The Beginner’s Guide to Writing New Adult

ladywriting So, you want to write a New Adult book? Congratulations! You’ve chosen a genre that has exploded in popularity over the past couple of years. With some hard work and a few hours of your time, you can have a great product to put out there for consumption by the masses. Your GoodReads 5-stars will skyrocket, and Harriet Klausner will sing your praises.

Best of all?

With this handy-dandy guide, it’s so simple!

Like an all-you-can-eat buffet, pick as many items as you can from each category below, add some personal touches and Voila! You’ll be ready to publish in no time.

Your New Adult Hero should be:

* Named after an Old Skool Bodice Ripper hero or the son of a celebrity power couple.

* A ladies man with more scores than the NBA 2012 playoffs.

* An MMA or UFC super champion. Bonus point if he fights in illegal/underground matches

* Seriously cut. While an 8-pack is desirable, will settle for a 6-pack. Must remove shirt frequently so that heroine can admire his Adonis-like torso.

* Able to achieve cut physique without many time-consuming workouts and despite copious consumption of booze. Probably should jog occasionally.

* Tattooed. Extensively. Piercing optional.

* Eyes capable of darkening noticeably due to heat created by overwhelming desire for heroine.

* Have at least one dead or highly dysfunctional parent.

* Insanely smart, retaining decent grades despite a) never attending class and b) partying 24/7.

* Must develop an obsession with heroine after two or three encounters in which she shows open contempt. After meeting the heroine, the hero should lose all desire to ever be with any other girl for the rest of his life.

* Have survived some form of physical abuse, causing him to be unable to trust anyone. Ever. Forever. Until the heroine comes along, of course.

* A trust fund recipient/own his own business/work six jobs despite carrying a full course load so that he is financially independent.

* A Renaissance man. Point for each of the talents he’s expertly mastered:

o Playing guitar. Band optional.

o Cooking

o Singing

o Sketching an exact likeness of the heroine. While she’s sleeping.

* Extremely understanding when the heroine is “confused” over her feelings for other suitors.

* More protective of the heroine than a Rottweiler guarding a buffalo carcass. Demonstrated by violent reactions to anyone who speaks to/touches/looks at/thinks about the heroine.

* Perfectly willing to forgo his own sexual pleasure in order to bring the heroine to her first orgasm while allowing her to remain a virgin, then is completely willing to “take things slow” for as long as the heroine wants/needs.

* Despite having slept with every girl on campus, is brought to his knees by the inexperienced heroine’s amazing skills at oral sex. Actually sleeping with her is a near-religious life-changer.

* Crazed when forced to part from heroine, for the first time ever allowing himself to cry and causing his friends/roommates/frat brothers to tell her how they’ve never seen him so wrecked before. May demonstrate poor mental state by punching things. Walls are always good.

Your New Adult Heroine should be:

* Named after a city/mythological character or have a surname name

* Have at least one dead or highly controlling parent

* Demonstrate her newfound independence by getting a tattoo and/or piercing.

* Completely unsure about what she wants to do with her life despite the fact that professors stop her after class to exclaim over her talent as an artist/musician/photographer/writer/etc.

* So attractive she gains the attention of at least one of the hero’s roommates/frat brothers/fight buddies or multiple random strangers. Bonus point for each of the following that she sees “in the mirror”:

o Naturally thick, long hair, usually dark but blonde is okay

o Eyes that are exceptionally wide and/or an unusually intense color

o A mouth that is “too wide” or “full” but that constantly invites the hero/all men to imagine it wrapped around their private parts

o “Thankfully” clear, silky-soft (hero’s words) skin

o Teeny-tiny petite figure with fantastic curves

* Mortified by the barely-there skirt, skin-tight cammie and five-inch stilettos her BFF/roommate INSISTS that she wear to the Big Kegger Party at Pi Kappa Nu but be unwilling incapable of changing into something less whorish

* Snark or bitch at the hero when she first meets him in order to prove she’s impervious to charms that have mesmerized every other non-related female within a twenty mile radius

* Orgasmic and completely un-self-conscious during first sexual experience with hero despite being a virgin. Gives amazing oral sex the first time she does it simply because she finds the hero’s penis so beautiful. Works well paired with Wide Mouth/Full Lips attribute.

* Possesses a horrible secret in her past, often involving some form of sexual assault, that she finally reveals to hero in a tearful confession, convinced that he will find her too damaged to love despite the past 300+ pages of him showing complete and utter devotion to her

* On a full scholarship/trust fund recipient/saved thousands and thousands of dollars from working her high school job so that she is financially independent

* Completely incapable of protecting herself or removing herself from dangerous situations, thus requiring the hero to come to her rescue. Gets mad at the hero when he punches the creep who was bugging her.

* Knows deep down that the hero is a controlling, dysfunctional jerk who will probably become an abuser but is still completely incapable of leaving him for her own good.

* Ready to enter into a life-long commitment despite being unable to legally consume alcohol.

Secondary Characters. In order to achieve the full New Adult experience, all of these should be included:

* Gay male best friend or classmate. Should be unfailingly loyal to the heroine and find the hero super hot.

* Female best friend/roommate/cousin. Should be ultra cool with invites to every campus party and entrée into the best bars. Bonus for hooking up heroine with her first fake I.D.

* Fraternity brothers/roommates/fight buddies always ready to party

* Male character(s) obsessed with the heroine. Willing to risk prison and a lifetime sexual predator designation by assaulting her after she rebuffs his (their) advances. Can be a stranger(s) or someone she knows. Drunk frat guys work well in this role.

* Skanky girl(s) who come on to the hero. See Plot below for varying results.

Plot – Just mix and match! The more, the better.

* Makeover of heroine to bring out the sex kitten lying just beneath the surface

* Heroine becomes drunk at a party/bar and is taken home and put to bed by the hero, who heroically resists his overwhelming urge to screw her while she’s unconscious.

* Hero and heroine are forced to live together for some completely implausible reason.

* Hero and heroine make a bet. If he wins, hero gets sex. If she wins, hero leaves her alone. The desires of each should change completely by the end of the bet.

* Moment when heroine is being harassed/assaulted by a loutish guy who won’t take no for an answer. Should involve display of violence by the hero when he rescues her.

* Heroine has “feelings” for a much more suitable, super-nice guy but is “tormented” and “conflicted” by her constant thoughts about the “bad boy”.

* Hero and heroine frequently sleep together “platonically”, as in, same bed, no sex. This never implies that the heroine is a big tease but rather serves to reinforce that the hero is actually very sensitive.

* Hero can also reveal his sensitive side by having a Little Brother/ailing elderly relative/single-parent mother/siblings who adore him.

* When skanky girl(s) comes on to hero, multiple outcomes are available:

o Hero sleeps with skanky girl(s) in a futile effort to forget/get-over the heroine, who has recently dumped him (WARNING: potential for Reader Backlash! See below.)

o Heroine mistakenly thinks hero had sex with skanky girl(s) due to a suggestive text she “accidentally” reads on his cell phone or an overheard voice mail message or she sees them in the same room at the same time

o Skanky girl(s) implies that she and the hero got it on, which the heroine believes without asking him if it’s true and despite knowing he’s actually a great guy beneath the man-ho persona.

* Hero and heroine must break up. This is NOT optional. Reasons may include any of the following:

o Hero/heroine believes Big Secret in his/her past is too much for the other person to handle or that he/she is too damaged to be loved

o Heroine mistakenly believes hero cheated on her (see Skanky Girl plot point above)

o Hero gives heroine “room” to decide between him and another guy

o Hero/heroine is trying to “protect” the other person and “do the right thing” by breaking up with her/him. Specifics are irrelevant.

* Heroine ignores all attempts made by the hero to contact her, including but not limited to cell calls, texts, tweets, e-mails, visits, letters, sky-writing, appeals to roommates, etc.

* Love of the hero/heroine will enable the heroine/hero to overcome Painful Past without the need of extensive professional counseling.

* Hero or heroine has a reconciliation with estranged parent(s)

* Or, conversely, he/she breaks completely free from overbearing parent(s). Must be used with Financially Independent option above.

* Regardless of personal goals or career aspirations, hero and heroine will find a way to remain in the same town/city after graduation, and their needs and plans will perfectly accommodate the needs and plans of the other person.

If you’ve selected a variety from the options above, you should be well on your way to the perfect New Adult title. But for that truly professional touch, consider adding the following embellishments:

* Lack of use of acceptable English grammatical standards, including punctuation

* Consistent misuse of homophones (their for they’re, to for too, etc.) and periodic uncorrected type-Os

* Unconventional spelling of names such that they are impossible to pronounce

* Inconsistencies in characterization, details, names, et al

* Plot threads that are resolved in a single sentence or are forgotten about altogether

Warning – Misuse of these elements could result in severe Reader Backlash and should only be attempted by those with experience:

* Death of a main character in order to resolve a love triangle

* A physical or sexual assault that occurs simply so the hero can rescue the heroine and prove his love by going ballistic all over the assailant’s ass. Demonstrated by a lack of any lasting psychological affects on heroine.

* Hero sleeping with Skanky Girl(s) after having met the heroine.

Follow these guidelines faithfully and you will achieve the highest level of New Adult Success – fans clamoring for you to rewrite your story from the point of view of any or all of the other characters featured. How wonderful for you!

Best of luck!

– Jenna Harper

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16 Responses to “The Beginner’s Guide to Writing New Adult”

  1. JG says:

    Is this just a satire of “Beautiful Disaster” or are most other NA books of the same ilk?

    • AARJenna says:

      Every single New Adult book I’ve read – even the ones I really liked and would highly recommend – had at least one of these elements in some form. Most have had far more than one.

    • Tanya says:

      Oh God. I tried with Beautiful Disaster. Check, please!

  2. Brilliant! I’m all set now!

  3. pamelia says:

    Genius! Still laughing.
    @ JG: I haven’t read “Beautiful Disaster”, but ALL these suggestions were hauntingly (maybe nauseatingly) familiar to me, so even given my limited (by choice) forays into NA reading I would have to say that most NA books follow suit.

  4. Andria Karshner says:

    Laughed all the way through. You NAILED IT!

  5. SusanS says:

    I LOL’d my way through the article. Great job. I read “Easy” by Tammara Webber and found it to be a guilty pleasure. Then I realized that every single NA novel was exactly like it. I can’t understand its recent surge of popularity – who is driving it, teens, young adults or middle-aged adults?

  6. Aisha says:

    When I see the New Adult tag I tend to shy away. Not sure if that’s because I am repulsed by trendy things in general or college students in particular, but either way, I’m not a fan, and have no opinion on the accuracy and/or applicability of your tongue-in-cheek post. What I do know is that I find the implications of some of your statements, in particular this: “incapable of changing into something less whorish”, and this: “This never implies that the heroine is a big tease” incredibly troubling.

  7. LeeB. says:

    Thanks! Now I’ll never have to read a New Adult book. :)

  8. erika says:

    Eh, traditonally published romaces have a formula too.

    Historical, penniless fake rake needing to marry feisty heroine cue drama.
    Contemporary, feisty heorine falls for beta good guy hero cue drama.
    Paranormal, well there’s varied formulas for this genre.

  9. LeeF says:

    Uh oh- I predict reader backlash to this column due to you warning us about reader backlash. Particularly liked “lack of use of acceptable English grammatical standards, especially punctuation”. Thanks for today’s laugh.

  10. Shiloh says:

    Holy cow! How many of these things have you read?

    I tend to steer clear of them after my brush with ‘Twilight’.

    But while on the subject of overdone, formulaic genres or in this case, sub-genre, I’d love to see the formula for Regency romances since the market is rife with nothing but.

  11. maggie b. says:

    Love this. I think I will use it to write my own novel :-)

  12. PatAAR says:

    Wait! You forgot my favorite: Weeping/confession over the dead parent’s grave.

    May I also add the must-have emotional response: weeping/crying/sobbing whether the occasion is good news or bad.

    And the de rigueur description of sex: awesome.

    Okay, off to review the New Adult galley I just read. Thanks for the laughs and the checklist. Where would I be without you?

  13. You had me at the pink sweatshirt and scrunchie photo.

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