How To Write For a Young Adult Audience15 May
The advertising world has long known that young adults- teens and tweens- are one of the most lucrative audiences to market to. Teenagedom is a tumultuous time. Teens are grasping for a personal understanding of their identity, and are yearning for things that speak to them- be they books, movies, bands. It is because of this yearning that the Young Adult (YA) industry is booming. It seems almost all successful YA novels become films, or film-franchises. And it’s not just teenagers paying attention. Just ask all the adult fans of The Hunger Games, or The Fault In Our Stars. That’s because YA problems are human problems, just amplified- with the added pressure of school. Here’s how to write for a younger audience.
Have a teenage protagonist. Seems obvious, right? The specificities of what makes a book YA don’t extend far from it being the story of a teenager. Remember that YA is not a genre, it is a demographic. Your book may be a tale of a dystopian future (ala Divergent) or a story of cancer stricken teens in love (The Fault in Our Stars), or a Vampire/Werewolf in suburbia story (Twilight) . So long as there is a teenager at the helm, it is YA.
Write truthfully. People relate to characters and narratives not because they are exactly the same as them- the same age, same demographic, same upbring etc- but because they speak an emotional truth. Let your characters be real, let them have flawed human reactions, and moments of wisdom- just let them be human and people will relate. And put them in the real world. Adults seem to develop teenage-amnesia. Your character may not be drinking, having sex, or doing drugs, but these things certainly exist around them.
“But in truth all fiction is an attempt at empathy.” – John Green on writing for adolescents.
Don’t preach. You may have a strong message you want to convey through your story. That is a good thing, but don’t write an instructional pamphlet. Teenagers (and adults) spend their whole day being told what to do. Instead let your characters find these lessons themselves, by making mistakes and learning from them. Don’t be afraid to let your character make a bad decision, let them be dishonest, or cruel, or bitter. And let them come out better for it.
React like a teenager. In the young-adult world everything is dramatic, everything is life or death. If you don’t remember how important getting a date with your crush, or making friends at a new school, or losing your virginity was (remember, write truthfully) then you cannot understand the YA world.
Don’t patronize. At a time in their life when they are often talked down to, teenagers will reject anything extra-curricular that deems to talk down to them. There is a difference between eliminating adult thoughts, and completely infantilizing your audience. Don’t exclude words because a teenager may not know them. They probably do, and if they don’t, the context will support them. Literature is how we learn, and a teenage audience is the most impressionable. The books they read and love will become a part of who they are. Never pass up an opportunity to expand a person’s vocabulary.
Write what you know. You may or may not be a teen anymore, but you were once. Write from your heart – or, think back to that time. Listen to the songs you loved, watch the films you watched, and remember the problems you thought were insurmountable. It’ll help.
Just write! The best thing you can do is begin. All the best on your YA writing journey! What tips would you share?