from leaving parents (or adult oversight) all the way up to first forays into careers. Leading a self-responsible life means new social circles, transitive living situations, new schools, jobs, and adventures. In essence, it’s a time of change and instability—and that means stress. Stress, of course, means conflict, which is fiction gold. Their high expectations and personal optimism often clash with reality. In continuing the self-identity establishment they began in their teen years, they explore, experiment, take risks, and start formulating their Life Plans—and keep reassessing those plans. There’s time later, in full adulthood, to settle into a Life Plan and get married and have kids. Society grants them this time of self-focus and these young people often embrace it with intensity that brings its own problems. The human brain isn’t fully developed until age 25, hindering new adults’ decision-making, risk-taking, and peer pressure issues. New adults often look back on the traumas they survived in their teen years and realize that surviving wasn’t enough—it’s time to accept and move on. And they look for meaningful love relationships, usually involving sex because, hey, it’s their time to experiment, they’ve got access to willing partners, and no one is monitoring them anymore. Many readers expect explicit love scenes. That said, there’s also a growing call for romance that is emotionally rich but not necessarily explicit. New adults aren’t looking for Mr/s. Right yet, but they are looking for deep connections, and that’s where NA romance storylines get their emotional power.

NA fiction is dominated by contemporary romance stories, but since the new adult experience can be explored in any circumstance, NA lit includes genres like paranormal, fantasy, thriller, mystery, historical … any genre that NA authors and readers desire. Just as YA is more than teen angst in high school, NA is more than love and lust at college. Both YA and NA explore what it means to grow and thrive among the universal concerns and perspectives of distinct life stages.

On the difference between the two, Entangled Embrace Editorial Director Karen Grove says, “New Adult is not just age or sex, it’s an underlying theme of finding one’s place in the adult world.” Karen and editor Nicole Steinhaus are vocal advocates for NA literature, and generously co-authored a featured segment for Writing New Adult Fiction. “The viewpoint must be youthful and without the benefit of years of experience, yet old enough to have developed a stronger sense of identity and responsibility than a teen. After all, these protagonists are experiencing many of these things for the first time.”

Use the Rafflecopter form below to enter today’s “Free 1st 20 Pages Critique” giveaway. NA, YA, Adult… any fiction WIP is okay. (And you’re still eligible for the Friday Full MS edit giveaway, too.) Good luck!

a Rafflecopter giveaway


  1. Thank you for the great definition of New Adult. I’d been wondering about the difference between NA and YA. And thank you for the chance at the 20 page critique. Getting feedback from a professional would be so great!

  2. Really helpful and interesting, Deborah. In my book, the character’s phase of life is not the focus of the story, but the choice to have her NA instead of YA was definitely a huge consideration. I’ve been working on a blog post about it and would love to refer to your book & definitions. Okay to point them to this page, or would you prefer a different one?

    • Sweet of you to ask. Sure, point them this way. I’ll get a trackback link and can then go and have a great read, myself. I’m interested to know what decision you came to and why.

      • It took me a while, but finally got it up last night. Most of it was written a few weeks ago, before I saw your post, but there are a lot of common elements (or let’s say, I hit upon the most common themes). My background is psychology, so I enjoyed the developmental aspects you highlight in your post. Hope launch week is a huge success.

    • Then you’ll love the first chapter, T. “Three Cheers for Emerging!”: “They’re not full-blown grownups yet, but they’re pretty darn close. They’re not teenagers anymore, but they’re not done growing up. They’re in between, relatively unfettered by the rules or expectations of either group. Finally–FINALLY!–they can do what they want, when they want, where they want, how they want. That’s freedom! That’s independence! That’s scary stuff.” Sheer poetry, eh? <>

  3. Not only were your definitions crystal clear, I was so excited to hear that Some NA readers are calling “for romance that is emotionally rich but not necessarily explicit.” Not that there’s anything wrong with lust! Some stories/characters just aren’t compatible with page after page of throbbing & thrusting.

    • Excellent! I find myself wanting to quote Melvin Udall. “Well, maybe I overshot a little, because I was aiming at just enough to keep you from walking out.” But I won’t.

  4. To me, YA was for ages 10-18, for most young adults.with petting & kissing in sexual arena. If pregnancy occurs, young girls are often isolated and seek abortion. Sex to YA is an adventure, a game, and constantly on the minds of males.
    NYA is for youth ages 15-20, sometimes beyond. NYA involves,
    sex going beyond the kissing stage to copulation, cunninglitis and the actual act of penetration. NYA approach sex with more worry and thought and often take precautions to prevent babies.

    • Just to clarify, by “NYA” do you mean to abbreviate Mature YA to “MYA” (that darn “N” key is next to the “M” on text keyboards!)? Your 10- to 12-year-olds would fit nicely into the MG, or middle grade, category when we want to get into the nitty gritty of the categories; when “young adult fiction” is used as an umbrella term for all novels for young readers, the MG and YA categories are considered a unit. For example, when the media compares picture book sales to young adult sales, they’re usually referring to MG and YA combined.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published.

Latest from Giveaways