The success of Twilight, The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Fault In Our Stars, to name just a few has made YA a hugely popular genre, and not just with teens. Many adults enjoy reading YA books too, wanting a more imaginative and emotional read than adult fiction often offers them. You’ve only got to look at the bulging shelves in the YA section of your local bookstore to see how varied this genre is. A lot of the books are the familiar black and red covers of the vampire stories that Twilight made popular, others are dystopian battles in far flung worlds or set in a future time or issue led stories about teenagers coping with cancer or death. Alongside these are romances, contemporary light-hearted satires and humorous dairy accounts of teenage life. Many writers are now wanting to tap into this potentially lucrative market and wondering how to go about it.
I’ve written all sorts of children’s books for various age groups over the years but have only recently dipped my toe into the YA market. The reason I made this decision is because the two stories in my head were YA stories. They needed a teenage voice. My first YA, Perfect Summer, published in 2013 is a dystopian thriller set in the not-too-distant future when society is so obsessed with perfection that being different is considered a crime. My second YA, Sapphire Blue, is an afterlife romance thriller told through dual viewpoint. Sapphire and her boyfriend Will are killed in a car crash in the first chapter and look for each other in the afterlife because they have pledged to love each other forever. However that means going to Red where terror is only a thought away and they are at the mercy of the Soul Catchers. It was published just before Christmas.
If you’re thinking about writing a YA novel, then here are my top tips:
Your main character should be a teen. And the story should be allabout them. Remember how emotional and dramatic teenagers are? How angst ridden? How black and white everything is to them? Tell the story through your teen character’s eyes, let the reader feel their emotions. Whatever you do, keep the adult perspective out of it. And don’t preach.
Research teen speak. It’s important to get the ‘teen speak’ right but don’t make it too current. Slang dates easily and your novel will soon sound old-fashioned. Listen to how teens talk to each other to get the feel of their sentence structure, of how loose they are with grammar, of certain expressions they use so that your dialogue sounds authentic. Don’t get too bogged down with grammar and correct English as this will make your story sound stilted.
Let there be hope. Most subjects are tackled in YA fiction and there is some pretty dark stuff out there. Remember though that there is still some censorship for this age group so issues need to be dealt with sensitively, bad language should be avoided if possible for young teens and so should explicit sex. Most importantly, your story doesn’t have to end perfectly but there should always be hope that things will improve.
Do your research. Read as many YA books as you can so you get a feel for the genre and see how experienced authors tackle the teenage voice, dialogue and emotional aspect of the story. Pay particular attention to the viewpoint and tense they use too. First person viewpoint is very popular with YA fiction and present tense is becoming increasingly so. Don’t use them if you don’t feel comfortable with them though, experiment a bit and see what viewpoint and tense works best for you. As with any other fiction, be true to yourself.
This article also appears on the Writers Bureau blog.