Thinking Out Loud: The Feeling of Age in Young-Adult Writing

As you know if you read Sunday’s post, I’m getting started on a new scene in my YA WIP this week. I’ve got some basics down for scene structure and plot and character goals, and I’m getting the words on the page. Something else, though, is happening at the same time.

Sometimes, when you’ve stepped away from a project for a while, there are pieces or aspects of it you can see more clearly. I hadn’t realized that was going on with Caro’s story until I started brain-dumping today and finding ideas coming quickly, but still…not being quite satisfied.

It’s the age thing. The teenager. The young-adult. I’m so not there yet.

DISCLAIMER: I know that’s okay. I know I don’t have to be there yet. It’s only the first draft. I have time. I have musing and mulling hours. I can let it come, as it comes.

Still, I’m thinking.

It’s a subtle difference between upper middle-grade and young-adult, but it’s an important one. Factor in that I’m writing a historical YA, and you’ve got another layer of…something else. Honestly, I’m not sure if I will ever choose to write a modern YA (not that I don’t have ideas), because–in some ways–that world still feels so alien to me, about as alien as it did when I was one. A YA. If I ever really was. Which, I know, says I have something to write about, but..well, it’s not here yet.

Back to the historical. I know that this book needs to be young-adult. There are all sorts of reasons—from historical accuracies to the darkness of some things my MC will be dealing with. Yes, there have been wonderful MG books written about horrible times in history, and done brilliantly, but–for this book–that doesn’t feel right for me. Mostly, I think, it needs to be young-adult because of the choice I believe Caro has to make at the end of the story.

Bleak. Alone. Strong.

Caro is pretty much telling me that she has to be this old, this close to as much independence as a woman had in 1913, with the strength and power and rights to make this ending choice. I’m not fighting her.

But…as I write, I haven’t given her what she wants yet. Yes, my MC is the right age, numerically. Yes, she’s living in her world as a teen of that era would have done. Yes, there’s a young man. What’s not there? I’m not sure.

Some possibilities…

  • An incredibly strong sense of herself, a feeling that she is on the cusp of something new and different than what she’s been living?
  • A sense of separation from others, from her family, at the core of how she looks at the world?
  • A need for independence that gets rope burn from the restrictions placed upon it?
  • A feeling that there is more to see, to get to, than she’s experiencing at the moment?
  • A tension in her muscles, a readiness for something she hasn’t yet defined?
  • A feeling of power, unused as yet?

It’s a voice, a core element that I’m still reaching for. There’s a seriousness to Caro’s story that she needs to recognize, through which she needs to move, make choices, and fight. There’s an adultness to her young-adult character that I need to find.

Luckily, I’ve still got some time. 🙂

Have you written young-adult and “younger” books? What do you do when you’re shifting gears from one to the other? Is it about the character, who they are and what they’re after? Or is there a place you push yourself to, to examine more closely, to make the leap?


  1. Jeanie W says:

    If you haven’t already, you might want to take a look at Crossing Stones by Helen Frost. It’s a novel in (extremely well-written) poems set in 1919. One of the main characters is an independent-minded teenage girl. Frost does a brilliant job of getting inside her emotional state.

    I haven’t tried writing YA, but I am in the process of aging up a few of the characters in the novel I’m rewriting. I’m turning 11 & 12 year olds into 13 & 14 year olds. They still have the MG youngness of mind, but with a bit more hormonal instability and an increasing awareness of what adulthood might require of them.

    Like you, I don’t quite feel ready to write a full-on YA novel. I’m just not that eager to creep back into an adolescent mind. I may get there, but I have some more growing up to do first. 🙂


    • beckylevine says:

      Jeanie, thanks-I just went over & put that on hold at my library! If this book wasn’t demanding to be YA, I’m not sure I’d step up to the task voluntarily. The fantasy novel idea I have wants to be YA, though, too, so it seems to be calling me!


  2. Maddy says:

    Just checking in for the first time after the S in C email this morning.

    Whilst I have a 12 year old whose going on 40 I think it’s a very difficult age group to write for because there’s such a incredible spectrum of development.

    In one of my critique groups there’s a woman writing for young adults and it’s been quite an eye opener to some of the pitfalls.

    Hope I get the chance to meet you on Saturday.
    Best wishes


    • beckylevine says:

      I think, for me, it’s partly the challenge getting the right mix of courage and fears onto the page, when so much of my teen years seemed to be about hiding fears & faking courage… :)I wouldn’t want to live it again, but maybe it’s time to do some exploring.

      Looking forward to seeing you Saturday!


  3. lauradroege says:

    I think you are brave to write a YA book! I’ve never even thought about doing that; I guess most of the topics I want to write about have more of an “adult” (grown-up) tone to them. They may have younger people in it (one of my novel-in-progress’ main characters starts out as a 13 year old) but it wouldn’t be considered a YA novel by any means. So I have no idea how you might make that “leap” from one to the other!

    Have you ever written from the POV of someone much, much older than you? That’s been the challenge for me, as a 32 year old trying to embrace the voice of someone who is 50 or older. I wondered if a grown-up’s process of trying to find a teen’s voice is in any way close to the process of a middle-aged woman trying to find a fifty-year-old man’s voice. (Or, as the case is in my 2nd novel, a 93-year-old man.)

    Read your guest blog on Rachelle’s blog and came to read yours. Enjoyed it.


    • beckylevine says:

      Well, I mostly do write for kids & teens–this is moving “up” from a younger book. I do think wriging a 93-year-old man would be very tricky!


  4. P. J. Hoover says:

    I’ve written MG and YA and have thought about the differences. Not sure if I have them right, but i’m still at it!


  5. Ruth says:

    Interesting post! Even middle grade and tween seem to me to have a big difference in voice. It’s hard to nail it!


  6. Becky,
    I think you’ve done the hardest part–letting the characters past the front gate. I don’t think of myself as a control freak, but–gosh–it took forever to let Madame Paper Cutter have more than a bystanders role.


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