re: YA Characters in an NA Plot Can’t Be Good, Right?

in New Adult Fiction/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I thought I was writing a YA, but after reading a chapter of your Writing New Adult Fiction and interviews about the NA category, I’ve began to wonder if my characters and some of the content may be better suited for new adults. Plus, an agent asked questions about some of the actions taken by the antagonist and the legality of it all, suggesting they may not be suited for 13-17 readers. How do I know if this is NA or YA? My main protagonist and antagonist are 18, just graduated from high school, but my MC’s main partner in the adventure is 17. Maybe it would work better if she, too, were just graduated? Changing the plot would make the story feel forced. I’ll probably learn more as I read your book, but any advise for me now?

Not Sure Which Way to Go

Dear Not Sure Which Way to Go…

YA fiction does have its 18-year-old characters, some even graduated, so characters’ ages aren’t your determining factor. And YA does have edgy content. The agent’s suggestion that your plot and maybe even concept are better suited for the NA market is illuminating. Ponder a third factor: your characters’ mindset. Each developmental phase of life has a general sensibility, or way of processing the world and one’s place in it. Do your characters seem to be processing the greater world for the first time, figuring out how they fit into it? That’s very teen. Or do they have enough life experience under their belts that they think they’ve figured it out, at least a bit? That’s a general trait of new adults, who then explore and advance their world views. NA stories force new adults to reassess what they thought they knew as they fight their battles. Sometimes they confirm what they’d figured out, but usually they’re breaking down and rebuilding. If that sounds like your characters, and your story’s circumstances feel far enough out of the teen realm to send up flags with an agent, it’s likely this is an NA.

Happy writing!
The Editor


  1. Had to click on the email link immediately to find out what the answer was to this question. Excellent answer and I think insightful in that you didn’t just answer with ages, it has a lot to do with mindset and emotional maturity as well. Of course, there are times when it has to be 18+ due to content and themes, but getting the characterization set from the beginning of the novel really does make sure you hold the reader’s interest. Flipping back and forth between YA and NA could frustrate some readers. Thanks for the question and answer!

    • I’m glad you found this so useful, Jules. I agree that establishing the character’s sensibility from the very beginning is vital; nailing the mindset is vital for any audience and character, story genre or category.

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