I often have people ask me for writing advice. What should they use to write? (Their fingers. Also their brain. But mostly just their fingers.) How should they write? (Probably in their native language, though an entire novel in pig Latin could be interesting.) How do they finish a manuscript? (Just write as much as you can and then tack THE END after a period. Taa daa! DONE.)
One thing people don't ask me much is what defines genre. So I thought I'd give you a handy guide! These are just guidelines, really, as there is wiggle room within any genre.
Kiersten's Guide to Genre Within YA (with special thanks to Natalie Whipple for key contributions)
Contemporary: Teen characters should have conversations indicative of years of self-examination on a therapist's couch despite their age. Also, sidekick characters must have bizarre nicknames, usually revolving around food or funnily inaccurate physical descriptors.
Dystopian: Must have a main character with the letter X or Z in their name. If you have no characters with Xs or Zs, you are doing it wrong and you have not written a dystopian.
Historical Fantasy: Much like Steampunk, but without airships or goggles. Pants must be referred to as "breeches" and underclothes as "shifts." Very Brave Horses and taverns should also feature prominently. Bad guys must be described as smelling "ripe," but good guys will not smell terrible even after weeks on the road with Very Brave Horses and tavern stops.
Historical Fiction: BIG DRESSES. Nothing else really matters.
Horror: Many side characters who can encounter horribly violent deaths. Wise-cracking best friend capable of making jokes in the midst of a bloodbath. Also, the odd absence of cell-phones and proper lighting.
Issue Contemporary: Same teen characters, but with Very Big Problems that will get you banned in certain communities and give you total street cred among authors.
Paranormal Romance: Must describe the love interest boy as well-muscled at least once per chapter. Also the words "brooding" "mysterious" and "agony" have to feature prominently. Type of creature that the boy is does not matter, so long as he mysteriously broods in well-muscled agony.
Sci-Fi: As we learn from Spongebob, in the future everything is chrome. Also things that really have no reason to fly/hover will fly/hover. Technology is super advanced (probably you should have at least one thing implanted in your main characters [I would like a Dr Pepper fountain machine implanted into my pinky finger, just fyi], whether voluntarily or against their will) except for when your characters are on the run, in which case in spite of incredibly advanced tech the bad guys are inexplicably unable to track them. (Other than the trail of Dr Pepper left suspiciously in their wake.) X and Z names encouraged but not essential.
Steampunk: The inclusion of goggles and airships in any story of any time period automatically qualifies it as Steampunk. Corsets don't hurt, either. Crossdressing is also a common theme, so if you have a corset-wearing boy with goggles driving an airship, YOU HAVE CREATED THE ULTIMATE STEAMPUNK!
Urban Fantasy: Much like paranormal romance, but with more profanity. And still the muscles.
All Genres: An excess of orphans/woefully underinvolved parents. Too many pairs of brilliant green eyes, and an odd number of violet eyes though no one has ever actually known anyone with violet eyes. Teens wittier than anyone you know in real life. References/plot mirrors to books that teens do not want to read, but authors think they should (mostly because authors were forced to read them in school). Girl who isn't anything special but actually IS everything special. Girl who thinks she is average looking but manages to attract not one but two supernaturally good looking guys. Token minority friend. And, finally, sexually charged lab partners. Because nothing is sexier than high school labs. LIGHT MY BUNSEN, BABY!
There you have it! A comprehensive guide to genre. Tomorrow-ish: A Basic Plot Primer for the YA Newbie (Hint: BIG DANCES are involved).