5 points you better get about ya literature

I really don’t have anything against adult writers dipping their pens into the YA market.

Really, I don’t.

If they know what they’re doing.

Because YA Lit is not dumbed-down Adult Lit. In fact, I put to you that YA Lit is smarter than Adult Lit. Because teens have very sensitive bullshit-meters, and they won’t sit still for your condescending crap.

I am perpetually 16.

So baby, if you want to write YA, here’s


  • The Main Character Damn Well Better Be a Young Adult. Not his Amazing and Wise Parent. Nobody gives a rip about a kid who does whatever his mommy thinks is best. Who the hell wants to read about a shrinking violet who has to be saved by her smarmy father? And then we can all learn a lesson about how parents know best and have milk and cookies around the kitchen table and realize we are incompetent and should never leave the nest. The End. Ick.
  • The Author Can’t Lie. You aren’t going to be able to get away with a damn thing. Every thought, feeling and syllable of dialogue has to be authentic. Oh, adults are used to equivocation. They expect it. Heck, they can’t even tell the difference between fact and fiction any more. But teens? They still think life ought to be fair. They rage against the darkness.  So if you dash off some cliché, if you write  how you think sixteen should feel, if you don’t dig down to your guts for what it really felt like when you were sixteen…well, they’ve got you by the balls. Stuff feels big. Heck, stuff IS big. It’s time for your first kiss, first love, first break up…you get the picture.
  • Something Has to Happen. A lot. Teens will not hold still while you stroke your ego with soulful meanderings about the color of the sky and the wind upon his skin and woe and blah blah blah and the state of the world and lah dee dah. Now, they will remember a few well-chosen phrases that really get them somewhere, but blathering just because you can? Show off. Adult readers are such suckers.
  • The Characters Must Grow over the course of the novel. Sure, there’s a story arc, but in YA the character has to show change. Because that’s what’s happening to teens. They’re morphing every day. Think about the difference in maturity between a 13-year-old and a 19-year-old. You’ve got to change practically every day to make that journey. Remember, this is your audience. If you want to connect, keep in mind what is happening in their lives.
  • There’s a Got to Be a Tomorrow. The book has to end with some hope, or at least the idea that there’s a future. YA literature doesn’t end with the destruction of every living thing on Earth. Teens are our hope for tomorrow. Don’t take that away.

YA Literature is not Adult Literature lite. Edgy or quiet, lush or spare, fantasy or contemporary, romance or sports story–it’s written for a demanding readership.

By talented and savvy professionals.


Please. People. Chime in. Add your criteria for what makes a book YA Lit in the comments.



About Lisha Cauthen

Lisha Cauthen writes YA novels for guys that girls like to read too.

Posted on November 5, 2010, in YA literature and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 6 Comments.

  1. Well said. 🙂

  2. Come on, Judy. Help me add to the list.

  3. Could NOT have said it better. Especially point 2.

    When people pat me on the head and say “Oh, you write for children” as if they were saying “Oh, you write for dogs” it really burns my butt. I frequently tell them, “Yeah. It is different because a kid won’t let you dick around for 60 pages before getting to the story. I’m competing against XBox, and YouTube and Texting and Glee so I’ve got to be GOOD!”

    My two cents.

  4. With the exception of the first one you list, I would actually apply all of those to fiction for adults too.

    I once heard editor Andrew Karre say YA should be written in 1st person — that if it wasn’t, he wanted to know why and there had better be some big fat reason. Well, he was more eloquent than that.


    Now that’s interesting, dotificus, because I’ve read a lot of complaints about so much of YA being written in first person. I think it’s the easiest way to draw a teen in, of course, and the hardest way to show everything going on.

    Limited viewpoint means you’ve got to go through some fancy gyrations to get all the story told.

    But most of all, Jenn Bailey said “dick around”.


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