Five Essentials for Writing Young Adult Fiction

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The smash successes of young adult series like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games, or even stand-alone titles like John Green’s The Fault in Our Stars, are hard to miss. It can make a reasonable writer ask, “should I be writing YA too?” While there’s no formula for catching lightning in a bottle, before you embark on a genre change, it’s worth examining what great YA novels have in common. Here are five essentials for writing successful YA:

Treat Teenagers Like…People

Good YA writers never condescend to their target audience. Teenagers might sometimes be moody. They might not consider the consequences of their actions. But adults do these things too. People who write YA realize this and treat teenagers as more than clichés. Their characters are fully realized people who have ups and downs and deal with adversity in different ways. Some characters are impulsive, others are deliberate. Despite diversity in personality or obstacles, successful YA writers never disrespect teens or the teenage experience.

Voice is Key

Many YA books are written in the first-person point-of-view because this lets the audience truly get in the heads of the characters and understand where they’re coming from. Nailing voice makes for an enjoyable narrative because it’s like someone is telling the story to you. It’s an immersive experience and a chance to “walk in another’s shoes.” The best YA writers show the reader why a character acts like he does. That element makes her actions, right or wrong, sympathetic.

Emotions are a Priority

Some of the best-selling YA authors (e.g., John Green) make feeling a primary reading experience. Get in touch with the emotional truths of coming of age. Sure, hormones increase emotions, but people who are in their teens are experiencing many essential human experiences like love, sex, set-backs, heartbreak, etc. for the first time. And the first time anything happens, it’s intense. Really intense. Much more intense than it is by the time it’s happened often enough to gain perspective. Like Rod Stewart sang, “the first cut is the deepest.” Keep that truth in mind when writing YA.

Get to the Point

On average, YA books are a little shorter than books aimed at adults, though there’s always Harry Potter or other epics to provide exceptions to the rule. This doesn’t mean they’re necessarily easier to write. What it means is that you need to get to the point. You need to go in with a plan and keep the plot moving. There are so many entertainment options now that if someone is going to choose to read, it better be good.

Diversity is Needed

If there’s a trend in YA right now, it’s for diverse books. While diversity does mean racial, ethnic, orientation, ability, etc., it also means that it’s important to write your own story. Sometimes there are observable trends in publishing (e.g.: the vampire thing), but right now, there’s a need for different kinds of stories written about the experiences of a wide variety of teenagers. So, whether your story takes place in a galaxy far away, or you tackle social issues here on Earth, or you make hearts soar with love stories, chances are, there are readers interested in what you write.

The bottom line is, to be a successful YA writer: read YA! After all, there’s no rush like being young with the wide world in the windshield. If you can get in touch with your younger self, why not add your own adventure to the mix?

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About Author

Mary is a young adult writer and archaeologist. By day she teaches at a local college, and by night she writes about the adventures of adolescence.

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