- Have your character write a letter either to you or to a supporting cast member in the story.
- Write about your protagonist. This can be anything: a big event in her life, how she spent summer vacation, a typical day. What you write may not end up in the story, but it will help you get to know who she is as a person.
- Create character sheets that not only includes basic features (age, color of eyes, etc.), but notes fears, allergies, likes and dislikes. Answer questions like “I love my mom, but …” “My dad always…” “I wish…” and “If I could change one thing…” (For more tips on character sheets, click here.
Now that you know your character, you need to focus on voice. Voice is everything in a teen novel, because if your characters don't sound like teenagers, you're going to lose your reader's attention. So what is voice? It's word choice, style, and reflection. It's seeing the world through a teen's eyes. To help bring out your character's voice, bring things back to them. For instance, a character may comment on a poster they have hanging in their bedroom: "I can't believe I still have that unicorn poster on the wall." Or they may notice that a person's eyes are the same green as their grandmothers.
To improve the authenticity of your character's voice, visit places where teens hang out. Observe their actions, body language, and speech. Take a notepad with you and jot down what they do and say. Okay, this may seem a little creepy, but as writers, we watch people all the time anyway. (If you're not, you should be!) Besides, I'm not suggesting you sit across from them with a notepad and pen like you're directing the scene. Blend in. Have a cup of coffee and a book in front of you. Wear headphones with no music. Attend high school sports, plays and other events that are open to the public. Be where teens are and your characters voice will benefit from it.
And when talking about writing for a young adult audience, I can't forget to mention plot. The first thing I'd like to say on this is...
Hook is not plot. Hook is what draws your reader in.
Plot is what carries your reader from page one to the end of the book.
How do I develop plot? I think about what is important to teens the same age as my protagonist. Then, I ask myself if the conflicts make sense to a person this age, and I remind myself of the following:
- Teens are complex.
- Include inner monologue in all my scenes.
- It's okay for things not to be black and white. There can be gray areas in young adult.
- My character should grow during the course of his or her story.
- Don't be vague. The story can't be absent of details.
- Write from the heart, because if I don't my readers will know.