Even before J. K. Rowling's tremendous success with her Harry Potter series, publishers were frantically searching for fantasy and horror fiction for children and teenagers that they hoped would top the bestseller list. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it does not insure success as a writer.
Tip One: You don’t need to copy current market trends.
Teens have varied tastes in fiction. Not every teen or juvenile book needs to feature werewolves, vampires, witches, goblins, etc. Witness the huge success of such realistic teen novels as THE FAULT IN OUR STARS. Note that ALL THE LIGHT WE CANNOT SEE by Anthony Doerr which won the 2015 Pulitzer Prize for Fiction could easily be read and understood by teens as well as adults since the novel is suited to both. Here we have a book which is historical in nature. Teens are as curious about the past as they are about the present and the future.
Books set in the "real" world do have appeal for teenagers. Teens are not necessarily trying to read books that provide a total escape from reality. Even fantasy books need to be believable, providing an element of reality through character development to which readers can relate. In the crossover novel THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY, the real world is seen through the eyes of a teenage boy while his mother experiences it through an alternate reality.
Dystopian novels are still popular at the current time. But trends change rapidly. My advice, don't write for the market; write the story you need and want to write. We are all writers. We all have within us an important, wonderful story to share. Get in touch with your inner teen self. Strive for authenticity.
Tip Two: Develop a unique voice.
This is one of the most important things in writing a successful young adult novel. This does not mean that you must write only from a first person point of view. However, teenage readers often respond well to a first person narrative. But "voice" has to do with choice of vocabulary and style as well.
Tip Three: Character identification is significant.
It is important to create a central character that young readers can both sympathize and identify with. Whether writing realistic or fantasy fiction, if the reader can't care about or relate to the main character, then he or she won't believe or accept what follows. A main character needs to be well-rounded, think and feel the way adolescents do.
Tip Four: Know teenagers.
If you are going to write about teens, you need to know them. Do some research. Besides raising two teenagers, I taught English and later Library Science. I taught at all levels: the university, high school, middle school and elementary. But most of my years were in the high school. I am accustomed to the way teenagers think, talk and behave. If you are not a teen yourself, talk to teenagers, read their magazines, watch their favorite TV programs, observe how they behave at malls, amusement parks, movie theaters etc. Listen to them.
Tip Five: Recall your own teenage memories.
Dig deep into your psyche. How did you feel as a teenager? Were you confused about certain things? What made you happy? What troubled you? What are your most vivid memories of those times? Did you keep a diary or journal? If so, reread some of what you wrote.
My latest YA novel, THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, published by Clean Reads in all e-book formats and now in print as well, is the story of a girl who has identity issues. She is also faced with peer pressure and conflicting values. Most of us have gone through similar problems as adolescents.
Tip Six: Get input from your own children.
Ask your teenagers to read your writing and critique it. Consider collaborating with your children on the writing of your fiction. I wrote WHERE IS ROBERT?, a YA mystery novel, with help from both of my sons who were teenagers at the time. Both boys contributed to the scenes of high school wrestling, since they both engaged in the sport. I couldn't have written the book without them. My son, Andrew, co-authored THE THIRD EYE: A PINE BARRENS MYSTERY published by Five Star/Gale/Cengage. He gave the teenage boy narrator an authentic “voice”.
Tip Seven: Make it dramatic.
Think like a cinematographer. Create vivid scenes. Dramatize your story. Don't just tell your story, show it. I'm certain you've heard that advice before! How to do this? Create meaningful, realistic dialogue for your characters. Each character should be an individual, talking in a certain distinct way to reflect a personal point of view, a unique way of thinking. Good dialogue leads to action and conflict between people with different viewpoints and goals.
Also, settings need to be described so that they seem real. In fact, there's nothing wrong with using real places for background setting. My five published YA’s are all set in
Jersey, an area very much like the one in which I lived and worked.
Tip Eight: Begin with an outline.
Outlines can be rough. They don’t need to be detailed. But you should have some idea about arranging the events of the plot line. This will be something to consult when writing your first draft with your key characters and scenes.
Tip Nine: When you develop your book, look for depth.
Although books for teens are usually shorter than those for adults, that doesn't mean they require less creative thought. Respect your readers; give them quality.
Tip Ten: Provide an element of mystery.
Teens as well as younger children enjoy a mystery. Every good work of fiction should have a plot that keeps the reader turning the pages, wanting to discover what is going to happen next. It's important to set up some sort of a question that can't be easily or immediately answered, a secret of the human heart that must be delved into.
Tip Eleven: Develop key themes in your YA fiction.
Teen novels are generally about coming-of-age, of finding personal identity, making sense of the adult world, relating to it and fitting into it—or not.
THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER is about a teenager growing up in 1985. She comes from a poor family and wants more out of life than her parents are able to provide. She also senses there are secrets that her mother is keeping, secrets that involve her. Danna is troubled and confused. She has artistic talent and would like to be a professional artist. She has hopes, dreams and aspirations. She also feels that her parents are too strict. Enter into this a boy who pursues her but has a bad reputation. Danna is attracted to him in spite of the warnings she receives about Kevin’s bad character. THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER is a coming-of-age novel. It’s a book about family values and a young girl maturing to the point where she realizes what really matters in life.
Here is a short excerpt from the beginning of the novel:
When my mother talked about Lori, she always got a funny look in her eye — not ha-ha funny but strange funny. When I was little, I never understood. As I got older, I wondered more about Lori, but I hardly ever asked because it just seemed to make my mother sad.
Lori was locked away in my mother's past life like the things in the old attic trunk. I wondered about them too. But Mom would always say when I asked her to open the trunk that the past was best forgotten. Yet, every now and then, I would say something or do something that made her sigh deeply and exclaim: "You remind me so much of Lori!"
Not long ago, I was sitting on the living room couch reading a novel I found on the bookshelf. My mother walked into the room and gasped.
"Something wrong?" I asked.
She stared at me for a moment and shook her head. "No, but for a moment, it seemed like I was looking at Lori. I remember when she read Rebecca. She loved to read old-fashioned romances."
"Mom, what happened to Lori?"
I'd been to one or two family gatherings but never remember anyone mentioning Lori, Mom's younger sister. She also had a brother named Craig who lived in
, but that was all the family she
had as far as I knew. I’d only met my relatives from Portland once. Oregon
"Danna, I'd rather not talk about her. It only brings back sad memories."
"Sure, except I didn't bring it up."
"Just don't you read too many of those foolish books and go around confusing them for real life. And don't think too much about boys. You’re still very young."
Now I was really confused. "What exactly did Lori do?"
My mother didn't answer. I could see it was hurting her to discuss her sister. Still, I couldn't help wondering. Mom had a sister who my parents never talked about. How totally weird was that?
THE DEVIL AND DANNA WEBSTER, YA novel published by Clean Reads, is now available in print:
as well as all E-Book formats:
In conclusion, the success of J.K. Rowling’s books gave new hope and inspiration to those of us who write juvenile fiction. No longer could we gripe that children and young adults do not read. If nothing else, the reception the Potter books received proves that there is an audience for fiction among young people. Also, such books if well-written have a strong appeal for adult readers as well—think of THE HUNGER GAMES, DIVERGENT or the TWILIGHT series. About 65% of books for teens are purchased by adult readers. According to the Association of American Book Publishers, in 2014, revenue from Y.A. and children’s books rose by 21 per cent over the previous year, while adult fiction and nonfiction fell by 1.4 percent.
Your comments, suggestions and input welcome here!