Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Guest Author Chanel Cleeton: How to Write New Adult

By Chanel Cleeton, @ChanelCleeton

Please join me in welcoming Chanel Cleeton to the blog today to share some information about writing the newest (and hottest?) market on the block.

Chanel writes New Adult contemporary romances and Young Adult thrillers. Her New Adult debut, I SEE LONDON…, will be released by Harlequin (HQN) on February 1, 2014, followed by a sequel, LONDON FALLING, later in the year. An avid reader and hopeless romantic, Chanel is happiest curled up with a book. She has a weakness for handbags, puppy cuddles, and her fighter pilot husband. Chanel loves to travel and is currently living an adventure in South Korea.

Take it away Chanel...

When I tell people I write New Adult (NA), I always get some interesting responses. The most common is, “Is that like porn?” followed inevitably by, “Is that like Fifty Shades of Grey? Is it like Twilight?” I also get a lot of puzzled looks. Some people have never heard of it. Others have heard of it but discount its staying power.

NA is the new kid on the block—the one you haven’t fully accepted into the group. Sometimes he seems cool and you want to invite him over to hang out. Other times he’s the last one picked for dodge ball. You’re not quite sure what to make of him or what he’s all about.

There are a lot of misconceptions about what it means to write NA and what it even is. NA is perhaps best defined as “coming of age” fiction. It represents the period, usually ages 18 to 25, when an individual transitions between the boundaries of childhood and the opportunities and responsibilities of adulthood.

I’m not too far out of the NA age group, so it resonates with me on a very real level. Critics argue that NA has no place in the current fiction market, but I disagree. It speaks to a segment of individuals who were previously underrepresented in contemporary fiction, the former “black hole” between young adult (YA) and adult.

NA exists for anyone who has ever graduated college with a bachelor’s degree and the realization that they have no marketable job skills. It exists for the girl who is in some weird “friends with benefits” situation that’s tumbling out of control or the boy who moved across the country to get away from his overbearing parents. It exists for all of us who have felt like numerically we’re supposed to be adults and yet feel like we’re playing dress-up. For those of us who have no idea what we’re doing in our lives. For those of us making our dreams happen. The time after high school is a time of immense growth and change, anchored by increased pressure to make your way in the world. This tension is echoed by the themes NA addresses.

Themes in NA focuses on such issues as: moving away from home, starting college, joining the military, fear of failure, empowerment, first serious relationships, sexual exploration, graduating college, first jobs, and so much more. It’s a transitory time, full of unknowns that are simultaneously terrifying and thrilling. Writing NA requires an understanding of the intensity of this time in an individual’s life. It may be difficult, looking back, to remember your emotions at that age. But when you do remember, there’s a universal sense of feeling insecure at times or afraid or lost. That’s what you want to capture. As a writer you want to depict the intensity of these changes as well as the vulnerability of your characters’ responses.

Subsequently, internal development plays a huge role in NA. There is a great emphasis on character development and identity issues. Introspection is key. In many ways, this is similar to what we see in YA. However, with NA, the internal conflict frequently has higher stakes. You don’t have as many safety nets as you may have had when you were younger, expectations are raised, and frequently you’re on your own, facing a never-before-seen set of issues and challenges.

Before age 18, an individual’s sense of self is often shaped by parental influence. After age 18, the parental reins typically begin to loosen as you begin to explore your identity and growing independence. Ultimately, NA centers on characters who have yet to develop the life experience and full fledged confidence that adulthood can bring, but experience autonomy over their lives, often for the first time.

Because so much of NA focuses on internal development, the narrative voice is incredibly important. The narrative in NA should allow the reader a glimpse into the protagonist’s inner and most private thoughts. There’s a raw and uneven quality to this that will be reflected in your writing. Feel free to play with pacing and use incomplete sentences. Don’t worry about perfect grammar. Instead focus on the authenticity of the character’s voice.

The NA narrative is designed to be unflinchingly honest and intense. You want to strip away the layers your protagonist conveys to the world in order to expose their deepest, most intimate thoughts. The reader should feel as though they are inside the protagonist’s head, viewing the world through the protagonist’s eyes.

NA is frequently written in first person— in part, to convey that sense that the reader is experiencing the story alongside the protagonist.NA is all about speaking to your readers in a manner they can relate to. You want the reader to connect with your protagonist through the authenticity of your writing. You want to use language that fits your characters’ ages and you want your characters to behave in a realistic and relatable manner.

Ultimately, NA is about change, transition, growth, and adventure. It’s about characters challenging themselves. Writing NA requires an appreciation of this identity as well as an ability to grip readers. The essence of NA translates across genres of fiction, creating a strong category with great potential for growth.


  1. Excellent post! I think you've nailed what NA means. It's such a fun genre to explore because of the transitory stage.

  2. Thank you! I agree- the possibilities are so much fun to write and explore :)

  3. Wow! I've never read or written NA, and now I know I must! Thanks for the great information.

  4. Hmmm. I've actually lowered characters' ages so that they can fit within the genre of YA. I really like the opportunity that NA provides.

  5. I think it's great NA has emerged onto the scene. I've seen some great titles as it continues to grow.

  6. Thank you! Julie, I hope you enjoy it!

    Krista, NA really allows you to capture your characters in the next phase of their lives. I agree, it's a great opportunity for a writer!

  7. Agreed, Angela! I'm really excited to see the category grow. I write contemporary romance but there is so much depth to NA. We're starting to see other genres gain popularity and it's helping to solidify NA's position in the current fiction market.

  8. Such a great post about what "New Adult" should mean. Unfortunately, yes, right now the general public seems to think it's synonymous with erotica -- and there IS more room for sexual exploration in NA than in YA, probably. But that's not ALL that that time in one's life is about. Not by a long shot.

    I was writing about what me and my friends were going through right before "New Adult" became a thing (or was even trying to become a thing, really) and I'm glad to see that it's gaining traction. Here's hoping we can expand the mainstream definition of it, and quickly. These are great stories that deserve to be heard.

  9. Thank you! I'm excited about NA's future. It does seem to be gaining momentum and I agree, there's definitely room for growth and expansion within the category:)

  10. I have said it with conviction this is the best site for writers EVER!!! Great Article, did not know I was writing New Adult... cool :) BTW well said.

  11. Just the article I needed, when I needed it. Had not heard of NA as a genre. I was told that the novel I am writing was 'coming of age' which to me means tweens or YA. My novel in progress fits perfectly in the NA genre. Now I just need to find other works of this genre to learn more from. Thanks