Friday, July 15, 2016

Writing for a young adults audience

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Teens are passionate readers, many falling in love with their favorite characters and often loving to hate the antagonist. It's these types of emotions that I hope to elicit from my readers, but just how does an adult write realistic stories for teens? We get to know our audience and then create compelling stories with characters they can relate to.

First, let's discuss character. The main character's age of any novel depends on who they are and what conflicts they'll face along the way. Getting to know your protagonist is the first step in developing them as a person. Below are a few writing exercises I've used to bring out my main character's personality and innermost thoughts:
  • 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.
I hope you found some of my tips helpful. If you have any tips you'd like to share, I'd love to hear them.


  1. Great tips!
    And now I know why I don't write for that age group. It is challenging.

  2. Striking the balance between not too young and not too old is a tough one when writing teens. You find that balance well, Cherie!

  3. I've dared to write a short or two for the YA audience but won't dare write a book. Like you said they are complicated and I wouldn't want to disappoint. :-)

    Anna from elements of emaginette

  4. My hardest part will be writing in a teen voice. It's been a while since I've been a teen (to say the least), and even back then I was kind of a wallflower.

    1. There are perks to being a wallflower. You see everything going on around you and can use some of it in you books. :)

  5. Excellent tips. I think voice is one of those things you get, or you don't get. It's an acting game. If you can hop into the head of other people in the age group, you're set.

    1. I hadn't thought of it that way, but you're so right. :)

  6. Really good points, Cherie. "Love to hate the antagonist"--I can see that, much more than adult readers. Thanks for sharing your ideas.

  7. Hooks take a lot of thought. I think I've rewritten every one of mine dozens of times. Thanks, Cherie. Great tips.

  8. Super tips, Cherie. Thanks for sharing. I taught teenagers for years and loved it - even in the face of despair on some days. I remember my own teenage years (I wasn't the most attentive student) which meant I knew every trick in the book :)

    1. I'm glad you found them helpful. I remember my teenage years also. That definitely helps when writing for a YA audience.