How to write Young Adult (YA) fiction

There’s real interest from literary agents in strong writing for the young adult market. It certainly helps if you’ve got a striking idea or a very original and distinctive voice. And be genuine.

If you fake enthusiasm in YA issues, then your book will reveal this. Also, it may be obvious, but know your market. A few hours spent in your local large bookshop is an essential investment.

Literary agents aren’t simply looking for good work. They’re looking for marketable work, and that means that you need to know the current market as well as any agent.

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Susan Davis shares her tips

Why write for Young Adults? Do teenagers even read these days? This is the question that teachers, parents, and indeed publishers constantly scratch their heads over.

The answer is, yes, they do, all sorts of stuff. However, if you want to wrest them away from the screen in this electronic age, you need to come up with a gripping storyline and a strong voice.

The ‘voice’ is hugely important. It’s the voice of your main protagonist or character-narrator that has to draw the reader into the story and keep them hooked.

Remember that protagonists need problems. Whether that problem is embarrassing parents, or a blood-sucking vampire, readers want to identify with and care about the main character. This is what keeps them turning the pages to the end.

Dialogue plays a big part in fiction for this age group. Keep it as natural as possible, but avoid over-doing the current in-words. Too many ‘awesomes’ will quickly date your characters and give your book a limited shelf-life.

Likewise, it pays to be sparing with contemporary references. ‘Katy Perry’ may be hot today, but teenage music tastes are transient.

A cracking pace is vital. Six-page descriptions of sunsets are out, as are dull conversations around the breakfast table. You need to question every paragraph, indeed every sentence. Is it moving the narrative forwards? Is it illuminating character? If not, then it probably shouldn’t be there. Writing for YA can be a great exercise in economy.

Finally, if this all sounds a bit cold-blooded, and technical, let’s just back-pedal a bit. The truth is that many published writers for this age group, didn’t set out to write for the market at all. They certainly didn’t write to please a theoretical literary agent. They wrote because they had a great story to tell. More importantly the voice they wanted to tell with it with just happened to be a teenage one.

It doesn’t matter how old you are. If you have vivid re-call of how it felt to be a teenager, with all its joys, humiliations, and agonies, then you’re off to a head start.

Don’t write for Young Adults, write for the Young Adult in you!