What themes and topics should YA focus on?

1024 683 Writer and the Wolf Editorial

Next up in the YA Fundamentals series is themes and topics. The most important thing to consider when writing YA fiction is whether your teen reader will feel as though the book has really been written for them. The difference between YA and adult novels isn’t just the ages of the characters or how much sex and violence you can get away with. In fact those factors are pretty insignificant compared to the real distinction: YA fiction needs to reflect the feelings and experiences of teenagers on every single page, with every single word. You can’t simply take an adult novel, change the main character from 42 to 17 and delete all the sex scenes and slap a YA label on it. Teenagers will know that book isn’t really for them. They’ll know you didn’t write it with them in mind.

Being a teenager isn’t a one-size-fits-all universal experience but there are some things that tend to crop up for a lot of YA readers at some point in their teen years (or earlier):

  • First crush/first love – or, if they’re aromantic or asexual, the realisation that they might not experience sexual or romantic attractions to others
  • First relationship
  • Seeing friends in relationships
  • Thinking about having sex for the first time
  • Having sex for the first time or not wanting to have sex
  • Hormonal changes
  • Exploring, being confused about or gaining confidence in their sexuality
  • Exploring, being confused about or gaining confidence in their gender identity
  • Coming out to friends or family as LGBTQIA+
  • Succumbing to peer pressure
  • Friendships breaking down
  • School pressures
  • Big exams
  • Bullying
  • Thinking about the next steps in their education
  • Thinking about their future career
  • Applying to university or apprenticeships
  • Thinking about travelling and seeing the world
  • Tension with siblings
  • Increased independence from their family
  • Experiencing racism or xenophobia
  • Experiencing misogyny and sexism
  • Experiencing homophobia or transphobia
  • Getting involved in politics or feeling passionate about causes
  • Protesting or campaigning
  • Mental health challenges
  • Anxiety or depression
  • Finding it hard to talk about feelings
  • Not being taken seriously by adults around them

This is just a handful of things teenagers are going through every day and it’s a lot. See why an adult novel can never quite hit home for these readers in the same way YA can?

To write a successful YA book that readers can connect with and fall in love with, you need to get into a teenager’s mindset and see the world through their perspective. What emotions, fears, anxieties, dreams are they experiencing? How might things affect you and them differently? Make sure readers see themselves on the page and can put themselves in your main character’s shoes.



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Siobhan O'Brien Holmes

Siobhan O'Brien Holmes is a developmental editor working with middle grade and YA authors. She specialises in speculative and genre fiction, particularly horror, fantasy, mystery, sci-fi and anything with a dash of magic or macabre. She is a member of the SfEP, EFA, ACES, British Fantasy Society, Horror Writers Association and SCBWI. She has an MA in Novel Writing and an MA in Children's Literature.

All stories by: Siobhan O'Brien Holmes