Writing for YA is a lot different than writing for children. I repeat, IT IS A LOT DIFFERENT! What a writer portrays for a twelve-year-old is not what they should portray for a sixteen or seventeen-year-old. Technically, anyone under eighteen is a child. Yes, okay. I agree. But they go through so many different stages. When I was fifteen-years-old, I moved out. When I was twelve . . . the idea of living on my own was foreign. Three years makes a big difference. So while this might not apply to all pre-teens vs. teens, when I write stories for the YA audience, I have to try to remember how I thought and felt when "I" was a young adult, and then try to look at the world today and apply it.
1. TEENAGERS ARE NOT CHILDREN! Why don't people realize this when writing/critiquing a story? Yes, I get why you avoid 'triggering' your audience. If you talk about death or suicide, you don't want to allow it to be okay. What if a young reader gets ahold of your work and then decides, "Oh, well, it was okay for this character . . . " If they went on to commit suicide because of that, how would the author feel? No, you definitely don't want to wade into that pool - life is too precious, especially when they haven't even lived yet. But, you also don't want to dumb down the story, either. Teenagers will put the book down if they feel like subjects are being brushed over because they can't 'understand' them. It's the equivalent to a parent using a condescending tone and saying they'll understand when they are older. So, I guess my rant on this can be summed up nicely into the following: don't brush over topics in YA/New Adult, but do not 'trigger'. If you are going to discuss suicide, bullying, promiscuity, etc., make sure that you let it be known these are not okay, and should not be construed as the 'norm'. I love a gritty book as much as the next girl (a true story is powerful), but I remember what it's like to be a teenager, and adult problems don't wait until adulthood to arrive. Just be careful in your message. Words have a powerful influence.
2. WORD CHOICE. First, text talking is for losers. Plain and simple, it's hard to read and annoying, and nobody - not even the teenagers who love to use it - will read a story full of text talk. Should you say 'okay' instead of 'acceptable'? Yes. But they do think/talk in coherent sentences that aren't broken up with 'uh...like so and so...' and 'like, totally'. Use a few more 'likes' in dialogue, but whatever slang you think they use, don't overdo it. (Like, I totally don't, like, reading like this.) Also, there is always a difference in dialogue vs. internal monologue i.e. 'thinking'.
3. SEX. Teenagers have sex. Period. But when we write about it, remember it's not Harlequin Romance. A little petting, some cuddles, and sweet talk - that's all they need. Make it real by including the feelings instead of actions. It has been done beautifully and can be done so again... and again... New Adult novels tend to be a bit more detailed, and they should be, as most people 'experiment' in college and their 20's, but still, keep it as 'less is more'. It's classier!
4. PARENTS/GUARDIANS. These guys usually aren't so present in the character's life. At least not so much as the character should be making the decisions/realizations of their conflict on their own. While it isn't right to undermine the parental figure, it is also necessary to promote YA characters as self-sufficient as possible. They don't have to break rules or curfews or the law to do this, either. If writing for the New Adult audience, sure, there aren't parents in college - high school is different.
5. LENGTH. While the novel length should be up to 80k (normal YA) or around 100k (Fantasy/YA), you can and should keep both paragraph and chapter length minimal. This gears readers for a fast-paced ride and easily enables them to just read one more chapter (we all say that). Really, though, young readers have busy lives. They need to have stop/start points, and they need to have them often. They also (sometimes) have shorter attention spans because of their oh-so-busy lives. The trend is longer in Fantasy, though, so use your discretion...
Hopefully this helped someone shed some light on some of the distinct aspects of writing YA fiction. Follow the links and you will find a wealth of information within each header. If you disagree on whether these are some of the top five points for YOU, please leave a comment and tell me why :)