Writing a novel that appeals to a younger audience takes a certain amount of finesse—especially if you are no longer in that age bracket! It is not easy to venture into the minds of young adults and, essentially, “relive” your own past.
6 Tips for Connecting With Teen Readers
At Inkitt, I am regularly in touch with published authors who are eager to share their experience and provide support to emerging writers. Let’s have a look at six essential tips they have shared with us when it comes to writing YA novels.
I hope you find them as useful as I did!
1. See the World Through a Teen’s Eyes
All public forms of writing are dependent on understanding your intended audience. As we age, we naturally tend to move past the problems of our youth. At least, we try to!
However, for a YA writer, it is crucial to see the world through the eyes of a teenager in order to connect with them on a personal level. In fact, drawing upon experiences, emotions, and growth that you experienced in your adolescence is an excellent way to begin writing with the teenage voice.
Teenagers live on the cusp between childhood wonder and adult responsibilities, and it is essential to put yourself into their shoes when writing a YA novel. What was your driving motivation as a teenager? What were some of your key moments of growth and how did they come about?
Teens tend to gravitate towards coming of age stories that give them hope for the future while acknowledging their current state of mind. By showing how our characters fall and pick themselves up again, we are giving teenagers an example for overcoming and growing in their own lives.
2. Identify Teens' Philosophical Questions
The teenage mind is a complex, tumultuous place, and most of us can relate to the confusion, hope, and the intense emotion that defines an adolescent’s state of mind. We’ve all been there—and that’s exactly what you need to draw on to connect with a teenage audience.
The beauty of YA literature is in its ability to define the emotions and changes that teens go through as they move towards adulthood. During this transition, teenagers find themselves searching for an identity and look for answers to questions like the following:
- What do I believe in?
- Why am I here?
- What purpose does my life have?
- Does anyone understand me?
- What is love?
- What do I want in my life?
- Who am I really?
Questions revolving around identity, mortality, and love occupy much of the teenage mind. In order for a young audience to relate to a novel’s characters, the quest of the author has to be all about finding emotional authenticity and understanding the philosophical questions that they are struggling with.
The key defining aspect of YA novels is answering the question of why the characters behave the way that they do—not just describing what they do.
3. Be Concise and Straightforward
Although teenagers tend to grapple with deep philosophical questions, they haven’t developed the emotional attention span necessary to stay interested in long, drawn-out storylines. Teens love excitement, and they want to be taken on a ride filled with ups and downs that relate to their own spectrum of daily emotions.
The trick to connecting with the YA audience is to stay short and concise with your writing. As you are developing a scene, ask yourself, “Does this drive the story forward?” If not, cut it out.
Every story needs a good hook, and developing a detailed outline for the journey that your novel will take is a important first step in keeping your YA readers interested.
4. Avoid Slang
We’ve all heard the slang language of teenagers going about daily life, and trendy new words seems to change as much as their outfits. And that’s the big problem with using slang.
On one hand, it might help the author relate to teenagers in this very moment, but on the other hand, in just a few years’ time, these words may sound awkward and out of fashion. The goal of a YA novelist is to relate to their audience in a timeless way by delving into the emotional nature of teenagers that remains constant, regardless of how society changes.
Outdated slang can cause your audience to struggle with relating to the characters in your story—which is definitely not what you are going for.
In addition, slang words are often regional in nature. The language used by those in a small southern town will likely be very different than the popular slang of a major west coast city. While it’s tempting to try and relate to teens using their own “language,” overusing slang can do your novel more harm than good.
5. Take Risks and Explore Darkness
The word “risky” often comes to mind when asked to describe the behavior of a teenager. Part of a teenager’s development is pushing the boundaries of what is right or wrong, safe and unsafe, and so on. A skilled YA writer is willing to dive into this intense maturing process and create a storyline that allows teens to experience these risks in a safe, controlled way.
By delving into the dark side of your character’s personality, you are creating a bond with the teenage reader who is likely struggling with the same feelings. Additionally, by seeing how the character’s negative actions or risky behavior affects them in your story, it gives teens an opportunity to learn—without taking part in the behavior themselves.
Without internal conflict, impulsive actions, and emotional turmoil, your characters are likely to appear flat and uninteresting to teen readers.
However, there is a fine line between acknowledging the dark side of your character and simply overdoing it. If you put too much angst into the story, you may come across as unrealistic, inauthentic, or trying too hard to create a “stereotypical” teenager.
6. Give Hope
Your teenage readers may very well be going through dark times, struggling with their emotions, or be in the midst of personal conflict. However, as a YA novelist, it is your job to take them on a journey that expands their mind and shows them that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. In many YA books, the overriding theme is coming to the conclusion that life is worth living.
Teenagers often have trouble reaching out for help, and for some, reading books can even act as a form of therapy. Stories with a positive message can give hope to your readers when they need it the most, and it can help give them the tools they need to conquer even their worst days.
Now, nobody’s saying that your YA novel has to be all roses and sunshine. After all, exploring the dark side of life and defining common adolescent struggles is a core aspect to this style of writing. YA writing is about the journey, and having a direct message that guides your readers through the darkness is what makes a truly memorable novel.
Tap Into Your Inner Teen
If you’re ready to start writing a YA novel, there are many things to keep in mind while translating your idea onto paper. By connecting to the emotional state of the teenage mind, you can develop an authentic voice for your characters and connect on a deeper level with a younger audience.
Keep things simple, find your message, and let the power of your words take your reader on a journey to self-discovery.
What strategies do you use to write stories that connect to teen readers? Let me know in the comments.
Take fifteen minutes to try your hand at writing a story for teen readers. Here's your prompt:
“He was finally home. And although he did enjoy the ride, deep down he knew he’d never embark on such a journey again and risk losing everything.”
As you write, keep the following essentials in mind:
- What was ‘the journey’ about?
- Try to focus on a teenager’s thoughts and feelings: why do they feel this urge to try new things that are often not approved by their parents?
- Being back in a place that truly feels like home: think about the process through which a teenager reevaluates what ‘home’ is, tries to set their own rules, tests—fails—and evaluates once again.
When you're done, share your story in the comments, and be sure to leave feedback for your fellow writers!