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A few thoughts about writing YA

I’ve been working with a lot of authors the last few years on the adult side who are looking to publish on the children’s side. I know I’m not the only one, as the market has surged and become a destination for talented writers whose books can often cross over to the adult market. The obvious early megahits on the YA side like Twilight and The Hunger Games have made room for more recent realistic teen novels like The Fault in Our Stars and Wonder.

I thought it was worth sharing this advice column I found in Publisher’s Weekly from published author Seth Fishman. Now that I have a few young humans of my own, I love that he says: “You’re writing for young humans, people who are the most in need of answers, people who are the most curious.” And I like the way he positions his advice from a broad perspective. Rather than focusing on plot or characters, it’s about thinking and feeling and the emotion that is so critical for adults writing for teens to get right.

Take a look and see if you YA authors have anything else to add to his list. What do you do when you’re getting ready to channel your inner teen?

4 Responses to A few thoughts about writing YA

  1. KeviN A. Lewis says:

    I think’s important to keep a rocking story at the forefront of your technique; aside from the blowback Seth experienced from the Live Strong debacle, efforts to promote an Agenda usually show up in letters a mile high, at least among the kids who read this stuff. The tradeoff involved here is that although Guilt-Tripping The Sacred Cow (A tired but effective gaterunner’s trick that in effect says “You have to sign this because this kid’s working for world peace in spite of only having 6 months to live or something equally manipulative) will get you hated worldwide by most of your audience, their parents will turn out in droves to make sure everyone gets the message. As silly and overblown as a lot of dystopian/vampire stuff was, it’s at least fun to read. Now, if you can make a point without anyone noticing complete with dangerous fireworks, that’s a lot more interesting IMHO, and kids won’t wish you’d died in an avalanche on the way to the publishers…

    • Kevin A. Lewis says:

      On second thought, I’ve decided that “KeviN” doesn’t quite have the hip zing I thought it would and am going back to my usual spelling…

      • D. C. DaCosta says:

        “It’s at least fun to read.” Right on, Kevin. THAT is the important thing!

        The original post says: “Rather than focusing on plot or characters, it’s about thinking and feeling and the emotion that is so critical for adults writing for teens to get right.”

        I don’t think so.

        I think kids read strictly for adventure and excitement until they are mature enough to see that books have a deeper purpose than entertainment, i.e., age 16+. If you have a rip-roaring story, well told and with interesting and compelling characters, you will have an audience, esp. if the characters are believable as young (and successful) adventurers. My kids all complained about having to read angst-filled stories in their high school (and middle school) English classes: they couldn’t relate to the issues. But every kid can relate to a quest, an adventure, the need to protect others or to solve a mystery without too much help from adults.

        Incidentally, the last line of the referenced article says, “Have a teenager help you edit”. I would say that this is good advice ONLY if the teens are in a writing class themselves and you can get the teacher to enlist their help. Your own kids (and nieces and nephews!) will not give you the courtesy of believing even for an instant that you have any talent. Familiarity does indeed breed contempt.

  2. Rachael C. says:

    I agree Kevin, it has to be fun or it’ll ‘suck’.

    I like what you, D.A. DaCosta, had to say about genre for young adults. But I am curious to hear your thoughts on teen romance. You could consider a girl’s crush on a boy and her hopes to be his girlfriend as a quest, and her interactions with him as the adventurous journey, her wondering if he likes her as the mystery, and when he stands up for her playing into people’s need/want to protect and be protected, right? If you agree then I may have hit all of your marks in the YA manuscript I’ve completed that isn’t in any of the genres you mentioned.

    I have to heartily agree with the thinking, feeling and emotional part Stacy brought up in the blog post – which I know you, D.A., disagree with for some YA audiences. My guess is that you’re not a hormonal girl trying to make it through the most emotionally tumultuous time in your young life. During the teen years, especially the younger ones, I think is when a girl really faces some shocking realities and has to try to navigate who she is and wants to be through it, all the while still just trying to get her homework done, hangout with friends and flirt with the boys she’s obsessing about way more than she can probably help. There is very often SO much going on in a girls head all at once on an on-going basis that as a YA author, you do yourself a disservice to ignore it when thinking of creating a realistic female character. Granted, not all girls are the same. In the “Girl with the Dragon Tattoo” I struggled with Lisbeth’s personality and character traits. She was very (purposely) overly masculine in my opinion BUT, I did get her and ended up loving her! Just following her and how she handled herself was a big part of the adventure for me as a female reader in that series. What on earth was she going to do, think or say next? Then it was: what was going to happen in the story next. I know that’s not a YA book example but it does help my point. Girls are usually more obviously emotionally complicated, with boys being just as complicated and usually not as obvious. And when you can successfully include that in a story you very often have a richer more “adventurous” read regardless of the books genre – even at a younger YA reader age than 16. You just to be careful not to over do it.

    To answer Stacy’s question: What do I do when I’m trying to channel my inner teen? I just take a stroll down memory lane, pick out some pieces of crazy personal history and start weaving it into something relevant for girls today. I believe in subtly leading by example and not always following every rule, or traveling the paths adults and friends expect or want for you. I want young people to know that it’s okay to think and exist that way. To do things your way while making sure not to trample on others – including your parents – and being thoughtful about your journey in a quasi-spiritual way, or just in a peaceful, thoughtful way. I think quietly bucking expectations is scary and that in itself is an adventure – a rewarding and sometimes anxious one that happens while studying for exams, stressing about what to be when you grow up and whether or not to date someone and what happens when you do.

    All I have to do is remember back (not too long ago) and it spurs me to start writing.

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