YA or NA?

One of the questions I’ve found myself asking in the past is what’s the difference between young adult and new adult when it comes to writing fiction (or even nonfiction)? Where is the all important line of separation between these supposedly distinct age ranges? Well, though I tried to answer this to some degree in my post about age ranges, today I’m going to do my best to more clearly define what makes the two distinct.

In my book, young adult writing has 3 essential qualities:

  • Target audience of roughly 13 to 21 year-olds
  • Themes that are more complex than in writing for children, but less complex than in writing for adults
  • Protagonists who face problems common to people in their teens or early twenties

Novels in this age range are typically full-length (i.e. a minimum of 90,000 words) or nearly so, and typically feature protagonists who are the same age as or slightly older than the target reader. The themes, as stated above, tend to be more complex than in children’s books. There may be more subplots and deeper characterization, as well as some exploration of themes that lean more toward the adult side (i.e. “real life” problems such as personal finances, self-discovery, love, etc.). It goes without saying that the vocabulary used can become more complex along with the story, but probably shouldn’t exceed what a high schooler will be able to comprehend (which is, of course, rather subjective).

So, with a decent definition of what young adult means, let’s turn now to new adult. New adult writing has:

  • Target audience of 18 to 30 year-olds
  • Themes that are wholly adult in nature, but aimed at early adulthood rather than middle age or retirement
  • Protagonists who face the problems that young people typically encounter when trying to set themselves up independently

These are again full-length novels, and almost without fail feature protagonists in the same age range as the readers so as to be more relatable. The themes are similar to those of young adult books, but there are no holds barred on how you explore them. You can carry on in the YA mold of looking at the same problems from a slightly older perspective, or you can look at them through a “grittier”, more adult lens. This is particularly true of the romance genre, which seems to be particularly prominent within this age range. Sexuality may be dealt with more explicitly than in YA, where it is often handled more obliquely if at all. And of course, vocabulary-wise, there are no real limits, save what you think your audience (i.e. 18-30 year-olds) can handle.

So, these are the two defined separately. But as can be seen, there is also a good deal of overlap, as the rough age ranges suggest. Both generally feature protagonists in their teens or twenties and both handle similar themes. It is only how those protagonists tackle their problems that really separates the two. YA heroes still deal with problems from a bit of the kid side of things, since they are often (though not always) still dependent on their parents to some degree, while NA heroes tend to look at things from a mostly independent adult’s standpoint.

Hopefully this assessment has helped you find that fine parting line between the two age ranges, so that the next time you ask yourself whether you’re writing a YA or NA book, the answer may come just a little bit easier.

Published by J. S. Allen

J. S. Allen is a writer, linguist, historian, and nature-lover from Kansas City, Missouri. He is the author of the young adult series Sauragia and Knights of Aralia, as well as the 'Woodland Tales' anthology for children. Several of his shorter works have also appeared in various print and online periodicals over the years. In between writing and publishing, he likes to draw, spend long hours outdoors, and read. His favorite authors include M. I. McAllister, Brian Jacques, and Alexandre Dumas.

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