Ten Tips for Writing for a Young Adult Audience

reading and writing novels

Firstly, what is Young Adult (YA) fiction? These are novels explicitly written with teens or young adults in mind – and it’s currently one of the fasted growing genres of fiction writing.

Those of us over a certain age will fondly remember series such as The Hardy Boys, Nancy Drew, or perhaps the well-known Judy Blume books. Nowadays, famous YA fiction writers include John Green (The Fault in Our Stars, Looking for Alaska, Paper Towns), and of course, J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter series comes to mind. Read a more comprehensive list of bestselling YA novels here. Popular YA novels are often turned into blockbuster films, and their popularity is a great way to encourage teens to read.

Thinking of giving writing for the YA market a go? Here are a few tips to writing a successful young adult novel:

  • The content needs to be suitable for readers aged 14 and up. This doesn’t mean you can’t tackle sensitive topics, but it needs to be approached with their perspective in mind. A parent shouldn’t have to screen a book in the YA section before allowing their younger teen to read it.
  • Word count in YA novels typically ranges from 50,000 to 100,000 words. Science fiction or fantasy books can be longer.
  • Nearly all the same factors that make a great adult novel apply to writing for young adults: a relatable main character, interesting supporting characters, and a gripping story wanting the reader to turn the page rather than insert the bookmark for later.
  • Do your research. Hang out with teens, read up about the latest hot topics and trends, as well as fears and concerns in their age group. Learn their lingo so your characters can use it. at the same time, be careful of overusing slang, as it will limit the shelf-life of your book due to ever-changing slang.
  • Choose your words wisely – kids don’t want to be looking up words or not understanding what is being written. This doesn’t mean ‘dumbing down’ the content, but instead, writing in a way that a teen would understand.
  • Don’t patronise your teen readers – they want to read stories that they can relate to, about characters that could be their friends, peers or people they come across in life. They want to read about people overcoming hardships and about relationships; they want to read about the characters’ flaws, struggles and then successes – this is what makes John Green so successful as a YA fiction writer.
  • Write about topics that today’s teens struggle with, from self-confidence, gossip and bullying, to LGBTQ+ issues and discovering themselves. Teens like to know that they are not alone in dealing with life’s challenges, and seeing the book’s characters handling the same challenges they face in today’s world, makes the characters relatable and the story engaging.
  • Depending on how old you are, you may have to dig deep into memories of being a teenager to understand your audience. While problems of the times may have changed, certain things remain the same with being a teenager – the raging emotions of vulnerability and insecurity, over-reaction to situations, confidence issues, and relationship awkwardness. The trick is to remember those moments as if you were a teenager – without the hindsight and wisdom of now being an adult.
  • Unlike children’s books, YA novels don’t need to have a happy ending – but they do need to offer hope – that life goes on despite hardships, and that suffering can be overcome. Again, here John Green nails it.
  • Young Adult novels often revolve around ‘coming of age’ situations, allowing the teen reader to relate to the storyline and characters, and perhaps even grow a little while reading the book. Call Me by Your Name by André Aciman and The Book Thief by Markus Zusak are good examples of the ‘coming of age’ theme.

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