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Is it YA or Adult Fiction?

Emma Walton Hamilton / Blog  / Is it YA or Adult Fiction?
What’s It All About, Maurice?

Is it YA or Adult Fiction?

Questions2You’re writing a story with a teenage protagonist but very sophisticated themes and content… is it categorized as adult fiction, or young adult (YA)?

You’re writing a sci-fi fantasy with two protagonists – an adult and a child.  Is it YA or adult fiction?

You’re writing a graphic novel with a 20-year old hero. Adult fiction or YA?

What is the difference between YA and adult fiction, anyway?

The table below may help you distinguish the key elements of both genres and classify your own work accordingly:





Protagonist is almost always a teenager, between 13-18. Usually an adult protagonist, but can be written from a teen or ‘new adult’ perspective.


Authentic and believable teenage voice. Typically first or third person, but with emotional resonance and immediacy. More active and emotional than lyrical. Author’s age can have an influence. Can be first, second or third person – and can have a distanced or unreliable perspective. Can be lyrical, expository, dry or even slow.


Generally a teenage protagonist, who goes from a mostly selfish perspective to one of greater awareness/ selflessness. Anything goes: unreliable, unlikeable, distanced, relatable, etc.


Mature topics (substance abuse, profanity, sex, violence) are present but handled with care. Nothing gratuitous or overly graphic. “Edgy” content needs to be authentic, germane to the plot, and earned. Any and all mature topics can be included and described to whatever extent author chooses.


Offers some degree of hope, even with dark subject matter. Focuses on resilience, some celebration of the human spirit, as well as tools for coping with life’s challenges. Can be dark/tragic throughout. Does not need to provide hope – can be merely cynical, sad or shocking, as long as it is well-written.

The table above is from Just Write for Young Adults!, my 14-week home-study course in writing YA fiction.

For more information on this and other children’s book writing courses I offer, please visit

Emma Walton Hamilton
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