Young adult fiction is becoming a more popular category than ever—stemming back to the 1960s with the publication of S.E. Hinton’s The Outsiders, marketed specifically for young adults. In more recent years, the genre has blossomed with bestselling books like Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling, The Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins, and Twilight by Stephenie Meyer. While young adult fiction is targeted at 12-18-year-olds, otherwise known as the teen demographic, the genre is gaining momentum with an older audience, too.
More than half of YA readers stem from adults, denoting a distinct period of “young adulthood.” YA books incorporate themes such as love, friendship, discovering your identity, and finding your path. They represent the trials and tribulations related to youth and depict the transition from childhood to adulthood.
With such a fast-growing category, more authors than ever before are writing YA. Whether you’re dipping your toes into the water, or you’re a seasoned young adult writer, here are some tips to evoke your inner teen, making sure your fiction writing will stand out to teens, tweens, and readers of all ages.
Develop the teenage protagonist
When writing young adult fiction, you’ll want to make sure your character is the proper age for your audience. Protagonists in YA novels are typically between the ages of 14 to 18-years-old, right around high school age. While your readers may be younger, they want a character that they can look up to for navigating the transition that comes with adolescence.
Additionally, you’ll want to tune into your target audience to write an authentic teen point-of-view. Consider the trends, interests, and mannerisms of teens these days by:
- Consulting modern technology that appeals to teens, like Tik Tok, Instagram, and Snapchat, to get a feel for trends and fads.
- Watch movies and read other books with teenage protagonists.
- Ask friends and family who have kids in that age range, or see if you can talk to high school teachers.
Whatever you do, make sure to research, so you can really get into the mindset of how a teenager thinks and acts. That way, rather than creating a stereotype, you’ll be able to create a character who feels relatable and goes through the struggles that a normal teenager would.
Incorporate a coming-of-age theme
Young adult fiction is all about the shift from childhood to adulthood. This subject requires your character to discover their identity, learn to rely on themselves, and step away from their authority figures.
The coming-of-age theme usually consists of a catalyst where your character will break away from the comfort they’ve once known. They’ll be forced to evolve and make difficult decisions as they confront the realities of the real world. After a series of setbacks, there’s ultimately a moment of truth where they learn to stand on their own. With this in mind, you want to create a character that grows significantly throughout the story and learns a series of lessons along the way.
Young adulthood is a time of transition and self-discovery. Whether it’s a first kiss, the death of a loved one, a new friendship, or starting a job, your main character should face obstacles that cause them to confront their identity and ask themselves what they stand for.
Take your reader seriously
One mistake writers make in this genre is talking down to teens. While you may use some straightforward or casual language, you don’t want to belittle your readers. Teens want to be taken seriously, and they can easily tell if slang or subjects feel inauthentic.
Additionally, young adults often read these types of novels to feel mature and prepare for that stage of adolescence. Just because this type of book is shorter or geared at a teen audience, does not mean the genre deserves less skill or attention than any other category.
Teens reading your book are intelligent and savvy, so treat your characters similarly, and don’t be afraid to talk about real issues or mature subjects. Plus, while directed at teens, parents, grandparents, or older friends may be the ones buying the book, so consider the audience that you’re marketing to.
Include tension and conflict
Because you’ll have a younger audience, you’ll want to focus on a fast-paced plot and attention-grabbing details. You don’t want to bore your readers by spending too much time on lengthy descriptions or scenes that drag on. Instead, create interesting characters and compelling dialogue that push the story forward. Before you write a chapter, think:
- Is this moving the story along?
- How is this adding to the development of the character?
- What is my reader gaining from reading this?
To go further, teenagers are often driven by all-consuming emotions. Because teens haven’t gone through the same experiences as adults, an incident may seem more heightened or consequential than that of an adult who has experienced it multiple times. Tap into those powerful emotions and allow your character to feel the intensity and newness, so you can tell your story in a thrilling way.
End on a hopeful note
While there are exceptions to the rule, it’s important for readers to feel a renewed sense of hope by the end of the book. After all, young adults want to be able to put themselves in the shoes of the main character and feel inspired by the hero’s journey.
Regardless of what setbacks are faced, the author should equip teenagers with the tools necessary to conquer their own obstacles and find resilience, just like the characters in their book. Even if the ending doesn’t turn out on a completely happy note, you can still create a sense of possibility and allow room for the reader to fill in the blanks, leaving space to imagine a better future.
Alison Schaffir is a social media strategist and young adult author living in New York City. A lover of contemporary fiction, Alison developed her debut novel, Your Dream for Me, fusing two of her favorite interests, fashion and theater, together. She graduated from the University of Richmond with a major in business marketing and a minor in psychology. When she’s not making up stories in her head, she loves indulging in Trader Joe’s lava cakes, belting early 2000s pop hits, and spending time with her friends and family.
You can follow her on Twitter and Instagram.