So you want to write a young adult novel? Well, welcome to the club, Shakespeare (or should I say J.K Rowling).
Young Adult is a huge market with high demand, but it’s also saturated as heck. Everybody seems to be writing the next best dystopian novel, sci-fi, fantasy, steampunk what have you. But that doesn’t mean that everybody is succeeding at it, which brings us to the million dollar question is, ‘How in the world are you supposed to succeed?’.
Ah, I wish I knew the answer to that question myself but I don’t. It’s quite unfortunate. However, what I do know is how to increase the chances of success by training your writing skills and learning about what actually makes the YA genre tick.
Without further ado, here are the eight platinum tips on how to write Young Adult books that have a higher chance of succeeding in the over-saturated market filled with other cutthroat writers.
1) Play with the POV…
(that’s point of view, for those of you who don’t know) until you find the right voice for your book.
For starters, you should probably know that there are a few ways you can go with this. There’s first person POV- think I, me, mine; second person POV, that’s you, yours…thine (this one’s not the most popular option, I should say); and third person POV filled with she, he, hers, his, etc. You get the idea. Since 2nd person POV is a strange, little fella, I wouldn’t advise you to use it in your first YA novel. The other two, however, are your go-to guys.
First person POV yields a more personal feel and is probably the easiest to write in, since we generally tend to think in first person:
I wrote a post on my blog. Those oranges are mine. My cats are adorable.
However, in my opinion, this option is very overdone and may turn you into a bit of a lazy writer, if you’re not careful.
Then there’s the third person POV. This is my preferred way of writing. I think it sounds a bit more sophisticated and gives much more freedom in terms of describing the story world. All the YA books, I’m reading at the moment are written in this POV. Now, you have to know that you can divide third person POV into two other kinds: Limited and omniscient.
Limited acts just like first person, except instead of I you use she or he. Other than that, you stay in the head of one character. This point of view works well if you want to tell a story through two or more protagonists.
The omniscient POV is sometimes referred to as the God because in order to write in it, you have to know everything that’s happening to everyone in your story. I haven’t seen it used very often in YA literature. Actually, I don’t think I have ever seen it used in YA, but maybe I don’t read enough. Who knows?
Anyway, don’t get too lost in all this POV drama. Remember that you must also pick a tense, be it past or present, and stick to it throughout. Switching tenses back and forth looks amateur (unless you’re a pro and are trying to make a point) and confuses the readers.
2) Let your characters make mistakes…
because flawless characters kill a story faster than a bullet to the head. And they rarely fail because, well, they’re flawless. Besides, teenagers are all about making mistake and learning from them. It’s natural, it’s a part of life, hakuna matata… therefore, a good YA book should consist of an entertaining story that reflects real life fears, aspirations, experiences, and questions regarding love, friendship, and identity.
So many times, I’ve opened a book and found a special snowflake for a main character and it frustrates me every time (Clary from The Mortal Instruments, anybody?). The problem with special snowflakes is that they’re not very relatable. And I don’t mean it in a way that Clary is a Shadownhunter, no, I mean the character’s emotional reactions and thoughts and actions are not realistic. They don’t cut it. Especially if you compare those cardboard cutout to fleshed out characters from Harry Potter or The Raven Boys series.
3) Beware of narrative distance…
that’s for literary mumbo-jumbo. Basically, narrative distance is that feeling of closeness (or lack thereof) between the reader and the characters. Now, think of any YA book. Do you feel like you’re a part of the story? Can you imagine what the character is seeing? What they’re feeling? Can you relate to them? If you can answer in affirmative to all these questions, than chances are that the narrative distance between you, the reader, and the characters is very close. If not, than it’s not.
Ideally, if you’re writing YA, you want the distance to be as close as possible. Don’t inundate readers with unnecessary dramatic drivel about history, philosophy, or biology. There are textbooks for a reason. Instead, give them an amazing story about your amazing characters. Make the readers feel, not think.
4) Take them on a ride…
and by them, I mean your readers. This sort of relates to the last point I made. There is a reason people flock to YA and make movie franchises out of them. It’s because they don’t want the ride to end after that last page. They want more, and if people want more, waving their hard-earned money in the air, there’s a very high likelihood that they’re going to get it. It also means that you’ve succeeded at your job. Now where are my dollar bills and an invite to the premier of my movie?
But, I warn you, the desire for success is not enough for you to succeed. All too often, many writers end up copying the books that have been successful with hopes of achieving the same heights, only to fail. So, make sure that when you’re writing your way to success, you’re taking the road less traveled by. Don’t just copy Harry Potter, change your hero’s name to Sammy Snotter, and call it good.
5) Use tropes wisely…
for they are treacherous little beasts. And this is especially true in YA fiction. They are everywhere *cue scary music*. Let me list just a few for you and you’ll definitely know what I’m talking about. There is the love triangle (it can be good, if done well, the problem is, it’s rarely done well), insta-love (can I puke now?), absent parents (like seriously, where’s the fam?), the chosen one (again, can be done well but many writers nowadays use it without putting any work into it), stereotypical characters (come one, be more original). Seriously, if you have to use a trope, put some of your own flair on it.
6) Dig past stereotypes…
and no, you can’t make all gay characters into fashion addicted drama queens. That’s not to say you can’t have a gay character who is into fashion, but be wary of defining him or her solely based on that. Add depth to the souls of your characters, make them feel real, and make them diverse. It’s not cool to have an all-white cast anymore. The world is a big, diverse place and YA literature is shifting fast to represent all the voices in it. And before you commit to writing other races, cultures, religions, species, etc. make sure to research them, so you don’t completely mess it up (believe me, you don’t want to go there) but do keep in mind that no matter what, people are people. We’re not all that different from each other.
7) Don’t be afraid to dabble in dark themes…
your readers can take it.
Many of us grapple with the dark side of life and teens are no exception. The difference lies in experience or for them, a lack of it. Teenagers are just beginning to ask serious questions about themselves and about the world around them. So, unless they’re living a sheltered life in a pink cocoon, the answers they are getting aren’t what they want or even what they expect to hear. That’s when they turn to books, movies, and the internet to seek out others who feel the same way about those scary answers. They want to know that they’re not alone in dealing with unrequited love, bullying, failing, divorces, drugs, disappointment, authorities, lies and other issues that plague our world.
You, as the writer have the responsibility to raise questions about those issues, while simultaneously taking the readers through an exciting journey with relatable characters. And just so you know, it’s ok not to have all the answers.
8) And finally leave off with a kernel of hope…
because even the bleakest of situations hide within themselves a silver lining. Besides, you don’t want children growing up with a sour outlook on life, do you? They are the hope of the future and they have to know that happily every after is a viable outcome and not just a tacky ending from fairy tales. That is not to say your endings have to be all rainbows and butterflies, not at all. All that is asked of you is to leave off with a promise that there is always another tomorrow to get things right and be happy.
Now that I’ve pointed you in the right direction (you’re welcome), all you have to do is follow it, take your own leaps of faith, and write the best book that you can write. The rest is up to fate (and a really good marketing plan).
I hope you found this article super helpful, I post tips such as these every Monday, reviews Wednesdays, and sometimes I even throw in a story or two on Saturdays.