6 Tips for Writing Young Adult Fiction

photo credit: Martinak15

photo credit: Martinak15

It should be no surprise that the rules for writing a young adult novel do not differ so much from writing any book.  Write well, write passionately, and write a story you care about.    When it comes to the YA genre, there is an added pressure to follow specific literary trends, dumb things down, or use the slang of today’s youth, for fear of losing the fickle interest of teens and tweens.

Don’t worry about these preconceptions.  Young adult readers want the same things that any readers want: a well written story they can enjoy and relate to.  Here are six little reminders to help you write your YA story.

  1. Complicate things.  Write stories that make readers think.  Write flawed heroes.  Write not-quite-happy endings.  You’re writing young adult fiction, not fairy tales.
  2. Write honestly.  Don’t try to be “hip”.  As soon as you think “what’s cool with kids nowadays?, you need to stop. Take a step backwards.  The story you’re writing should mean something to you- if it doesn’t, chances are that your story will feel forced and inauthentic; something both readers and publishers can sense.
  3. Take risks.  Write in first person.  Write with urgency.  Average 50-80,00 words. Talk about hope.  Consider what’s selling.  These are some of the most talked about guidelines when writing specifically young adult novels, but they don’t define compelling fiction. As mentioned above, write honestly- it’s a risk worth taking.
  4. Write a story, not a sermon.  Teenagers, much like anyone else on the planet, do not enjoy being told what to do. As an author, your job is to write the experience of adolescence, not a lesson plan about it.  This does not mean you have to advocate dangerous activities, but if you want to engage young readers, carefully consider how you include the topics of ill-advised practices and their consequences.
  5. Remember.    The ill-advised practices mentioned above are a part of being a teenager.  Most teens and young adults face larger issues than failing a math test or making the soccer team, and the emotions that go along with them are dynamic.  Slip back into your Converse shoes of yester-year, and get back into your teenage mindset.
  6. Don’t underestimate your readers.   Often, authors are advised to “simplify things” when writing young adult stories.  Has anyone ever looked back on a story and said, I loved it because it was easy to read?  Moreover, teens can be just as capable and often more willing to try and interpret complex social issues.   Refer once more to no. 3: Take risks.

Readers of YA fiction, what advice would you give to writers?  YA writers, what rules do you try and abide by?  Comment below, or tweet us @sumbolacosi.

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