Walking the Line Between YA and Grown Up: A Guest Post By Stacey Wallace Benefiel

Before we get on to the awesome guest post by Stacey, I wanted to let y’all know that the Red launch blog tour continues today at Word for Teens!

Take it Stacey!

Stacey Wallace Benefiel here. I’m the author of the YA Zellie Wells trilogy, the Day of Sacrifice series and The Toilet Business, a collection of essays. Many thanks to Kait for letting me invade her blog for a day.

With the publishing of Red, Kait became an author that writes for young adults as well as the adult set.  Writing for these two age groups is something I know a little bit about and I thought I’d share how I do it.

Switching back and forth between YA and paranormal romance for adults isn’t as hard for me now as it was when I first started writing both at the same time. I was putting the finishing touches on Glimmer, the second Zellie book, when I started writing Day of Sacrifice.

At first, it was like my brain was both the mother and the daughter in Freaky Friday. The grown-up characters were saying Omigod way too frequently. They’d fall into crazy crushing first love LOVE too fast.  I’d hesitate and worry over putting too much description in a sex scene, only to realize that getting to write a sex scene involving adult characters and not teenagers (and thus not feeling pervy about it) was supposed to be the fun part. I’d wanted to write something for adults so that I didn’t have to hold back.

Vice versa, I didn’t hold back enough in Glimmer and ended up getting complaints that I’d put too much description in one of the make-out scenes.

Oh Lord, if those people had read what I’d originally wrote!

Not wanting to be known as a YA porn pusher or the author of Amish paranormal romance, I developed a guideline:

The basics of storytelling are the same, but what gets edited out is different.

All writers give each of their characters a distinct voice, whether the characters are teens or adults.  Getting into the headspace to write sixteen-year-old Zellie requires the same amount of work for me as getting into the headspace to write forty-five-year-old Cara Grant.  So, while I’m writing them, I don’t worry about who my target audience is.

When it comes time to edit, that’s when I start making the differentiations.

In YA:

* Cursing, drinking/smoking/drug use and sex are statements.  There has to be a reason for teen characters to do these things for the first time. It’s a big deal.

*Slang is allowed to run rampant.

*Stupid mistakes should happen because that’s all part of growing up.

*Infatuation/lust/love – all the same thing.

In adult fiction:

*Cursing, drinking/smoking/drug use and sex are all things that adults have earned the right to do. There still needs to be a reason they’re doing them, but the reason can be “because they want to.”

*Slang has to be kept in check and age appropriate. An eighty-year-old woman is not going to say “Doh!” Adult characters usually have a couple of terms that stick with them from the teen years. These terms should be used sparingly.

*The characters have learned from their mistakes. Situations that are plausible for a teen, like endlessly fretting over if a cute guy likes you likes you and then making out with his best friend to see if he gets jealous, don’t hold up for adult characters.

*Love and saying, “I love you” should only happen after the character knows for sure that it’s not just infatuation/lust.  Adults have been through it enough times to tell these emotions apart.

After I started keeping these rules in mind during edits, I found it was a lot easier for me to write YA and adult paranormal romance simultaneously.

Now if I could only come up with some rules to help me keep the different worlds I’ve created separate! 🙂


Stacey Wallace Benefiel is the author of the Zellie Wells trilogy, the Day of Sacrifice series and The Toilet Business, a collection of essays.  She lives in an orange house in Beaverton, OR with her husband and their two young children.  For more information on Stacey and her books: http://staceywallacebenefiel.com

11 thoughts on “Walking the Line Between YA and Grown Up: A Guest Post By Stacey Wallace Benefiel

    1. I’m really glad I got to write this post because it helped me define my “system.” I realized I was doing all of these things and that writing both was getting easier, but I’d never written it down! One less thing for me to store in my head. 🙂

    1. How old are your characters? Author Vicki Keire and I had a great e-mail conversation about why there needs to be a New Adult genre – college aged kids kind of straddle the line between YA and Adult and are a mix of the guidelines, I think. You might have a New Adult book on your hands.

  1. I’ve written both adult novels and a YA dark fantasy series. One item you neglected to mention is one shouldn’t dumb down when writing for a YA audience. In my YA series I tackle the issue of “honor killings” for instance, a heavy subject. I don’t add gratuitous blood or violence, but then again, I don’t do that in my adult novels either. It makes for lazy writing.

    I do somewhat disagree with adults learning from their mistakes. Yes, both adults AND teens should learn from mistakes in the course of a book or series but adults are more set in their ways than teens. An adult with a quick temper will not necessarily learn to curb his/her temper. An adult who is impetuous (acts before thinking) may have that trait ingrained in their personality. Adults don’t necessarily learn from their mistakes. Teens on the other hand being more maleable can learn from their mistakes. It doesn’t mean they won’t make them again, but it’s a process and part of being a teen is learning to adapt. Many adults are too set in their ways to adapt.

  2. Great post, Stacey!
    Funny, my so-called girl-finds-herself YA turned into a romance rather quickly [g] Turns out I can’t really do YA. MG, yes, with world-saving plots and excitable boys. But teens? Nah…
    Even though my romance heroine *is* 18 – but it’s the 15th Century, so she gets to act like an adult.

    Sort of [g]

  3. Great, useful advice, Stacey. I write both YA and Adult fiction as well, and sometimes find myself falling short of my target audience simply because the dividing line seems blurred at times. This helps, thanks!

  4. I’ve never thought of the differences in these terms before. What you wrote makes so much sense and simplifies everything. Thanks for posting! I found you via Gene Lempp’s blog.

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