Writing a fiction novel is the ultimate goal for many aspiring authors today.
In doing so, you essentially create your own characters with unique backstories and evocative plots. It’s an intimate form of art that both heals and entertains.
However, this is no easy feat, and with it comes much responsibility. The young adult fiction (YA) genre especially is a fragile one to enter. Readers are often enduring pivotal times in their lives, and the right words can quite literally save them. Authors should understand the power they have and how careful they need to be with it.
While creating my YA book, I learned some valuable lessons about writing for this audience.
At first, I thought I could wing the entire project, simply writing from my heart without considering my readers. But once I put pen to paper, I realized just how pivotal they were to my novel. They are, in fact, who I was writing my story for — who I was hoping to connect with and speak to.
Here are six tips for writing a YA novel.
1. Start with the scene you envision best
When I first got the vision for my novel, one scene in particular stuck out to me. I knew it had to happen later in the book, but I just couldn’t get it out of my head. The passion burned within me; I had to write it down.
From there, I was able to get a better sense of the rest of the book, including its tone, characters and plot. I worked my way out better than I would’ve been able to work my through.
The YA genre is often one for experimenting. You don’t have to be so strict with your story; there’s no rule that states you must write from start to finish. Your writing process is entirely up to you. Write what you envision in that moment, and it will eventually come together the way it should.
2. Take notes
You never know when inspiration will strike, or when it will fizzle out. I often think up my best ideas while at the gym or driving, but sometimes, I forget them by the time I’m finished with my workout or at my destination.
Whether it’s on your phone or in a particular notebook, always jot down your thoughts and ideas. Even if that means pausing the treadmill or pulling to the side of the road the first chance you get. The details you create when you aren’t actively brainstorming are often the most natural and fitting.
I changed a major chunk of my novel’s plot while I was dancing around my apartment to emotional pop-punk music (no shame.) As silly as it sounds, you should always be working on your story. It should follow you throughout your day, and you should always be ready to jot down a few words — or possibly even an entire chapter.
Your story will thank you.
3. Create flawed characters
Nobody’s perfect, and you don’t want your characters to be either. In the YA genre, your readers will want someone they can relate to. They’re still learning and growing, and they’ll look to your characters for comfort and reassurance that they aren’t alone in their struggles and shortcomings.
However, be careful how you portray each person.
If you’re covering a heavy topic (think Jay Asher’s “Thirteen Reasons Why” where depression and suicide is discussed), you are responsible for doing so with grace and respect. You’ll want to avoid feeding stigmas or encouraging poor behavior, and instead use your story to raise awareness and offer a sense of comfort and support through your characters.
4. Draw from your experiences
Don’t just write what you think; write what you know.
This will help you create three-dimensional characters with real-life issues. For instance, my main character has obsessive-compulsive disorder, which I also have, and I’ve used many of my own experiences with the disorder to do her journey justice.
However, be careful not to put too much of yourself into your characters. They are still their own people. I struggled with this at first, writing certain chapters as if they were a creative memoir. But reading it back, I realized they read more like a personal confession than an entertaining novel.
If it fits, sure, don’t be afraid to include some details from your own life. But don’t force it. Your writing should be therapeutic, but it shouldn’t be a journal entry.
Treat your novel like a creative research paper. Don’t assume you know everything. For example, if you’re writing about a character with a specific illness, reach out to a young adult with that illness to understand how it affects their day-to-day life.
Additionally, don’t be afraid to scour forums or social media platforms. Hang out where your audience does; search relevant tags on Tumblr (for example, I searched #OCD to read about other people’s experiences with the disorder) or listen to young adults talk at your local coffee shop. Note their word choice/slang, topics of conversation, main concerns in life, etc. to create realistic dialogue.
Am I telling you to spy on teenagers? Yes, yes I am. My favorite college professor once gave me this advice, and it’s changed my writing for the better. (Just don’t go around stalking anyone.)
These tips are meant to guide you, not to dictate your entire writing process. Take all advice and criticism with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, this is your novel. Tell it the way you want — the way only you can.
You never know who you’ll impact.
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