By Julie Wright
On Writing for the YA market
Since the Harry Potter craze, there is good news for writers. It’s called READERS. More youth are reading for the pleasure of reading than ever before. If you write for that market, this is great news. I happen to write for this market. I love great news.
• Wonder— Wonder is that moment when you discover something for the first time. It’s the first time of seeing snow falling, or the first kiss. Wonder is something that astounds and leaves the person breathless and awe inspired. I don’t care that teenagers think they know everything, the fact remains that life still holds wonder for them and in order to evoke emotion in your writing you need to create a sense of wonder in your story. The teen years are a definite time of discovery. It’s where we learn who we are and how we fit in the world. It’s usually the time you fall in love for the first time. Wonder is simply wonderful.
• Age—YA generally means a character in the age range of 12-18. It doesn’t matter so much how old your character is as much as it matters that they ACT THEIR AGE. A senior in high school has vastly different concerns and perspectives than a ninth grader. Make sure your character speaks and acts the way they would in reality.
• Just because you can— Doesn’t mean you should. I know; I know, everyone says that it’s cool to be edgy--to push the boundaries of what is acceptable in YA novels. Besides that, you can’t get in trouble because YA novels are so under the parental radar that no one will ever know that you wrote a book about ********(pick your own taboo) Don’t forget the power of the pen. Words change society. Be prepared to answer for the words you choose to use. You are responsible for what you write. And I’m not preaching about what I think you should write . . . I am warning you to be prepared to stand up for it. Keep in mind that the younger edge of YA can handle “scarier” conflicts if it’s at a distance. They can handle the teen pregnancy if it’s the main character’s friend dealing with it, not the main characters themselves.
• Character—I am a character driven writer. I have a book that was pretty plot driven on the first draft but by the third draft, it was ALL about the character. Teens are pretty self absorbed (I can say that because I once was a self absorbed teen and liked it so well I grew up to be a self absorbed author) Because of this, they need characters they can relate to on a deeper level. They need characters who think things, and do things, and feel things. They need characters who are like them on the inside. Plot is important. Character is vital.
• Overcoming—Those really fabulous characters need to overcome. They need to grow and stretch and be more than they were on page one. Think of Star Wars. Luke started off as a whiney little brat who wanted to go with his friend to get power converters rather than clean up a couple of silly droids. By Return of the Jedi, our whiney brat has turned into full on Jedi and he is awesome. He’s in control of himself. He grew and overcame all the things he’d gone through to that point. He *became* the person he was meant to be. He found his inner greatness. That doesn’t mean your character has to wield a lightsaber and control the force, but they must find their own magic inside, even if it’s only metaphorically.
• Copycat-- A lot of people think writing for children is sooooo easy, but I am here to tell them, they are totally WRONG! I’ve heard people say, “Yeah, well, I think I’m going to write something like Harry Potter, and make an easy sweet million. Anyone can write that.” Copy cats always get caught for what they are. Bad copycats are the worst.
Kids these days are savvy and sophisticated in ways we can’t even dream. Do not assume you should write for the YA market simply because you think it might be easier. Consider why you want to write to teens. Consider your motives. Consider your *knowledge* because YES it takes some know-how to write in this genre. If you aren’t currently reading YA novels, don’t even think about writing one until you’ve read twenty. I mean it. Twenty. Publishing in the YA market is a lot tougher because the competition is fierce. There are a lot of wicked awesome writers out there setting the standard. You do not want to be the one to fall short of that standard.
Meet me back here next week for the non-fiction toolbox.