Young adult novels are a genre unto themselves, which, not so long ago wasn’t a thing. But now no one can deny the power of John Greene’s The Fault in Our Stars or juggernauts like Suzanne Collins’ The Hunger Games. If you’re YA curious, read on to find out what it takes to write successful young adult stories.
Eye of the Beholder
The most effective YA is told through the eyes of the teenage protagonists. These are not stories of an adult looking back and telling the story of youth from an adult perspective. This is the tale of teens as they perceive the events as they unfold. Often YA uses present tense to convey an even more immediate sense of urgency and in-the-moment responses.
One of the most important elements of YA is to not tell the story of young people as an adult. It’s to channel your inner teenager or really reflect on how you saw the world when you were younger. After all, these novels are written for teenagers, so you should always respect their point of view as a worthy one in its own right.
Find the Emotional Truth
Falling in love for the first time. Being dumped for the first time. Feeling left out. These are genuine traumas and trials of youth. It’s because people have limited perspective at that age. They aren’t actually sure if they’ll live just because so-and-so doesn’t like them or ostracizes them. They feel like they might actually die if he likes her back…or if he doesn’t. Teenagers aren’t being “overly dramatic” when they’re emotional about these events—they’re being appropriately dramatic. For their ages.
While you never want to demean or talk down to your audience obviously, you also need to work against your own adult outlook. You can look back on your own high school experience and see that you totally dodged a bullet when what’s-his-name didn’t like you back…but you didn’t realize that at the time. Channel those feelings.
Be Mindful of Cultural References
Cultural references make a novel feel current, fresh, and realistic to teens, who are often quite aware of pop cultural references. The problem with them is that they can feel dated—fast. Celebrities are only one flop or nutty retweet away from being lame. Internet or social media references can change even faster. It’s not a bad thing to reference media, but consider the timeliness of it too.
Talk to the Experts
If you’re stuck, talk to a teen! If you want to know what teens think or feel about a topic—ask them! You can communicate online or with someone in your life. If there’s a topic you want to explore, do research, like you would for any novel. It always pays to respect your audience and do your homework as a writer.
To sum up, what are the best tips for writing successful young adult novels? Always honor your audience. Though many adults do read YA, these stories are for young people. The experiences of this time period might be a short in the life of a person, but they’re so influential. I, for one, remember if a song was popular my sophomore or junior year, but I can’t remember when a song came out after college. Everything that happens in high school is memorable and important—especially for those living it.