Young adult novels have never been more popular. Some of my favorites began with the rise of Harry Potter and continued with hits like The Fault in Our Stars, The Hunger Games, and Divergent. If this is one of your favorite markets, you might wonder how to write a YA novel?
Learning how to write fiction is one thing, but writing for teens is a whole different ball game. As a teen and an avid YA reader myself, I have a few tips for you.
What is YA?
YA stands for Young Adult Fiction. It's important to note that Young Adult is not a genre, but an age category market: specifically books with a teenage audience in mind. It can encompass a wide range of genres from science fiction to romance to dystopian fiction.
It's not just about capturing the teenage mind or the teen experience. YA is typically intended for readers ages 12-18, and most YA stories will have teenage protagonists. Those teens will face all kinds of teenage issues (and some adult issues, too).
Even though YA is intended for a teenage reader, you'll find many adult readers who love to read YA, just as some teen readers dip into literature that might be marketed to adult fiction target audiences.
Now that you know what YA is, let's take a look at a few tips for writing YA books.
5 Tips for How to Write a Book for Teens
Writing for teenagers shares a few characteristics with writing for an adult audience. On a surface level, a YA novel just needs to be is a good story that will appeal to teens. If you have mastered the elements of writing fiction, you could translate those skills to writing fiction for YA readers.
However, it would be an oversight for an author to assume that a young adult novel is exactly the same as writing adult literature. Here are few tips that can help.
1. Write about teenage experiences
If you are going to write a young adult novel, you have to write something that will appeal to teens.
It seems obvious, but you would be surprised how easy it is to forget that fact. Writing a book with teenage characters is not enough to make a book YA. You have to write authentic characters with real teenage problems in a real teenage world (even if that world is found in an awesome fantasy or sci-fi setting).
For example, a novel about trying to land an important promotion while also balancing family life is going to be an adult plot, not a teenage one. Make sure you don't allow your adult perspective to bleed into the goals and conflicts.
2. Don't overuse slang or trends
Teens will move from one social media platform to the next in a matter of days. Memes that were big hits on Monday will be dull on Tuesday. If you try to be “hip with the kids” by throwing in mentions of certain celebrities, chances are your book will not age well.
To make your dialogue genuine, pay attention to the way teens talk to each other. Throwing in a “like” every other word is not the way to go about writing conversations. If you haven't been around teens much, it may be hard to capture their speech patterns.
3. Treat teenagers like adults
If there is one thing teenagers hate, it’s being treated like they don’t know anything just because of their age. Teenagers are real people who have real problems.
Write your characters in a way that validates their feelings instead of acting like they behave the way they do because they are hormonal or are just overreacting due to immaturity.
Even if their problems are comparatively “small” when it comes to the much “bigger” problems of the real world, it doesn’t mean that their problems don’t affect them. Don’t be condescending. Recognize that your teen characters have dreams and aspirations just like adults do.
4. Recognize that teenagers are smart
Nothing will turn off a teen from a book quite like the “teenagers are impulsive, irrational, and immature” trope. Yes, teens will do stupid things. So will adults. Teens are smart, too. They are creative, passionate, intelligent, driven, and a thousand other things.
Many adult readers critique YA books as being unrealistic because the teens are “pretentious” or “too smart for their age.” This could be because the teenage characters use big words, discuss politics with their friends, or watch classic movies.
That’s not unrealistic at all. My friends and I do the exact same things.
The only reason adults deem it impossible is because they have not gotten to know any teenagers personally; they have only bought into the stereotypes we teens despise being attributed to us.
This brings me to my next piece of advice, and it is a crucial one if you want to learn how to write a young adult novel.
5. Talk to teenagers
Hang out with them, have real conversations with them, listen to them in public. How do they interact with each other? How do they interact with adults? Not all teenagers are the same, so make sure you have a variety of teens you can talk to or observe.
Talk to your kids, their friends, your nieces and nephews, the teen working the concession stand at the movie theater. Think back to your own teenage years—how did you behave? Obviously things will have changed from one generation to the next, but it can be a good start.
Every good book requires a little bit of research, so that is what you should consider this. If you don’t know how teens talk or behave, it will show when you try to create teenage characters.
Teens Are People, Too
Remember, if you're writing for teens, you're writing for a diverse audience of thoughtful, insightful, passionate readers, not for any unflattering caricature of a teenager. Storytelling is universal and transcends age. Master the fundamentals of a great story, and you're almost there.
Keep real teens in mind as you write (and get their feedback as you edit!), and you'll create a young adult novel that will truly appeal to teens.
Do you write young adult novels? How do you make sure that you include relatable characters who are authentic and appeal to teen readers? Let us know in the comments.
Write a scene from the point of view of a teenager. Your teen protagonist can interact with an adult or a peer, but they should be involved in a conversation. Focus on making your dialogue sound youthful without slipping into clichés and teenage stereotypes.