Intern Antonio reflects on an AWP panel.

During AWP I attended the Pushing Boundaries in Young Adult (YA) Fiction panel.  The discussion was led by authors Alexandra Diaz, Jeri Smith-Ready, Swati Avasthi, Michele Corriel, and H.M. (Heather) Bowman. They argued that the line between YA and Adult Fiction is constantly becoming murkier and less defined.

The discussion focused on whether certain topics are appropriate for Young Adult readers such as violence, drug use, and suicide.  These topics could attract the attention of young adults, but writers can sometimes find it difficult to approach and use these topics in their stories.

Even though being a YA fiction writer seems challenging, I found myself wanting to know how to write for a younger audience.  The panelists gave great advice:  for example, while writing about a difficult topic, it is important to outline the basic story structure in order not to lose focus.  They also gave tips on how to write interesting and empathetic characters. Here are some points for YA writers:

  1. Narration and story telling is generally done from the first person,  and it’s almost always in present tense and rarely uses an omniscient narrator.
  2. Characters in YA fiction follow extreme emotional paths; they swing from one strong emotion to another (i.e. when they’re happy they’re deliriously happy, and when they’re sad they’re borderline depressed).
  3. Characters (including the protagonist) are generally solipsistic, that is to say while they aren’t necessarily selfish, and may not be purely self-focused, the characters generally focus on either themselves or on how things affect them.

The discussion branched into many different topics like how far young adult readers should be pushed; the uses of child psychology; and methods of world building.  In the end, I learned how to approach mature content in stories targeted toward young adult readers, and I got some great tips on how to write YA fiction.