When I first started writing YA, long ago, I picked up Writing Great Books for Young Adults by Regina Brooks. It’s a book I still highly recommend today.
However, it’s been years since I read it, so I’ve pulled it off my shelf to give it my time and attention again. And I’m rather amused. While reading it through the first time, I used yellow highlighter and reading it today, I want a different coloured highlighter because now different things about the book interest me.
I wanted to share Regina’s 5 Rules of Engaging Young Adult Readers and share some of my own thoughts about each rule.
1. The life of your story depends on the writer’s ability to convince the reader that the protagonist is one of them.
In other words, know your audience. If you don’t live with teens, or work with them, then you will need to be very observant. When you are in public places, pay attention to how they talk, their body language, etc. (And by observe, I mean observe, don’t stalk them!) Write your notes in private. If your characters don’t talk the talk, they won’t walk the walk.
The YA audience encompasses several different maturity levels. There’s a lot of different stages between 12 and 18 (plus YA has a HUGE adult readership). Kids always read ‘up,’ meaning, a 12 year old isn’t reading middle grade, they want to read about 14 and 15 year olds, a 15 year old is reading about 17 and 18 year olds, etc.
2. Don’t be condescending to your readers.
Don’t try to hide lessons in your story. Kids pick up when they are being talked down to, give them some credit. Write your story. Let the reader decide what they take away from it. Before YA became a new section in the book stores, teens read adult books. Many still do. At fourteen, I was reading Stephen King. Just write your story and leave the lesson or your reader will likely shelf your book.
3. Read, read, read, today’s YA fiction.
Read what you write. This rule applies for every genre: kids, teens, adults. If you write romance, you likely read romance, same applies to horror, mystery, etc. And if you write for kids, you better be reading what they are reading. This can also apply to rule one, reading YA will you help you stay connected to your audience. Know what they are reading, what’s popular. Who the popular authors are. You don’t need to mimic them, truly, please don’t, but studying their books may give you some insight to what your audience is looking for.
4. Silence your worries about commercial considerations.
Write your story, don’t worry about audience, publishers, marketing. That’s a concern for later. If you write your story with commercial sales in mind, you’re story will suffer. Stay focused on the task of writing your story, without trying to conform to what others are doing, or others say you should do. Just write. There will be time for commercial considerations later.
5. In YA fiction, erect no concrete barriers, wire fences, or one-way signs. Instead, forge new paths.
Teens are much more open minded than adults. They are more accepting. They are more willing to take risks and try something new. Don’t be afraid of what you can bring to the table of YA, embrace it.