Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Defining the New Adult Novel, as it appears to yours truly...

A few times in the last few weeks, this subject has come up in conversations I've had with both readers, friends and online. The first question I am usually asked when I mention my novels as New Adult Romance is: "Are they like 50 Shades of Gray?" And it's a valid question. Along with some others, 50 Shades is one of the quintessential novels of the genre, right? And I bet hands will go up all over the world by authors who have had the same question asked to them.Or nods through cyber-space.

This then led me to read a few very interesting articles and opinion blogs on what the genre actually means to people other than me. And a few things stood out.

1: The defining must-have: The characters must be between 18 and 25. 

That's the must-have. The only must-have. The one common principle. Which I feel is a little broad based for the kind of novels I write, and those labelled New Adult that I've read.

Expanding on that there were other definitions, some which I considered as well thought out and others which simply referred to New Adult as YA Erotica or sexed-up YA. As an NA author, I must say, I felt a touch offended by those generalizations. Not every NA novel has sex. Not every NA novel has BDSM. And if they did, so what? The characters are all of age, if we're adhering to the must-have of the genre.

So I pondered a while longer, and came up with my definition for the NA that I write. New Adult is about coming of age, which no generalizations or stereotyping. It could be college life, it could be a gay protagonist coming to terms with his or her sexuality. It could be a young girl and her story of discovering sexuality. It could be a young guy who, for the first time, is living away from the safety of his parents home.

Must it be a romance? I don't think so personally although I do write romance. New Adult is a genre unto itself and is subject to the same rules of sub-genre as other fiction genres. Sub-genres could be fantasy, dystopian, paranormal, you name it, it can be done. All it needs is an author to write it and readers to read it. That said, from the articles and real life author stories I've read, and my own experience, I think a romantic element does add to the sale-ability of a novel, especially in New Adult, because the current trends in NA have conditioned readers to associate it with romance and contemporary settings. But the genre is still young, and I'm sure things will evolve.

Must it have sex? Well, this was a tough one for me, because I associate NA with some form of erotic content. The answer by popular opinion is probably yes, because the characters are in their early twenties, an age of sexual discovery. I have read clean NA and if it's well written, it does have the same effect on me as 'naughty' NA. Personally I think the answer is yes, but that does not make it smutty YA! And most NA novels I've read are not driven by sex as the motivator for the characters actions. They have sexual organs, they use them. When they use them, the author describes them and the act. Hot, steamy, and from the novels I've read, usually tastefully. I have read a few reviews of some of my favorite NA novels, and there have been mentions of too much sex, too much graphic sex, etc. Personally, when I want clean reading, I pick up one of my favorite YA series'. And my pet peeve is when sex is just placed haphazardly among pages, I like it to add to the story.

Drama? Let's talk dramatic content. And this subject probably is in support of dark NA authors. Fiction is a stretch of reality. That's what it is to me anyway. A fantastic novel could probably be written about pouring a morning coffee. But I imagine that reading a whole novel based on that, would probably result in me becoming bored. But the flip side of normal is, well, abnormal. (Points to me for being Captain Obvious here!) Gangs, fighting, guns, rape, assault, tortured and disturbing childhoods, they are reality for some. As a reader, there are some things that I as a person cannot tolerate. But that doesn't mean that, as a reader, I should criticize the author for stretching reality. Tortured pasts make for wonderful self-discovery. So well done to the NA authors that take these risks.

Another comment I've seen in some articles is characters are childish, confused or just plain acting stupid. Again, that's reality. Remembering losing your virginity, do you remember having the sexual prowess of a video vixen? The first time you thought you may be in love with someone, did you make all the rational choices of an evolved adult? Did you really start your first job and be suddenly awesome at it after a day. Did you never worry about taking a chance on a person, feel self conscious about your body? Live in indecision? The thing I love most about NA characters is that vulnerability. They are scared, confused, uncertain of the future, cocky, a little smart-assy, and that makes them the ideal protagonists for this genre. If composed, well adjusted and mature thinking adults is what I want to read about, I read a plain contemporary novel or something in general adult fiction.

So my shortlist, how I write NA and how I define it:

- 18 to 25 year old characters? Yes. It is, after all, the industry standard.
- Coming of age or maturing in some way shape or form? Yup!
- Romance? Yes!  Double check, and the more riddled with complication, the better.
- Sex? Again, double yes! In the appropriate context of course, but why not? It's a huge part of      evolving into adulthood. It's not essential as I stated above, but I think it's relevant.
- Angst, confusion, protagonists fighting against life and love for very little reason? I think so. I'm  34 and believe me, if you could read my mind and hear my random thoughts...
- Drama? Uh huh. Shitty things happen to good people and vice versa. 

But all we can really do is write the stories we love to write, in the genres we as readers love, using the definition of this relatively young genre that seems personally correct to us. (Says the person who at this present moment is mid way through a first draft and screaming 'grow up' to her protagonist.)

Love J...xx

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