The Young Adult Writer's Journey: An Encyclopedia for YA Writers

The Young Adult Writer's Journey: An Encyclopedia for YA Writers

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Product Details

ISBN-13: 9781944056988
Publisher: Tell-Tale Publishing Group, LLC
Publication date: 11/23/2018
Pages: 234
Product dimensions: 6.00(w) x 9.00(h) x 0.69(d)

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CHAPTER 1

Who's Reading Young Adult Fiction, and Why?

Great YA books and New Adult fiction have created an audience of adult readers as well as teens. Fifty-five percent of the readers of YA fiction aren't teens, they're adults. Statistics say they're in the eighteen to thirty-year-old category, but many readers are much older. Some find them relaxing, the characters charming and funny, the situations reminiscent of their own childhood dreams of beating the odds, defying their parents, and overcoming the hardships of growing up. Who doesn't love seeing kids succeed?

The period in a person's life between thirteen and twenty is the hardest. Teens grow physically. Their bodies go through crazy changes they must deal with every day while navigating school, athletics, and learning to socialize. They're under the gun from teachers, parents and most importantly, from their peers. Many of them crash and burn. A kid can totally ruin his or her entire life before age fifteen.

To write successfully about teens you must understand them. They are often a misunderstood group. They are maligned for acting out or being rude and disobedient. The complex nature of a teenager's life should be taken into consideration when writing for modern teens. Teen suicide rates are high. There are many reasons and many risk factors. Teenagers are prone to depression. Family life is not what it was in the fifties. In most homes, both parents work-if there even are two parents in the home. Divorce and single parent homes affect kids in a multitude of ways too.

The American Society for the Positive Care of Children list substance abuse, physical, mental and sexual abuse in the home as just some of the reasons for teen suicide. A family history of suicide and exposure to the suicidal behavior of peers can also affect teens. Kids in our times do not live in Leave it to Beaver or Happy Days. They struggle, they fight, and many succeed against terrible odds. This could be one of the reasons books with more mature themes, themes that reflect the struggles of teens in today's world, are popular.

Coming of age books used to be the main offering in the YA market, and it still applies. Kids still come of age, no matter what century it is. They just face different issues and overcome different obstacles. Learning as you go, making mistakes and making better choices, is what coming of age is all about. Teenagers have an exhausting and chaotic number of first times to deal with, all while juggling friends, family, school and ... wait for it ... social media. Self-esteem and trying to figure out who they are, who they should be, who they want to be and why are huge issues for them. Trying to be different while deeply concerned with fitting in and finding their niche in their world is huge for kids, and especially tough because they want everyone to believe they could care less. They drive themselves and often their parents to distraction finding just the right outfit, the one that looks as though they've thrown it on casually and just happen to look fantastic and trendy. Other kids might struggle to find a shirt that isn't ripped or missing buttons, or one that wasn't underneath a urine-soaked garment from one of their siblings.

Coming of age may still be a recurring theme in YA, but most readers don't think about it like that, probably because they're living it. No matter how old they are, humans perpetually come of age, from one life stage to the next. All main characters should demonstrate growth and change. You can find literature like that in fantasy, science fiction, urban fantasy, and other genres, but in YA, the protagonist is always a teenager. And following a kid through adventures, watching him or her develop skills and courage he or she never knew he or she had is what makes YA magical.

Not all kids read, but some devour books and read by flashlight under their covers. They hunt for books that excite them and interest them in ways video games can't compete with.

Characters in Young Adult fiction are what truly matter to the story itself. The teens and adults who read it want to laugh and cry with the characters the writer dreams up. Adults want to remember what it was like to be young, to be reminded of how hard they struggled and how much they have already overcome. Teens won't be interested in characters who aren't authentic either, who don't act and feel like either themselves or kids they know or want to know. And they all identify with how hard it is to be a teenager. They want to revisit or feel what it's like to be on the cusp of life, standing on the edge of their future, where all things are possible, and everything is fresh, new and exciting.

Teens who read want to connect with your characters, understand them, and feel what they feel. To make the characters real, you need to do more than read Young Adult fiction. You need to know the teens you're writing about. If you don't have any living with you, find a friend who does and talk to them and talk to their kids. It's not enough to just remember what your life as a teenager was like. You need to know what life as a teenager now is like, because the characters you create to engage young readers had better be real. They must be believable as teens, not adults disguised in teenager bodies. Teenagers are a lot smarter than you think. They will know if you try to fool them, so be careful and make sure the characters you create are not only fun and engaging, but real.

Some books about writing for teens list rules. Many of the most popular YA books throw the rules out from page one. Agents and publishers are searching for the next new Hunger Games or Diary of a Wimpy Kid-- the hit potential, not a duplication of the tropes, mind you. They have open minds and may look at the new and crazy for just those reasons, so don't be afraid to experiment.

It's not enough to read a stack of YA books. Pick one you like and deconstruct it to figure out why it worked, why it's popular. Writing YA is fun because you can write anything you can imagine and are even encouraged to do so, if your characters are authentic teens with credible and real problems.

Teenagers make wonderful characters to write about. They are often more uninhibited than adults, braver, more impulsive. Those characteristics can get them into trouble and out of it just as fast. They can be very judgmental and equally self-conscious, hard on each other and themselves. They need guidance, but often won't listen to it. They fall in love easily, will do anything for those they love, and can show deep compassion for those weaker than themselves. These contradictions are reflected in all great young adult fiction. Katniss Everdeen was so brave in Hunger Games, she offered herself as tribute to save her sister. Teenagers are impulsive. Mare, in The Red Queen, is very hard on herself. She blames herself for her sister's injury. But when faced with a new world, an outrageous situation, she's brave and resourceful, accepts her new world, but still remembers those at home she loves.

When you write for young adults, you can think outside the box. Providing excitement in every page is required. YA readers want immediate gratification. They like complex plots, but they do want action all the way, and are impatient with plots that develop too slowly.

Maintaining the interest of kids bombarded with video games, Instagram, Snapchat, phone apps, a computerized, digitized, tweet-filled world, is the name of the game. If you want to play, better bring your A game because YA is so popular even famous authors like John Sanford, James Rollins, Stephen King and James Patterson have dipped their feet into the water. The competition is fierce, but the payoff is twofold; in the writing itself, which is a blast, and participating in the current big money market is never a bad idea.

People, old and young, read YA because many young adult novels are surprisingly good. Most people didn't expect young adult literature to have well-developed characters, complex plots, and great writing until the Harry Potter stories broke the mold. Today, they must be filled with inventive stories, great writing, and some of the best literary characters ever invented-characters that capture people's imaginations like Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen and Stanley Yelnats IV from Holes. Great worlds are created in YA, worlds filled with crazy creatures, worlds that give its characters special powers we all wish we had, or worlds that are dark and dangerous that make us realize how lucky we are.

Young people are fun, because they are energetic, risk-takers, fearful of the many things they have yet to experience, but have a great thirst for exploration, discovery, and have that youthful self-deception that they are immortal.

There are poor kids from dysfunctional homes playing four sports, gaining notoriety, garnering awards, and winning scholarships. Teens are always struggling to become someone, to be successful in a rough environment. Think of movies like The Big Green, The Perfect Game, Hardball, or The Blind Side, where down and out and against all odds makes for great story.

School is not for sissies either. You recall that a kid can completely ruin his or her life in a single moment, with one bad choice. There are many examples. A teenage girl can get pregnant and drop out of school. Sometimes her boyfriend drops out to go to work, and sometimes she doesn't have a boyfriend. Push by Sapphire, which became the movie Precious, comes to mind or Speak by Laurie Halse Anderson. They tackle some very harsh realities, incest and rape. Date rape is very common and when three of four women will be raped, according to statistics, awareness of sexual predators isn't an uncommon topic for books that teens will want to read.

Sex, drugs and rock-n-roll is what they used to say. The phrase is still true. The music changes with each generation. Sex is more prevalent and dangerous, with diseases that can kill you. Drugs are readily available, and more lethal than ever. If kids don't die or become addicts, they can get in trouble with the law. With young kids committing adult crimes, they are often tried as adults these days, with adult consequences. These kids may like to escape in a carefree, sunny story, but more often they are looking for characters they can relate to, ones that have real problems and struggle to find solutions.

Teens walk a tightrope between depression, the aggression of bullies, the hard work of studying, pressure from parents to do too much, and all of this is liberally salted with a heavy dose of raging hormones. It's the best years of their lives for some and the end of their lives for too many.

There is nothing simple about modern-day teens. They are internet savvy. They know more about the workings of an iPhone® than most every adult. They understand Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and they play complicated video games. They even read books on their phone and the two million copies of Hooked, an iPhone app that serves up thrillers for 13–24-year-olds via SMS conversations, prove it. Through the internet, they can talk to friends on Facebook, through chat rooms, and even on the computer video games they play. Teens of today are more informed and world-wise than many adults. Remember this when you write for them.

These savvy, world-wise kids navigate through metal detectors, under the eyes of countless security cameras and personnel, and the hallways of schools prepared to be locked-down to prevent mass shootings. They live with the knowledge that school-shootings exist, and friends and schoolmates, and even they themselves, are possible targets of the next one.

Teenagers are brave, fearless, and smart. They are more politically knowledgeable than you imagine. Books like The Red Queen by Victoria Aveyard and The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins all include complex political situations just as the Divergent series by Veronica Roth does. The authors understood the interest young adult readers and adult readers have in politics and world order. They have genuine fear that we will have to fight for survival in the not-too-distant future like in The 5th Wave by Rick Yancey.

During the time they enter middle school and graduate from high school, their bodies undergo a complete transformation. Some of them discover they are not Barbie. It's not a pleasant discovery. Kids come in all sizes, shapes, and intelligence levels. So should your characters.

If you can look at these kids, see their struggles, and not love them, don't write YA. Stick with whatever you write now or choose something else. Don't jump into this genre because it's hot and trendy. Knowing and caring about teens is the most important part of writing YA. If you don't convince your readers that your teen protagonist is real, your book won't get read.

This is your target audience.

Get to know them

CHAPTER 2

The Young Adult Technique

Writing can begin with only one idea. Harry Potter author, J.K. Rowling said, "All of a sudden the idea for Harry just appeared in my mind's eye. I can't tell you why or what triggered it. But I saw the idea of Harry and the wizard school very plainly. I suddenly had this basic idea of a boy who didn't know who he was, who didn't know he was a wizard until he got his invitation to wizard school. I have never been so excited by an idea." If you get an idea like that, go with it, but to engage the interest of young adults, there are a couple of tried and true techniques even Rowling stuck with.

Genre fiction has tropes. You can manipulate them, but readers of genre fiction expect certain thematic norms. Stephen King has a technique for writing horror novels that scare adults. He puts children and pets into jeopardy and proves to you that he will kill them. This scares the heck out of adults.

Young people tend to be rebellious. They often don't like authority. So, plot device one for creating YA fiction kids will love is to create an authority figure kids will love to hate.

Rowling created the Dursleys. Every kid who picked up the Harry Potter stories immediately loathed the Dursleys. It doesn't hurt to toss in a bully or two like cousin Dudley. I mean, who didn't cheer when Hagrid gave Dudley a pig's tail?

There isn't a teen out there who hasn't been bullied. It's one of the most common problems they face on a tough journey through modern-day school. Middle school is where it escalates. Kids are so terrified of being bullied they are thrilled to have even one best friend, cousin, or neighbor to hang with.

Middle school is a frightening place. Sixth-graders are wild. It's an odd moment in a child's life, sixth grade. They get their first taste of freedom and they run with it. Changing classes becomes an opportunity for some, and terrifying for others. Ever hear of a kid wearing three pairs of boxer shorts to school? In the first week of sixth grade, their favorite pastime is often pantsing each other.

Kids in middle school run the gamut from three-feet tall to six-five with a full beard. The three years between sixth and eighth grade can bring on some crazy physical and mental changes. This is where a kid can learn being a bully will get you everywhere, while on the other end of the spectrum, weaker kids are learning survival skills. It's rough being in middle school.

Adults can scare children too, and they can be anyone in their lives. One fantastic nasty character in a YA movie is Miss Trunchbull in Matilda. She was horrible, but wonderful, a headmistress from hell. Every child on the planet who saw that movie hated her. Cruella DeVil in A Hundred and One Dalmatians was epic. Darth Vader, James, the master of the hunt in Twilight, President Snow in Hunger Games, Jeanine Matthews, the leader of the Erudite in Divergent, and the list goes on. Create a character that teens will love to hate. It's the key to a successful YA story.

Villains are great characters, and the more complex the better. Give your bad guy a great backstory so they have a reason for being evil. You can't just make someone bad. Even crazy people have motivation for what they do. Their reasons are just crazy. Create a bad guy as wonderful as Dexter, as detailed as Darth Vader, as fun to hate as Miss Trunchbull.

Bad guys are one of the eight most common archetypes. They are shadows and don't even have to be seen to be frightening. In Harry Potter and the Sorcerer's Stone, no one sees Voldemort, but he exists as a terrible villain who is so frightening, his name can't be spoken. Shadows/villains exist to create threat and conflict, and to give the hero something to struggle against. Like many of the other archetypes, shadows do not have to be characters specifically – the dark side of the force is just as much a shadow for Luke in Star Wars as Darth Vader.

(Continues…)


Excerpted from "The Young Adult Writer's Journey"
by .
Copyright © 2018 Janet Schrader & Elizabeth Hinds.
Excerpted by permission of Wise Words Publishing.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.

Table of Contents

Genre and Structure,
Who's Reading Young Adult Fiction, and Why?,
The Young Adult Technique,
Mythic Structure for Young Adult Novels,
Creating and Peopling Your Y A World,
Creating a Real Young Adult World with Real Teens,
Archetypes Add Character,
Characters are How You Keep Modern Kids Reading Your Books,
Romance in Young Adult Fiction: To kiss or Not to Kiss,
Mechanics,
Setting, Timeline, Selecting Your Sub-Genre,
Point of View — What Works for You,
Language and Sentence Structure for YA and MG Readers,
Pacing Your Way Through the Sagging Middle,
Endings,
How to Craft a Young Adult Series,
The Business,
Concept; Go High,
What Editors and Agents are looking for in YA,
Writing with a Partner,
Marketing Your Book Before and After Publication,
Conclusion,
About the Authors,
References,

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