Monday, September 22, 2014

Understanding New Adult

The hottest new trend out there in the publishing world is the New Adult Genre. I wanted to take the time to really explore and understand this genre. I do think there are a lot of authors out there that are missing the point of the goal of this style of writing.

To start with, let's talk about how we define specific genres of writing, I think that too many people seem to think it focuses on things such as word count or the topic. For example, many people seem to believe that the difference between single title and category is the word count. For those you who have been here on the blog before, you know that, while word count does have an impact on the story, the real things that make a story single title or category are the voice, the focus on the relationship and the depth. The same thing happens with New Adult.

First of all, we have to understand who the target audience is for New Adult. This is supposed to be readers in the 18 to early 20's age group. This means that the odds are, the protagonist will also be in this same age group. But here is where we leave the basics of character type and focus in on the real idea behind this genre.

It is all about the theme and the message. I have to say, I heard the best definition at the Pacific Northwest Writer's Association conference this last summer. I honestly don't remember which of the editors (although it might have been an agent) said this, but it was pretty much right on the money. "New Adult takes on the theme of Oh Crap, who am I and now what am I supposed to do???

If we think of this age group, they are often leaving the confines of the safety of the the educational world and now have to enter the mean and scary "real world." This is really a tough time. We have all of these things we think we know, and yet we find ourselves realizing we really don't know as much as we thought. This is when we start realizing the mistakes we have made along the way. This is also the time when we start to think that maybe some of the things our parents said might have been true.

But there is also another aspect of this age group. This is when our emotions and senses are really peaking. We look at the world with this thought that "we can change things" and "we believe we can do anything" Emotionally, this is also when we are taking our relationships to what we think are mature levels. We start thinking marriage and long term relationships. We start seeing our "significant others" in a pretty idealized view.

It really hit me this weekend, but the song, COP CAR by Keith Urban really does tap into all of the emotions we should be seeing in this genre. Consider what is going on with the two in the story.


  • They go out on a date to simply watch airplanes, of course they think they are immune and go to a location marked No Trespassing. This is that element of "nothing is going to hurt us."
  • When the cops do show up, he realizes his mistake but now it is too late and the only thing he is thinking is about how her dad is going to kill him.
  • But, he sees this bad thing as a good thing and knows he would get in trouble again for this "perfect girl." Remember, at this age, during the moment, everything does seem perfect!
  • He even refers to this a "surviving the night" as if this really is a dramatic experience. In reality, looking at this in hindsight, most of us would see this as nothing more than a stupid teen thing.
  • In this middle of this crisis, what does he see? Not the crime. Not the criminal record. He sees a beauty in the moment. He is impressed with her craziness as she has a hysterical fit for the cop and wants to run. Later on, he even thinks it is funny when she mouths off about wanting a cigarette.
  • He even moves this relationship all the way to full blown love because of this one moment. 
  • He equates her mouthiness as innocence.
  • He even remembers the whole scene (again in hindsight) as a full date night as they are handcuffed in the back seat of the patrol car. He has them talking, getting to know each other and laughing about this whole thing.
The idea here is that we see an innocent (I used this as more of being inexperienced) and overly dramatic reaction to the world.

Your characters in a New Adult novel are really trying to figure out all of these rampant emotions, feelings and thoughts. In many ways, what the New Adult generation is dealing with is the same teenagers face when the hormones kick in, but on a more mature level.

At this point, I do need to say one thing. There seems to be a misconception that New Adult is simply YA with sex. This is far from the truth. Yes, we understand that the New Adult generation is faced with the new challenges of sexual freedom, but this is not the entire thing.

In an article written by Kelsey Manning titled FEARS OF A NEW GRADUATE she really highlights
some of those concerns.

Fear #1: Not living up to my own expectations
Fear #2: No longer being in a place where learning is an ostensible goal.
Fear #3: A job with no definite end point.

Danielle Kushner read Kelsey's thoughts and went on to add..."I feel that you enter college thinking it is so unstructured – you have all of this new freedom"

Honestly, I couldn't say this any better.

For authors wishing to dive into this genre, I think it is crucial that you take the time to really examine what you are writing about and why you want to write the story. What is the "take away" you want to have for your reader? What is that big life lesson you are trying to instill in your reader.

These readers want the "real world". They too are trying to figure things out and your story, with your characters, might be the guiding force for them.




1 comment:

  1. Hi Scott, thanks so much for this post! I will admit that I had previously defined New Adult as YA + sex, but this clarifies things. I'm glad my thoughts on graduating helped! -Kelsey

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