Do you ever wonder how to hit the mark in your manuscript to bring all the elements together that will resonate with readers and potential agents? The challenge of making everything work — from dialogue to setting to characters to plot and more — is what makes writing so appealing to me.
I’ve been judging a YA writing contest this month and in the process, it’s made me think about what works and what doesn’t work in writing young adult literature.
Don’t underestimate or overestimate your audience. Consider the age range of your target reader. The language and style of writing for a 12- to 14-year-old may vary slightly from that of a 14- to 17-year-old. These kids are smart and often have flashes of maturity beyond their ages. That said, they are still who they are and will revert back to moments of immaturity. You might be writing a scene where a child is showing wisdom beyond her years, but the next moment have a meltdown. Think about how you can use this knowledge of your audience to create authentic characters who act their emotional age. Also, ask yourself if by the end of your story, your characters have evolved. They should have changed by the end in some way, gaining maturity and insight as a result of the conflict they’ve been through.
Create a gripping plot. YA writing is no different than adult fiction when it comes to writing strong plots with action, consequences and tension. Are you creating obstacles, amping up the action, and pushing the action forward in each scene to its conclusion?
Create a compelling narrative voice. You’ll engage the reader quickly if they can latch on to a voice they connect with. Think about how your reader might identify with the narrator and how the narrator says what she says.
Resist the impulse to have a strong “moral message.” Don’t be preachy. These readers are smart and savvy and that kind of writing will knock them out of the story world you’re trying to create. Let the themes and messages of your story organically reveal themselves through your characters and the progression of the plot.
Are you writing for children and young adults? Success may be yours with the right mix of plot and writing finesse. The Greenhouse Literary Agency, which specializes in children and YA writing, lists these tips as part of a top 10 list. These are three of my favorites:
Find out what books today’s kids are buying and enjoying. Absorb contemporary culture and literature, but never try to copy anyone else’s voice or concept because you think they’re successful right now. What’s hot today may be stone cold in a year’s time and it will take at least this long for your book to be published.
Publishers publish into age categories – young fiction, middle grade and young adult. Be very clear who you are writing for; many novels never find a home because they don’t speak clearly enough to any section of the market. Read more
Part of writing well is analyzing what works in the stories I admire, love, and that stick in my mind long after I read them.
In May, Publishing Perspectives organized “What Makes a Children’s Book Great?,” a half-day event hosted by Scholastic Inc. For more insight about the topic from publishing experts and authors at the event, read this post by Dennis Abrams at Publishing Perspectives.
Richard Robinson, President and CEO of Scholastic Inc., shared these characteristics of what makes a children’s book great.
A great book:
- Contains a simple and original idea presented with clarity and great power. Read more
One of the benefits of our recent remodel has been finding treasures as I put the house back together. Below is a poem I found that my son wrote when he was seven years old. He liked to create little booklets of poems and give them to me for special occasions–Mother’s Day or my birthday.
Books have been a part of my life since I was a young girl sitting on my mother’s lap, lulled by the stories she read to me. I, in turn, cherished reading books to my son when he was young. I guess you can say we have “book love” in our family. See for yourself:
I was struck by a piece of writing advice in an interview with Kate Messner posted on the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators (SCBWI) blog.
While Messner writes for children, this advice applies whether you write poems, memoirs, novels, short stories or essays.
“It’s simple. If you want to write picture books, write them. Whether you are feeling inspired or not. Some of them will be awful, and this is okay. Don’t send them out. Let them live their lives out quietly on your hard drive, and learn from them.” Read more