How to Write a Young Adult Novel
Young adult fiction is one of the most rapidly expanding and exciting categories in which you you can write and publish. Although many people think young adult novels are only written for teenagers, they have a much broader audience and appeal. While engaging a young adult audience can be a challenge, you can make your novel a success by avoiding common mistakes, planning your novel carefully, and adapting your writing style.
Avoiding Common Mistakes
Ditch the idea that young adult is a genre.Although bookstores and publishers use the phrase young adult as a marketing category, it is not necessarily a genre. A young adult novel could represent any genre such as science fiction, mystery, horror, romance, historical fiction, or fantasy.
- This is one aspect of writing young adult fiction that many authors find appealing. You are not restricted to one specific genre, and instead can write books in different genres or books that cross genres.
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that young adult novels are easier to write.Writing any type of book requires hard work, and young adult novels are no exception. Many writers have also reported that these books can be more challenging to write because young adults can be picky readers and are looking for very authentic and original stories.
- Writing a young adult novel can be especially difficult if you are no longer considered a young adult. It’s hard to find a voice and adopt a tone that young adults can relate to.
- Also, keep in mind that many novels that end up being marketed as young adult books or are popular among young adults, were not necessarily written with that intent.
Stop dumbing down your writing.Unfortunately, some people believe that young adults novels are watered down or dumbed down versions of adult fiction. Just because the protagonist in the novel is a young adult does not mean you should feel like you are writing for children.
- While your prose and the quality of your writing should be engaging, your readers don't want something simplistic. Young adults want to be treated like adults and you may alienate your audience if you use writing that is too simple or childish.
- Also, remember that many adults read and enjoy books that fall in the young adult category. Think about how many adults read series such as Harry Potter or the Hunger Games. If your writing and content are too basic and elementary, you will lose this group as potential readers.
Tackle dark, serious, or edgy topics.Many people mistakenly assume that young adult novels should be light and breezy, with no exploration of difficult subject matter. Successful young adult authors, however, are ones willing to address and examine how serious issues in our society affect young adults.
- These topics may include, but are not limited to: abuse, sex, gender identity, drugs, rape, incest, suicide, racism, discrimination, violence, and genocide.
Don’t just make things up.While creativity is encouraged in young adult fiction, don’t assume you can make things up and get away with it. If you are talking about or referring to real people, places, events, or products, you need to do your homework.
- Young adults are savvy readers and can easily sniff out uninformed and inaccurate descriptions, opinions, and details. For example, if you are writing a book that talks about video game culture, get the details about the games and the culture of this community right.
Planning Your Young Adult Novel
Get excited.To write a young adult novel, you need to feel excited about the opportunities of writing in this category. Here are some things to keep in mind:
- The field of young adult fiction is expanding.
- Authors often find that they face fewer restrictions about what they write about because young adults celebrate creativity and imagination.
- Young adults can also be a more open-minded and supportive audience.
- People outside the young adult range will likely read and enjoy your book.
- As an author of young adult novels, you have the opportunity to write a book that makes an impact on someone and influences how he or she looks at the world.
Study young adult novels.If you want to write young adult books, reading successful young adult novels is an excellent way to start.
- Pay close attention to the structure, dialogue, plot, and character development.
- Make notes about any ideas you come up with for your novel while reading other books.
Focus on developing your characters.Interesting and engaging characters are essential for a young adult novel. Spend time thinking about and developing your characters before you sit down to write or move on to other parts of the novel such as the plot or setting.
- For each character you create, make a list of his or her history, background, hobbies, relationships, tastes, and personality traits. Although not all of these details will make it in to the book, you will develop well-rounded, and three-dimensional characters that young adults can relate to.
- Don't neglect the villains or minor characters in your story. You never know what details you might need or the changes you will make to your plot.
Research the setting.Now that you’ve developed a full cast of characters, you probably have a better idea of where and when your story will take place. Spend time thinking about the setting of your novel and conduct any research on the time period or location that inspires you.
- Remember, you are not limited to present-day or real-world locations. Many successful young adult novels take place in the genres of fantasy and science fiction. There is also a healthy market for historical fiction.
Identify the source of conflict in your novel.The characters in every novel confront some kind of conflict, and this holds true for young adult books. While the specific conflict will be shaped by your characters, setting, and genre, the characters need to confront issues that your audience can relate to.
- With young adults, conflicts and struggles often arise over love, relationships, personal freedom, peer or family pressure, a search for identity, taking on new roles and responsibilities, and dealing with high school, college, and career choices.
Be aware of length.While young adults can be voracious readers, you will lose some potential audience members if your book is too long. Although many young adult novels exceed this limit, most books in this category are between 50,000 to 70,000 words.
- The pacing in young adult novels is often fast, with lots of dialogue. Some people think they resemble extended screenplays as opposed to a longer, slower, adult novel.
- Remember, if the book or story you are crafting seems much longer than this, you can always contemplate breaking it up into separate books and creating a series.
Ask young adults for their feedback.You want your book to be as successful as possible and appeal to the intended audience, so it’s a smart move to ask young adults to provide feedback on your work.
- If you are no longer a young adult, but are writing a young adult novel, this exercise can help you gain insight into the language, feelings, and concerns of your audience. You will also be better able to recall what it feels like to be a teenager.
Writing for a Young Adult Audience
Think like a young adult.Regardless of your age, you will have to think like a young adult and try to get in your characters’ mindset in order to craft a novel that is believable and relatable to a young adult audience.
- Pay careful attention to how you narrate the book so you do not seem to be writing this from the perspective of an adult looking back on their teenage years with the wisdom and maturity that comes with age.
- If you are no longer a young adult, you will have to be careful about the decisions, feelings, and emotions your characters make. Ask yourself if this is something a young adult would actually do or if your hindsight and experience are making your characters and the story less relatable to a young adult audience.
- If you are looking for insight into a young adult audience, check out online forums centered around young adult novels. You will get a better sense of the opinions, views, and perspectives of people you want to read and enjoy your work.
Emphasize what it feels like to be a teenager.Although the characters in your young adult novel may be very different from you, readers and writers have argued that successful books are those that capture the emotional experience of being a young adult.
- For example, even though readers may not identify with the specific struggle a main character in a young adult novel is dealing with, they will probably relate to his or her search for identity and meaning in the world.
Be careful with pop culture references and slang.References to pop culture and the use of slang can help you develop your characters and make them more personable, but they can also date your novel and you as an author.
- Many successful young adult authors recommend using pop culture references and slang sparingly to help you establish the setting and provide specific insight into characters.
- Excessive use of pop culture references and slang, however, may make the novel difficult for readers to understand and relate to in the future. References to technology, for example, quickly become obsolete. Overdoing the pop culture and slang can also distract from the storyline and the novel’s central conflict.
- If you decide to use pop culture references or slang in your novel, make sure you provide sufficient context that a reader can figure out what you are referring to many years down the road.
Get the voice down.Finding and adopting the right voice for your young adult novel can be daunting. While there are no set rules, many young adult novels are written in the first-person present tense, and are narrated from the perspective of a young person revealing intimate details about his or her life.
- Many young adult readers, according to writers and editors, are looking for a story that is told in a personal and accessible way.
- Although adult characters may be present in the book, the novels usually do not emphasize their perspective and readers often identify most with the main character.
Don’t try to be too elaborate with your writing style.When you start writing your young adult novel, you may feel like you need to be particularly poetic and creative, but many successful young adult writers have reported that people of all ages are attracted to their work because the writing style is more direct, straightforward, and simple.
- This doesn’t mean that you should throw writing and grammar rules out the window, but realize that your audience often communicates more bluntly and to the point. Writing like a snobby philosopher won’t help you craft a compelling novel that young adults and people of all ages can relate to.
Think carefully about the age of your characters.The age of your characters will influence who reads your novel and how they react to it. They may be excited to read a book about a character a few years older, but young adults are usually reluctant to read books about characters younger than they are so make sure your characters’ age is appropriate for your intended audience.
- The age range of main characters in young adult novels is usually mid to upper teens.
- If you envisioned a protagonist as younger, you might want to evaluate whether your book is a better fit for a middle-grade audience. The main characters in these books are usually 10 to 12 years old, and the middle-grade demographic is 8 to 12 years old.
Show character growth and development.At their core, most young adult books are coming-of-age stories that trace characters’ transition to adulthood. As a result, young adult authors have to demonstrate how their characters experience personal growth and change over the course of the novel.
- The appeal of coming-of-age stories and personal growth is one of the elements that make young adult books so popular to audiences of all ages. This is something we can all relate to.
Don’t try to preach to your audience.Anyone who has been a young adult or is often around young adults knows that they, just like adults, do not appreciate being told what to do. Avoid writing a novel with the intention of teaching your audience lessons you think are important.
- It’s okay for your views and opinions to be apparent in the way you write the novel, but you can usually make your audience think critically about a topic by simply raising a question or introducing an issue. It’s not your responsibility as a writer to provide an answer to the question. Instead, let your audience explore and grapple with the topic on their own time and in their own way.
Embrace a flair for the dramatic.While older adults may dismiss teenagers as overly dramatic and emotional, you will need to embrace this tendency if you want to be a successful young adult author. When you are a young adult, everything that happens to you can seem and feel life-changing and very important.
- Young adults, because of how their bodies and brains are developing and changing, feel things intensely. To capture that quality, you have to be able to dramatize things that some people might regard as trivial in your book. For example, a grade on a science test, a glance from a boy you are attracted to, and a snicker in gym class can seem incredibly important to young adults.
Make the ending somewhat hopeful.While young adult books can definitely explore topics that leave readers feeling raw and emotional, successful young adult novels also offer readers some glimpse of optimism or the sense that things can and will improve for the characters. You don’t have to make the ending a happy or rosy one, and tragedy can occur in the book. Just try to leave readers with a sense that there is some chance for survival, growth, and happiness.
- One of the reasons many adults are drawn to young adult novels is that they often provide more resolution or a reason for optimism than adult fiction.
- For example, if you are writing a book about a geeky student in high school, you don’t have to include a triumphant but unrealistic ending where the nerd turns into the most popular student in school. You can, however, suggest that the unpopular student meets and befriends new people, feeling less isolated in the end.
QuestionI am writing for younger young adults (12-15), how do I write about rape/abuse in my story?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYou just have to skirt around the issue by alluding to it without giving a lot of unnecessary detail. Focus on how the character is affected emotionally and mentally rather than what is happening physically.Thanks!
QuestionCan I publish a young adult novel if I'm still a teenager?wikiHow ContributorCommunity AnswerYes, you can. There have been many successful teenage authors, and the YA genre is a great place for you to start since you'd know well what people your age (and a little younger) might want to read about.Thanks!
Can I publish a young adult book, being not quite a young adult yet?
- Reading examples of successful young adult novels will help you understand how they are written and constructed. You will also develop some great ideas for your own novel while you are studying other books.
- Young adult novels are usually told from a more casual, first-person, present-tense perspective. The protagonist or main character is typically revealing or sharing personal details about his or her life.
- A great way to improve your novel and reach out to your intended audience is to ask young adults for feedback on your work.
Video: 5 Things to Avoid When Writing a YA Novel
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