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.