4 Essential Tips On Writing Young Adult Fiction

Young Adult fiction, or YA, is one of the most vibrant, fun, emotionally engaging genres out there.

4 Essential Tips On Writing Young Adult Fiction

Young Adult explores topics many genres won’t touch; it joins on the journey of personal growth and Bildungsroman (read: “coming of age”) that we all struggle through. It doesn’t hurt that it also sells like hotcakes, movie deals included.

Do you want to write Young Adult fiction? Well, there is no magic formula, but that’s the bad news. The good news is I’m going to share four effective tips on writing Young Adult fiction to make your story more successful and relatable.

Tip Number One for Writing Young Adult Fiction: Language

Most of you are not, in fact, teenagers. (For those of you who are, let me know if you agree with the point I’m about to make.) And obviously, if you’re not a teenager, it means you do not think or speak the same way your protagonist will because YA books showcase teenagers (with a couple of years’ cushion on either side) as protagonists, and teenagers do not sound like adults.

Ah, but the key to this isn’t slang—which, by the way, I HIGHLY advise you avoid, unless you’re inventing it yourself, or it’s slang that has stood the test of time, like “cool.” If you try to make your book sound current via slang, you guarantee that some young person will pick up your book in short order and laugh at how silly it sounds.

(No, really. This is a thing. To quote the article, “Yesterday’s cutting-edge is today’s ho-hum.”)

How then do you make your kids sound young, hip, and relevant? Two ways:

  1. See how it’s done by someone who does it well, like Holly Black. I suggest The Coldest Girl in Coldtownnot because it’s everyone’s cup of tea (because it really isn’t), but because it’s an excellent example of modern teens who sound and feel modern without feeling so current that they won’t feel modern in five years. They’re smart; they’re wrestling with current issues; they lack the experience to judge what might or might not happen. They’re three-dimensional and fantastic, but undeniably young.
  2. Just have your characters speak like people (*gasp* teens are people? I know, right?). The thing that sets them apart from adults is a lack of experience, and therefore, a different grasp of consequences. Young people are often portrayed in media as… well, stupid; they’re not. Yes, they can sound defiant in the face of what adults think is good sense, but that’s not stupidity; that’s courage—a courage many adults lack because they’ve gone through the consequences of sticking to their guns. Teenagers have the confidence so say what they think, and to think things adults might not. That isn’t stupid. That’s experience.

Tip Number Two for Writing Young Adult Fiction: Brands and Bands

That tip to avoid the most in-style thing actually goes beyond language. Of course, being a smart author, you’re already being really careful about what brand names you use. This makes it easier still: either don’t use them, or just make them up.

You don’t know what will be popular in five years. Your fourteen-year-old may love that brand of jeans right now, but they might not even exist five years from now—and twenty years from now? It’s not impossible that the next generation will think of those jeans as being “mom-jeans.”

The mom-jeans thing is a good example, actually. High-waisted jeans were HUGELY popular once, but then the generation that loved them grew older, and… well. Time makes fools of us all.

Mom jeans

(P. S. – mom-jeans, after being out of style for three decades, are coming back in. Pfft, fashion.)

Tip Number Three for Writing Young Adult Fiction: Maturity and Decision-Making

This is a tough one when it comes to writing people younger than ourselves. We all, in a way, suffer from what C. S. Lewis called “chronological snobbery:” we assume that anyone or anything who came before was primitive compared to us.

Whether that’s true about generations past is a whole other discussion. I’m here to tell you it’s not true of your teenage protagonist.

I’ve said this before, but it’s important: there is an enormous difference between intelligence and experience, and teens are far from stupid. Yes, they make decisions that adults feel are stupid, but guess what? Adults make decisions teens feel are stupid, too.

When your teenaged protagonist makes decisions, you can be easily tempted to make them idiots for the sake of moving your plot along. Don’t. Even the nineteen-year-old boy who drives like a fool is actually thinking about it; he’s not stupid. He assumes he won’t he be hurt or hurt anyone else because he hasn’t yet, or he’s gotten away with it. He’s prideful or selfish, but there’s a far cry between that and idiocy.

The mistake/growth pattern that comprises most solidly good YA books is the development of maturity, not intelligence.

We all gain maturity as we grow older. We learn by doing and experiencing things; we learn from consequences, good and bad. So will your teenaged protagonist. The decisions and choices that character makes must be generated by an intelligent but potentially ignorant person—someone who doesn’t know what will happen if they press the button, or hopes it won’t happen to them. Not someone who is an idiot, but someone who hopes for a specific outcome, and has no life-experience to tell them whether or not it will work.

Tip Number Four for Writing Young Adult Fiction: World-Awareness

I hang around on a little site called Tumblr, and I don’t do it for the memes. I do it for the people: the average age of a Tumblr user is far lower than the age of users on other social networks (apart from things like Snapchat), and I can genuinely say that they are well-informed, invested in world-events, deeply moved by social issues, and highly critical of politicians. (Heck, if you want to see the current distribution-by-age via social platform, you can read about it here.)

I’m not saying to go to Tumblr for your news. Very often, these enthusiastic young people miss the point of what happened, or make assumptions about trouble in the world. However, they’re aware of what happened, and that’s the point.

These kids read the news, or watch it.

These kids are aware, informed, and deeply passionate about multiple real-life issues.

And many of these kids are still too young to vote. That doesn’t stop them from knowing what they’re talking about when they compare politics or health-care systems.

See, this is what it’s like to be a teenager today: the world is at their fingertips. It’s common for a seventeen-year-old young woman in New Jersey to be informed and angry about issues affecting Melbourne, Australia.

If you’re writing YA before the internet age, this won’t be the case. If you’re writing YA set anytime after the internet became a household thing, this is the reality. Your young people will be aware of what’s going on outside their own country.

Above All, Remember Young Adults are People Too

Your teenage protagonist is a person—a person with growing to do, a person who may not yet know who they are or what they want, but a person.

Teenagers are people. If you keep that in mind and don’t try to create your characters based on some weird “This Is Teens” algorithm, you will be fine.

Has this impacted your view of YA? Let us know in the comments section.

PRACTICE

It’s time to put this into practice. Your task today is to write a modern teenaged protagonist having a conversation with an adult. It can be about world events, about some decision the teen wants to make that the adult doesn’t like (but make sure to include the teen’s reasons), or even just a confession about what happened at school.

Take fifteen minutes and dive into the rich thought-life and emotional tapestry of your young character. When your time is up, post your practice in the comments section. If you post, don’t forget to comment on someone else’s work.

Have fun!

About Ruthanne Reid

Sci-fi/fantasy author Ruthanne Reid currently lives in Phoenix, Arizona, though some say she really lives in her head. They'd be right. To see what she's all about (and snag free books), visit RuthanneReid.com or follow her on Twitter (@RuthanneReid).

  • Silvia

    Hey Ruthanne,

    I’m a teenager working on a YA novel at the moment and as a teenager myself and writer, I can say that all these things ring true and are core to the novel. The voice of a YA author has to be fresh and modern but still timeless. I tend not to use brand names at all, because those in the UK/US/Europe mightn’t know them and/or time moves on and these brands disappear. Just like Mom Jeans. 😉 You’re right. Slang is SO cringe-worthy and it doesn’t work at all.

    I think Suzanne Collins effectively portrays teenagers in a modern but still timeless way.
    I’m still working on my novel. I’m at 80,000 at the moment and will get editing soon. Its far fetched to think it’ll be published but maybe, it might. Who knows.
    Really enjoyed this article! Loved it!

    • EndlessExposition

      You can totally get it published, send out query letters when it’s done! Good luck!

      • Silvia

        Thanks so much! Good luck with your writing too. 🙂 Here’s to teenage writers!

    • Anna Teodoro-Suanco

      Hey, Sylvia, good luck with your novel. I hope it gets published soon.

      • Silvia

        Thank you Anna! 🙂

    • ruthannereid

      Thanks, Silvia! I completely agree; Collins did a fantastic job, which makes those books timeless.

      And congratulations on getting that far with your novel! That is SUCH a great feeling. And it could be published – and if not that, another one. Don’t give up and keep writing! 🙂

    • Donna Parsons

      and not even just brand names; just words can be different in different countries, like in a practice up above, kitchen “bench” is a UK – at least – term, not one used in the US – we’d say “counter”, not sure how that should be handled

  • What a great post! I’m a teenager so I’m glad I get the privilege of commenting from that perspective.

    One of the most annoying things to me is when a writer tries to write modern slang into the story in order to look “hip, cool, and appealing to young people”. Unless you have a specific type of character and you use it to display an aspect of their personality, don’t do it. Not every kid in the story should say things like YOLO, BFF, or the like. But, as I said, I would make exception for a specific character.

    Another example of an exception would be teenagers that sound like adults. Because some do and sometimes this works. Take a look at Augustus Waters in The Fault in Our Stars. I noticed that a lot of times he speaks like an adult and it works quite well in the story. However, the author doesn’t treat all his characters like this. Augustus’ friend drops the F bomb every other sentence (Which, by the way, cussing is another thing to look out for).

    All in all, I would say it depends on your character. Don’t look at them as simply a teenager, look at them as a character. Some characters (albeit annoying ones) will say “OMG, girl! You look so hot in those high wasted shorts!” Others will say “The loss of stability in domestic life is a great factor in the decline of our economy”. Others will curse like sailors, others will hardly speak, others will speak their mind, etc. But that key is to treat them like unique individuals.

    Thanks for the great post!

    • Lara Ferrari

      “Don’t look at them as simply a teenager, look at them as a character.” This is great advice. I think some writers have a tendency to generalise and stereotype teenagers. Remembering that no person (teenager or adult) will ever have exactly the same experiences – which means they all develop differently, with different world views – is so important. Thanks for this, Katherine!

      • Thanks. I think it’s important for us as writers, like you said, not to generalize and stereotype anyone. Period. Whatever demographic the character might be from, we should treat them like a unique individual, like you said, who develops differently and has different world views. Nobody is ever just a stereotype in the real world so we shouldn’t make characters stereotypes in fiction.

        • ruthannereid

          Yes! Exactly! I’ve seen this precise problem crop up all over, really – for the elderly, for genders different from the author’s, for various ethnicities.

  • Joseph M

    Yep, I’m another teenager replying to this post, albeit a younger one. Anyway, I do agree on the point you made about slang. Unless the teen in question has a specific reason for saying those things, I think it’s best to avoid it. As mentioned by Katherine below, it really comes down to the character. Different people develop their vocabulary differently, and (I hate to put it this way) the maturity level of the character also makes a huge difference.

    • ruthannereid

      Thanks, Joseph! You’re completely right. I was the kind of dorky teen who used big words just because I had them. I use more slang now than I did then!

  • EndlessExposition

    Hello, yet another teenager tossing in her opinion! I’d say you got everything pretty much spot on. I agree with my fellow teenage posters when it comes to slang – it’s important to make teenage characters sound authentic, but their voice has to fit them, and that means they won’t necessarily sound like a “normal” kid. Something else to think about is that teenagers have a tendency to alter their speech patterns depending on who they’re with. With my parents and teachers, I sound almost like an adult (or at least I think I do). With my friends and other kids, I swear like a sailor and use a lot more slang. So that’s something to keep in mind.

    Anyway, in the spirit of the prompt, here’s a piece from my WIP. Reviews are always appreciated!

    I propped my bike in the drive and hopped up the stairs, digging for my key in my
    backpack. Mom opened the door just as I found it. You made such a big deal about giving me this thing and then never give me a chance to use it. Geez.

    “Hi honey! How was your first day?”

    “Fine.” I dumped my backpack on the floor and went for the kitchen. Do we have granola
    bars?

    “Did Dad’s map help you out?”

    “Yup,” I said, lying through my teeth. I opened the cabinet by the fridge. Why do we have so many boxes of stuff? We can’t possibly eat all this.

    “That’s good! Do you like your teachers?”

    “They’re fine.”

    “Just fine?”

    “Well, I mean yeah, they were alright. I only just met them, Mom.” Raspberry power bars? Ew.

    “Oh, okay. Do you have classes with any of your friends?”

    “Raja is in my Spanish class. And I have lunch with her and Julia and the others.”

    “That’s nice, you haven’t seen them in a while. Anyone else you know?”

    “I have some classes with Alicia.” Maybe there are granola bars in the other cabinet.

    “You two seem to be getting along well.”

    “I’ve been to her house like once.”

    “And it seemed to me like you enjoyed it.”

    “Yeah, I guess so.”

    “Maybe you should invite her over sometime.”

    “Maybe.” Aha! Granola bars! I grabbed one and tore it open.

    “Do you have any homework?”

    “No, just a bunch of papers to get signed.”

    “Alright, well, I’ll take a look at them after dinner.”

    “What are we having?”

    “How does pork chops sound?”

    Meh. “Sounds fine.”

    “Great. Dad will be home around 4:30, he has to stay late for a faculty meeting.”

    “Okay.” I started upstairs to my room.

    “I’m glad you had a good first day!” I turned around. Mom was smiling strangely. Her
    lips were pulled tight. I wondered if maybe she was worried about something. Probably a deadline.

    “Okay.” I kept going up the stairs. I never said it was a good day.

    • Anna Teodoro-Suanco

      Now that was a typical scene with me and my daughter. What she didn’t realize though, was that I could read her thoughts exactly. If this mom was worried about something, it could also be because she knew her daughter didn’t have a good first day of school. But of course not all moms are mind readers, especially with all the bills, tasks and deadlines spinning like a crazy carousel in her head. The point I want to make is– don’t think that parents, moms especially, are totally clueless on what’s going on with their teens. Just my 2-cent worth. On a higher note, I really think you’ve done great. I love the dialogue– it’s on point.

    • I liked the end quite a bit, with the moms tight lipped smile, giving us insight into her character, and the daughters comment of “I never said it was a good day” which was a great ending sentence.

      However, I did feel that there was a lack of intrigue in the beginning and middle. There was no conflict, accept for the hunting of the granola bar and a sight sense that the daughter was unwilling to have a conversation. Maybe give some history? Maybe the mother has a demanding job and the daughter feels like she doesn’t care or listen. The mother is making an effort but the daughter has been hurt so many times in the past that she doesn’t care anymore. Maybe instead of a granola bar hunting we can have flash backs to the bad parts of the day in between the dialogue. Just throwing some stuff out there.

      But you’re descriptions are very good and it’s the little things that can make a story feel real. And this did feel very real. Good job on that. 🙂

    • ruthannereid

      I love this. The parent, trying so hard to be involved in her child’s life, but only hear what she wants to – and the teenager, letting it pass, only sharing what’s required. This is a very true-to-life scene, and sad on all sides. Great job.

    • Beth Schmelzer

      Great beginning. You made me want to read more. I love that you and Lauren can characterize how the parents react and your main characters try to understand them. Not all teens are selfish. You proved Ruthanne’s points from her post!

  • Lauren Timmins

    I’m a teenager, and I think the majority of this post is accurate. To emphasize your point about slang: for the love of all that is dear to you don’t use it. If I picked up a book and saw the words “YOLO” and “swag” I think I would die a lot inside. To me, slang degrades what a writer is trying to say. It makes the words around it sound cheaper and less authentic, and I feel cheated as a reader. Another trap that a lot of YA writers seem to fall into is featuring the same stereotypical cliques, protagonists, and antagonists. Cheer leaders can be nice and nerds can be bullies. Goths can smile (gasp) and the bright kids aren’t all perfect.

    Tumblr is an … interesting social site. I do have a tumblr, but I can’t stand to be on there for more than ten minutes at a time because of the so-called “informed” bloggers with no comprehension of economics going on and on about the wonders of Bernie Sanders. My point is, not all of us agree on all issues, and not all of us are as left on the political spectrum as the Tumblr majority. If social issues are representative in your writing, include pieces of the other side.

    Again, the above is just my opinion. This is a wonderful post, thank you so much for sharing it!

    • ruthannereid

      Hahaha! I know just what you mean. They’re doing Bernie fanart now. FANART.

      And exactly – not all teenagers are the same, which is kind of the point I was trying to make. I grew up conservative, actually, though I’m solidly independent now.

      I love your comment. Thanks for sharing!

      • Beth Schmelzer

        Illuminating post for all writers, Ruthanne!

  • Anna Teodoro-Suanco

    Now I’m all psyched up with writing my first YA story, thanks for this enlightening post. I also loved reading what the teens in this community had to say. I’m 50 and a mom of three teenagers so I know how it is, not to mention– hey, I was a teenager once too! Maybe the fashion styles, technology and language have changed since, but I still remember how it felt to be looked down on because you’re young and inexperienced, like the word STUPID was written between your brows. That’s why I treat my children with respect and actually listen to what they say. As much as I give them good advice that came from experience, I also learn a lot from their wisdom that came from untainted innocence.

    • ruthannereid

      You’re so welcome, Anna! I think it’s really easy to forget what it was like to BE young often, but as you said, remembering that feeling of condescension is just critical. Lack of experience can mean stupid decisions, but so can lots of experience, which leads to fear of trying new things. Thanks for your comment!

  • Lauren Timmins

    Practice:

    “CARA, I CAN’T EVEN BEGIN TO UNDERSTAND WHY YOU WOULD DO SOMETHING LIKE THIS! HOW STUPID ARE YOU?” My aunt throws my phone, and before I can get out of the way it collides with my nose.
    “Who was it?” My father demands. He stands behind me, his back turned. I can deal with being hit. I can deal with anything my Aunt decides to call me. But this, my own Dad, turning his back on me? It hurts. The I’d-rather-be-stabbed-than-feel-like-this kind of hurt.
    “Her name-” I say, staring at my feet “- is Ariana. To answer your question, Aunt Jen, I left because she said she needed me.”
    I don’t know why they do not understand the word “Depression.” My Aunt doesn’t get emotional about anything except for animals and movies. My father thinks only in terms of logic, and Depression is far from logical, I suppose.
    “What could she possibly need you for at one o’clock in the morning.” she counters.
    “To be there.” I reply.
    “For what? Is she gay? Ew, don’t tell me. I made the mistake of reading your text messages, Ms. Bisexual. That isn’t even possible, you’re either one or the other. In fact, I had better never hear you talking about that sh*t in front of my kids. I don’t need all that crap in their heads. And then you run off with that little cry baby friend of yours all night. You know what, I’m done with you. Go to your room. You’re not eating tonight. I don’t even want to look at you.”
    I lose it. I bite my lip, throw my head up as high as I can, and turn to face her.
    “B*tch.” I spit, looking her dead in the eyes.
    Then I sprint as fast as I can upstairs into my room and lock the door behind me. I get over the shock of actually saying that word, I crawl into my closet and pull myself into a ball. Then I start shaking, my eyes get blurry, and everything that’s supposed to be in my chest isn’t there any more. I think of everything I wanted to say downstairs.
    “Why did you sneak out?”
    “She texted me at 1:00am and said she needed me. Ariana is the strongest person I know, and she has had to deal with a lot lately. We’ve been best friends for years, and that is what you do when they are hurt. You go to them, and you be with them.”
    “What did you two do for six hours?”
    “I talked to her, calmed her down. Then we just kinda sat there.”
    They wouldn’t believe me if I told them. I’m only fifteen, how can I know anything? How can I sneak out to comfort a friend rather than sleep with a guy? How can I, a straight A student, possibly do such a thing? I stop crying and start cursing my family under my breath, then I realize how awful everything I’m saying is and apologize under my breath and start crying even harder. I wish that they would listen to me for once. That they would try to see my side instead of making me see their side. That, for once, when I try to explain how sometimes people get sad for no reason, or can hardly get up in the morning, they believe me. That sometimes I get sad too for no reason, and that I want to deal with everything like an adult but I can’t because I feel so much I can’t think and have to do instead. That Ariana and I both lost someone last night, which will be our third funeral this year.
    I almost miss the ghost of the knock on my door.
    “Hello?” I call softly, safe in the dark of my closet.
    There’s a scratching sound, then the door opens, and I hear the quiet thud of my father’s boots on the carpet. He opens the closet door and kneels beside me.
    “I want you to tell me everything… and I promise I’ll believe you. Just tell me what’s going on.”
    I fall into him, and he pulls me into his chest and keeps me there for awhile.

    • Susan Howarth

      Lauren – I loved this!! For such a short piece, I was surprised to feel a connection to the main character. I wanted to learn more about her. Great job!

    • Lara Ferrari

      I loved this! You really nailed the complex emotions of a teenage girl, while still keeping her relatable and likeable. And kudos for addressing the some of the challenging issues that teenagers face.

    • Wow. The feels man. The feels. Do you ever want to just steep into a story and give a character a hug and cry with them and tell them it will be okay? Because I do, right now. And that, my friend, takes some good writing. Awesome job.

    • Grace V. Robinette

      Incredible. Love it.

      • ruthannereid

        This is so beautiful – and so true to life. Fantastic practice, Lauren.

    • Beth Schmelzer

      Very realistic story, Lauren. You write with authenticity. Glad to have read your piece this morning. I am writing about characters younger than yours, but I still learn from other writers such as you. Thank you for sharing.
      I am looking for other writers on TWP who would like to share middle grade fiction writing, not teen YA chapters. If you are looking for other Middle Grade writers, please respond to me.

  • Victoria

    This post is so refreshing. Thank your for noting that we are humans, too. I’m a teenager about to publish a YA novel. I agree, slang in fiction is generally disgusting, unless your name is Anthony Burgess.

    • ruthannereid

      Thanks a ton, Victoria! And CONGRATULATIONS! That’s awesome!

  • rosie

    I’m a teenager too, so thank you so much for this post! I hate contemptuous adults who write down to teenagers–it’s my pet peeve in YA and is the reason why I barely read it anymore. And you’re right: the rule of thumb is to treat teenagers like people.
    Slang is also something to avoid, because it can be distracting and makes the characters seem shallow. We teenagers can smell fear. We know when you’re talking down to us, so just be sincere!

    • ruthannereid

      Haha! “We can smell fear” – oh my word. I’m going to be giggling about that all day. 😀
      It’s also true. Thanks so much for chiming in, Rosie!

  • Clifford H Jones

    I didn’t read every reply here, but my writing practice has been about young adults and after 5 years of living with 8 fictional teens I self published a part of their successful life of being what was known as, “The Best Friend Gang” My first novel I enjoyed so much my plans are to return to them and the meaning of BFF in their young adult life. Amazon, and Kindle direct.com

    • ruthannereid

      Good for you, Clifford!

  • S.M. Sierra

    Brilliant, since I recently spoke about something similar, when a friend of my daughters read my book (Molly Blue & The Quill Of Two lives https://www.createspace.com/4689634) she commented on the characters as being too smart because kids do not talk like that, (They are twelve going on thirteen, because ask any kid, the day after you turn twelve is the start of your thirteenth year…and so on). A bit confused, because she is in her early 20’s, I had to ask her if she has ever spoke to kids that age, and how can she not remember being that age? Because I still remember my own teen and preteen years,(And I’m 55) plus I have a lot of nieces and nephews, who I have watched grow up over the past 35 years (some having kids of their own now) and I’ve sat around at parties, family gatherings, birthdays and so on, listening and talking to them (unless I feel I might be butting in, I just know when to stay out of their conversations) my point is, yes they are quite intelligent (like the kids in my book) with their imaginings about what could be and interactions with whats going on in the world around them, (be it neighborhood, family members or what ever else they consider important), their own wants, needs, circumstances and each other, since that is their world!

    • ruthannereid

      I love this, SM! Yes, they are very intelligent. I think when adults forget how clever kids are, they’re showing signs of what C. S. Lewis called chronological snobbery: assuming anything that came before (such as youth) is automatically stupid. 🙂

  • Savannah Jackson

    Thank you so much for writing this! I really love this post because as a teenager, the most frustrating thing I constantly see is authors “dumbing down” teens to where they act stereo typically how the media portrays them.

    Teenagers are very aware of the world we live an and the problems we face, and if we’re being angsty, it’s because all of these seemingly insurmountable problems bother us, and on top of that, the older generations criticize us, often simply for being different than they were as teens. Don’t make your teenage characters have trouble grasping simple philosophical concepts.

    Instead of looking at them as teenagers, look at them as still being on their way up to reaching adulthood, just as any character has a messy, but necessary character arc. Treat your characters as unique individuals. I think should apply to any age, gender, or ethnicity, not just teenagers in fiction.

    • ruthannereid

      Thanks, Savannah! It drove me crazy when I was a teen, and it drives me crazy now. 🙂 It’s such a crazy thought that teens are just people, eh? 😉

  • (Here’s an excerpt from my novel. Itzel is 12, Juan is 13. I especially want to know what the teens here think!)

    Passing by the bee logs, it struck Itzel that no one was about. On the eve of every full moon, the Elders gathered here to perform a brief ceremony for the bees before they headed into the forest to bless the sacred tree.

    Qué raro, she thought. How strange, maybe the Elders are a little behind. Or maybe I’m early. She looked up at the tree line where the sun was setting: no, her timing was just right. She shrugged it off: Maya time was natural time—it ebbed and flowed without concern for those painfully specific nuggets called seconds and minutes.

    “Hola Itzi. ¿Donde vas?” (Hi Itzi. Where are you going?)

    Itzel turned, surprised. She knew the voice too well: her brother Juan. This was less than convenient.

    “Hola Juan. ¿Y tu que haces aquí?” (Hi Juan. And what are you doing here?)

    “Maybe the same as you, hermana.”

    Itzel looked at her brother, trying to read him. He’d always been the enigmatic type. No matter how close they were in age, no matter that they were almost always together, Itzel had never felt close to Juan, at least not the kind of closeness she’d always thought a sister should feel for a brother. It seemed every time she tried to warm up to him, he’d pull away. Yet he was fiercely protective of her, putting every boy who
    tried to befriend her under relentless scrutiny. Especially the non Maya ones
    who visited the research station.

    “What do you mean?” Itzel had an uneasy feeling in her stomach.

    “Remember what the Elders say. We are the keepers of sacred things. Not the outsiders.”

    Itzel stood blindsided for a moment. Did Juan know about the sacred tree? Had he followed her and Max that morning?

    She recalled then the night that Don Rigoberto told Itzel the story of her sleeping next to her animal guide, the Jaguar. He’d warned her not to tell anyone about her destined path in life. No one, he had said, no matter how close.

    “What about mi mama, papá… mi hermano, my brother?” she had asked.

    “Especially not your brother,” Don Rigoberto had said. She had always thought that a bit extreme, but her gut was telling her now to listen.

    She stood there looking at Juan.

    “Bueno, and who are the outsiders, Juan?”

    Juan cocked his head in that characteristic way of his, his jet black hair falling away from his face. He looked at Itzel with that penetrating, teasing look that always got to her.

    “Estás enamorada con uno, parece.” (You’re in love with one, it seems.)

    Itzel automatically blushed, despite herself. Secretly furious with Juan, she stepped up to him, tall and proud, inches away from his face.

    “Bueno, hermano, uno de estos días me va a tocar enamorarme, ¿no crees?” (Well, brother, one of these days I’m going to have to fall in love, don’t you think?)

    “Love blinds, Itzel. Don’t give away the sacred things of our people to someone just because they melted your heart. Fuerza, hermana.”

    Juan pressed his gaze into hers, as if to imprint the words into her memory. Then he turned and was gone.

    Itzel took a deep, frustrated breath. She had an appointment to keep.

    • ruthannereid

      What an interesting little scene between these two! I like it!

      I might suggest sticking with one language after the first indication they’re not speaking English, but that’s a minor thing to be worked out later. The brother seems very mysterious!

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  • Kairu

    This is an excerpt from a book I did on Wattpad that was supposed to be based on subjects like heartbreak and emotional teen romance etc. If you are a person who ever suffered the horrible ailment of heartbreak, I would love to hear your thoughts (and everyone else’s too :D)

    An alarm clock resounded through the darkness.
    Alex’s sweaty, pale hand reached out and swatted the top of it, silencing the clock’s aggravating chirps.
    “That memory again…” he groaned.
    Worry rose within Alex as he couldn’t recognise his surroundings. But as he looked around the dark, grey wooden walls, his panic died down.
    “Oh, that’s right…” he muttered to himself. “I’m at the dorm…”
    He threw his quilt off onto the floor and rose out of bed to a loud downpour of rain outside.
    Not feeling brave enough to walk around in a T-shirt and dark briefs, even in his own room, he put on a pair of carelessly placed, neglected jeans and walked out into the living room, his feet instantly chilled by the cold, white tiles.
    He walked over to a small black stereo stuck onto the wall near the kitchen bench, which glowed blue as he opened it. He then pushed three buttons and not even a second later, Chopin’s ‘Raindrop’ echoed throughout the room, strengthening the lonely atmosphere of the rain outside.
    Alex scratched the front of his wavy brown hair and walked over to a pile of sand-coloured boxes that sat alone in a dark corner.
    He picked up the Stanley knife next to the boxes, clicking it until nearly half the blade stuck out.
    He reached into the sea of bubble wrap and newspaper within the box and pulled out several small objects. Statuettes, books even small antique weapons and placed them in different places around the room.
    Alex continued this routine, with an almost mindless apathy, until he saw the last object in the box. An object that made his heart sink like a heavy weight.
    A photo frame.
    A photo frame with her in it.
    “I forgot about you…” he said to it sadly.
    His body trembling with anxiety, he carefully reached into the darkness of the box, as if the box might come to life and bite his hand.
    He lifted out the frame gingerly and placed it on the shelf in front of him and sighed.
    “It’s been three weeks, huh, Charlie?” he said to the photo as he put it down. “Three weeks since you kissed my best friend…”

    Thank you for reading this, even if it was a bit long :/

    • Carrie Holder

      I like what you’ve written. The last sentence has me wanting more. One thing I have noticed is that the name Alex is probably the most common guy’s name used in YA literature. Even I have an Alex in my novel, so I think I’ll be changing his name. Also what you’ve written is third person narrative. I read in an on-line poll that most teen readers prefer a first person point of view. I guess that teens like to have that first hand experience or like to live vicariously through the protagonist. Holly Black, a well known YA writer, writes from a third person narrative and it works well. I really like her books.

      • Kairu

        Thank you for your advice 😀

    • ruthannereid

      Poor guy! I know this feeling all too well. I think you nailed it.

      • Kairu

        Thanks very much 😀 Haha I think most people can relate to Alex a bit :/ In the later part of the book, the romance gets a lot more awkard between the two since Alex’s best friend (and crush) is also in love with his other best friend James. He wants her more than anything, but he doesn’t want to ruin things between them 🙁 A LOT of emotional stuff in that novel! 😀

    • Iqra

      I know this might be a little late since you posted this almost 2 months ago but I have to say I really like the way you wrote this. I’ve read a range of different books on Wattpad and I like that if I saw this on the site, it’s something that would stand out; mainly because of the use of third person narrative as most people use first person (I find it so hard to write in third person so usually opt for first person). I write teen/YA romance too but being a teenager and having never been in a relationship myself, it is a lot harder than I thought to write it. Again, I think you’ve got that sympathy sort of feeling across. I feel sorry for Alex and the heartbreak he obviously went through and even though I’ve never experienced such heartbreak myself, I empathise and I understand too. I think you’ve succeeded if you’ve managed to conjure up that empathy in me.

      • Kairu

        Thank you very much Iqra 😀

    • Donna Parsons

      it’s not just teen romance; my 38 yr. old son just went through this; he said the hurt over his best friend’s betrayal with his girlfriend is actually worse than the hurt of the girlfriend falling in love with the best friend; that he shouldn’t have taken up with her even if she did start having feelings for him

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  • Hi, I am Mikey.
    Brilliant article here! I am a huge reader and a teen. I have been a beta reader for short bit and I hope to do more. My focus is on what is real. From a teen guy’s angle I wish more YA writers understood what you shared here.

    Teen characters who are fake can kill a good story. Personally, I think YA writers must to nail the teen POV to make their stories fly.

    I have set some gigs on Fiverr for being a beta reader, if anyone is interested in getting a fresh opinion from a teen’s perspective. To learn more about me you can also go to my site: gogetmikey.weebly.com

    Thanks for your blog post and letting me share here.

  • Jess Creaden

    Thank you for this article, Ruthanne. It captures just what I was looking to find (Read: agreement ;)).
    I’m currently querying a YA SF/SO that is set in the far future, and my MC is a 16-year-old boy, who–like (I’m hoping) most boys of his generation–is educated, informed, and morally aware, a reflection of his “evolved” society. In his case, he’s not very experienced, but the maturity of the Mind is present. Still, I get a fair amount of comments that he doesn’t seem his age.
    How does one counter this, having only one character his age in the MS? Should all MCs of a certain age act/think like current young adults do, regardless of their world or time period? Your article suggests not, but how does one show that best in narrative without giving the wrong impression early on?

  • Nathan JAHJA

    Hey guys, really love the post, it’s very useful. I am 15 and recently I started getting really interested in creative writing, to more specific ‘young adult fiction’ creative writing. English is not my strongest suit but I think there’s always room for improvement. Below is my go in the practice exercise given above. Please be honest and tell me what you think, I would really appreciate honest and critical feedback, thanks.

    I gritted my teeth while mom stares at me. I finally had the courage to look up and faced my mom. I could see everything from her eyes; she was disappointed.
    “Jane,” She sighed. “Tell me why you did do it, why did you punch her?”
    I looked back down onto the brown wooden floor, avoiding her stare. It was like a death stare, and I hated it every time she did it.
    Riddled with guilt, I finally replied, “she was such a bitch mom, I mean look at her, she’s been asking to get beaten up ever since she came.”
    Mom shakes her head and finally lifts away her stare. She covered her face in disbelief.
    “Do you know I had to miss my shift just to pick you up in school?” She asked.
    “Yes.”
    “I’ll have to come back to work and cover what I missed.”
    She seemed frustrated, so I chose just to remain silent, I thought that was a wise decision. She’ll never understand what I’m saying anyways, speaking would only prolong the argument.
    “I’ll be coming home much later,” she said as she stood up and picked her bag up, “There is spaghetti in the fridge, and please, once you’re done, don’t forget to place the plates in the dishwasher.”
    I nod my head, and she opened the door, “do your homework first, then watch TV. And only an hour of TV, no more! Okay?”
    I nod my head once again, she then slammed the door and rushed towards the car. I could hear her footsteps of her high-heels clamping against the gravel. I placed my ears on the door and made sure that she has driven as far away as I possibly could. Once I heard no trace of the car, I relieved myself and headed towards my room.
    I turned on the lights, it’s the same as always, my bed against the right corner of the chamber and my wardrobe at the opposite side. I lied down in relief that she was gone, but it felt really boring. I got up and started towards the closet, I took off my dress, then my bra and my shoes. I opened my closet and then I pulled out my tank tops and shorts.
    Before I entered the shower, I picked up my iPhone, opened the contacts app and searched for Jeff. It took about a minute before he finally answered.
    “Hey,” Jeff replied.
    “Babe, my mom ain’t here, wanna crash?”

  • SAThrash

    “I’m going to have sex with my boyfriend, dad,” Jennifer screamed at her father. The touchy subject matter ignited like a flame on a charcoal grill, mostly because of the rather low-cut top Jennifer was sporting. Her breasts were playing a very suggestive game of hide and seek from underneath her revealing white halter top, but her dad had no intentions of letting olly olly oxen free.
    “You are out of your mind, if you think I’m letting you go out like that,” Brandon explained. Poor Brandon felt like an old-style train whistle, as the steam seemed to blow from his very ears. “Over my dead body!”
    “I’m eighteen-years-old…”
    “And you still live under my roof, young lady.”
    “Everyone is doing it, dad,” Jennifer explained. “Scarlet Sicario got over three hundred likes on Twitter and two hundred on Facebook when she and Greg Johnson…”
    “Why would anyone post that on the internet?”
    “Why wouldn’t we, dad?”
    “Just because there’s an app for everything doesn’t mean you have to post your life story for all to see.”
    “Well, according to Black Veil Brides…”
    “Who the hell is Black Veil Brides?”
    “They’re a band, dad.”
    “No, KISS is a band,” Brandon said.
    “Who?”
    “Go to your room.”
    Jennifer scuffled her feet like an umpire cleaning off home plate, while Brandon thought his head was literally going to explode like a grenade taking out the entire living area of his two-story colonial.
    “You and mom had sex when you were teenagers,” Jennifer said. “I’m living proof. And at least I’ll be smart enough to use a condom and not get knocked up like you two did.”
    “Go to your room!”