How To Write Young Adult Fiction

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If you love Harry Potter, you probably love young adult fiction! The lives of young people in adolescence are fascinating and infinite in their variety. What the young do may not matter–to them. But what they do matters a great deal to adults. Young adult novels tell us about a time in life that is full of meaning and transformation but stops just short of being serious. In contemporary North American life we tend to rush past this stage in the belief that it is preparation for what comes next. If we are lucky, however, this is the time of life when we are just taken up with the content of who we are and what others make of us. You see young characters flush with the joy of being themselves but firmly enmeshed in their families, their friends, and their cultural circumstances. And they face meaningful choices about who they will become. While the world of outer experience is rich and absorbing to them, it is inside that the really exciting things are taking place. Unlike second-year high school or university students, however, many YA protagonists still live at home for much of the year. They are less bound by the routine of adult work and cannot easily affiliate on their own. There is more isolation from and conflict with others. The core idea of young adult fiction is that of young people living at a crossroads in time when irreversible choices made in the ongoing charade they call life will define them in time for the rest of their days. There seems to be an increasing number of these books coming out, and I’m sure I don’t have to cite any examples of the huge bestseller lists they make. Twilight, Harry Potter or Twilight, The Hunger Games — the point is that young adult fiction is big business and, just as the adult version, it will continue to be until there are no more young people wanting stories that speak to them in a way that has the workings of their lives unearthed and held up for inspection. In this post, I hope to share with you a number of tips about how to write young adult fiction.


What is young adult fiction

Just as not all adult fiction is about adults, so not every young person’s story is for young readers. Hollywood sometimes gets it wrong with portrayals of the important middle school and high school years with high sexual content or other elements that are inappropriate for those younger than the target audience. The down-to-earth tone of young adult fiction must seem true-to-life. The books mustn’t talk down to the readers — they want to learn things about life — but neither should they use tricky words that would confuse or lose the interest of inexperienced readers. This means there should be simple language and a straightforward story line in YA novels. It doesn’t necessarily imply that the story line is simplistic. The books can deal with social problems. What makes them distinctly young adult is that their solutions are not cynical. The novels don’t comment on life by featuring a character older than the readers or in some other way present adult experience as superior to the lives of young people. Young adult stories simply explore the lives of young people, and by doing so, they may also address those universal human concerns that all must deal with. Most young adult novels are cast in third person narrative, but the occasional first-person narrative may also appear. Almost all of these novels are conventional in their use of these types of narrative point of view. It is in the larger structures of point of view that experimenting with YA fiction happens. There may be moments that suddenly occur in the first person to establish immediacy. This is often done with a character who is alone or is trying to face danger and is in momentary danger of being discovered. Though they are fairly short books (at least in the bestsellers) they may have a prologue or epilogue section that gives future or less important information. When they are used, these prologues and epilogues are thus juxtaposed in time to the main body of the book. What is most prominent about all YA fiction is its earnestness and human sincerity, but youth also means not knowing quite what they are doing. This may mean getting it wrong but in the end getting it right. About Self-Esteem and YA Fiction

Teenagers are in a perpetual crisis about who they are and what they are, and young adult fiction reflects that. A good deal of youth fiction is enmeshed in myth and metaphor. Some of the protagonists are actually or along the way transformed into various egocentric conceptions of themselves. They may think they are such things as animals, monsters, birds, angels, or otherwise. Being outer manifestations of the inner soul or being magical creatures may be representative of qualities the protagonist believes of themselves.

Because these novels appeal to multiple age groups you may be writing for some older teens who can sympathize more easily with an adult expectation than teens of an age who want a younger protagonist for reasons that may not be linked to the outer situation of the book.

Developing empathy

You must have real compassion for your characters. Make them fully alive by allowing these true-to-life, complicated figures to become your real friends. Defining the personality of your protagonist is probably the most time-consuming piece of writing for your novel. Use the related empathy-generating exercises ( brainstorming) I have noted in previous posts. But even more important is allowing yourself to put yourself fully into your character. This means you need to have some empathy toward him or her. It isn’t just feeling sorry for a character who seems pathetic but the ability to truly feel yourself into that person. If the person is a hero, the problem is why she is a hero. If it is for something that doesn’t seem very admirable, you must come out of your own viewpoint and identify with the character. By doing so, you will create a character the reader can identify with and that she can enjoy spending time with. Remember that you stand in for the reader in the character’s ordinary world. Writing from your own experience is vital in making the character seem different from you.

Let the character see the world differently

Perspective must affect everything a writer includes in a young adult novel. Everything must have a place in the development of the character and her sense of identity. It is from the perspective as it has developed to that point that everything must be seen. If not, you risk sending in the wrong information about the story’s location or setting. It is rare that many fantasies and playing with perspective do not show up in YA fiction. In some instances this takes an extremely common location and the premise is that it has been modified in some very important but subtle way. Books in the Harry Potter series, in Clockwork Orange, and even in Twilight all have this kind of story line. In others, an ordinary case makes a difference to the perception of the protagonist. These can be sprinkled around a local landscape, but each one contributes to building the protagonist’s sense of identity and worth or the perspective on her world that leads her to some profound realization that is brought out in the end.

A lot of young adult fiction is a vehicle for the character’s story of the discovery of his or her identity and worth. This may be done in a time-honored way by a quest for an object or by the protagonist taking on a quest to do something for someone else. It may be done in some quite modern way by a self-fulfillment journey that results in a moment of enlightenment. But whatever the case, it is the characters’ discovery of themselves that is the point of the story. That is why the stories are so popular. This doesn’t mean they are a bore, but they have to be believable.


Young adult novels are about characters. You can’t just put people in a situation and hope for the best. You must know the characters in and out. It is their inner conflicts that make the books move forward. The conflicts can be with each other or with the situation or with themselves. But they must have internal conflicts. There must be something that causes the characters to question their values and purpose in life.

You can’t have protagonists who are perfect. That would make them too much like Superman. These novels are about making mistakes, learning from them, and moving on. And that’s what we do as well. This is why these stories are so easy to relate to. We’ve all made mistakes and learned from them.

Character change

No character is a fixed being. Characters change as the story progresses, and this must be reflected in the point of view. This means that you may have to make subtle changes to the point of view. There may be a sudden change in the focus of the story that causes a different kind of information to be important. The reason for this is that you must have something happen that causes the character to question her values and purposes in life.

This may not be a great change in the character but it must be a change that will make the reader want to see what the character will do next. In a sense, it is not so much the character who changes as the reader’s perception of the character. The reader must want to know what happens to the character and why. She must feel a sense of urgency to get to the next part of the story. If you don’t create that urgency, you’ll bore your readers.

Character relationships

The relationships between the characters are a major part of the story. It is the relationships that make the story interesting. They are not just things that happen to the characters. These relationships are created in the plot and the point of view. You need to give the reader a reason to care about what happens to your characters. In young adult fiction, the relationship between the main character and his or her parents or siblings is particularly important. It is the most stable relationship the main character has. This doesn’t mean the parents are perfect or that the siblings aren’t jerks, but the main character has a great deal of experience with them. It is in these relationships that the reader can see the development of the main character.

Young adult novels have more than one character. It is very important that you get the voices of the other characters right. There are two main reasons for this. First, each of the characters must have a different relationship with the main character. The reader must be able to tell them apart. If the other characters have nothing to add to the story, they should be eliminated. The second reason is that each of the characters must contribute to the development of the main character. They must be people the main character can learn from or be protected by or be angry with or fall in love with.

Each of the characters has a part to play in the development of the main character.

Plot and young adult fiction

Most young adult novels follow a fairly standard plot structure. This may not be the case in the middle school level novels, but once the protagonist gets to high school, the plot is very likely to follow a familiar pattern. This is because there is a developmental need for the main character to move from dependence on parents to some degree of independence. It is also the case that the best stories are stories that can be told with a beginning, middle, and end.

In a young adult novel, the main character must be at a crossroads in life. There must be something that has to be done. This may be that she must decide between two different people she is interested in. Or she must choose between her friends and the school bully. Or she must decide to drop out of school and get a job. In some way, the character has to choose a direction for her life. And there is a consequence to this choice. If she chooses the school bully, she is going to get hurt. If she chooses the job, she will have to live with the consequences.

The main character must choose between two paths in life and must have the courage to choose one. She will then face the consequences of her choice.

As I said above, you must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. The beginning will be when the main character faces the problem. The middle will be her attempt to solve the problem. The end will be the consequence of her solution.

The beginning of the story should always be the main character’s ordinary world. The reader must see the problem as it is, and she must be able to care about the main character before she can understand the problem. The main character must be faced with a problem she can’t solve herself. She will have to ask for help. She will have to turn to other characters for advice and support. This will bring her into contact with others who will help her solve the problem.

If you have the beginning, middle, and end of the story, you can be sure the story will work. You can always go back and make it better, but at least you know where you’re going and you can plan the steps you need to take to get there.

Point of view in young adult fiction

Point of view is the narrator’s way of telling the story. It can be either first person or third person. It can be either subjective or objective. In the case of young adult fiction, the most common point of view is first person subjective. This means that the narrator is a character in the story and tells the story as if she were talking to a friend. The story is told as it happens, as the character sees it happen. This is the most immediate and intimate way of telling a story. It is also the most likely to cause problems for you. It is not a good idea to use first person point of view unless you are certain that you can keep the character consistent. If you are writing in the first person, you will need to make sure that the main character does not suddenly seem to know something she couldn’t know or see something she couldn’t see. You need to be careful that the story is told from the main character’s point of view and not your own. This can be a tricky business. It is very hard to see a story from the point of view of another person. It is even harder to keep that point of view consistent from the beginning to the end of the book.

Sometimes it is best to tell a story in third person objective. This means that the story is told as if it were being reported by a television news reporter. It is told from outside the action. The third person point of view is more formal than the first person point of view, but it is more likely to allow you to keep your main character consistent. If you decide to tell the story in third person, you will need to know exactly what you want the reader to see. If you have a scene that you want to show from the point of view of the main character, you will need to make sure that you do not tell anything about that scene that the main character wouldn’t know.

The other point of view that you can use is the second person. In second person point of view, the narrator talks directly to the reader. You would not use this point of view in a young adult novel. It is too demanding of the reader. It takes a great deal of skill to make this point of view work. If you want to try it, you need to be sure you are a skilled enough writer to pull it off.

Second person point of view is also not a good choice because it is not natural. People don’t naturally talk to other people this way. If you are writing in the second person, you will need to constantly remind yourself that you are talking to the reader. You will need to do it with every sentence. This is not easy to do.

Setting in young adult fiction

The setting of a young adult novel is the time and place in which the story is told. The time and place are usually quite important to the story.

The time is usually quite specific. For example, the story might take place on the last day of school before the summer holidays. Or it might take place on the night of the prom. Or it might take place on the last day of high school before the character leaves home for the first time. The time is often related to a change in the main character’s life.

A young adult novel that takes place on the last day of school before the summer holidays might have a theme of change. The main character may be changing from a student to a person who doesn’t go to school anymore. She may be changing from someone who lives at home to someone who lives on her own. She may be changing from a child to an adult. The plot may revolve around the main character’s attempt to make this change. Or it may simply show the reader what the main character has to go through in order to make the change.

The place is also very important to young adult fiction. The place may be a school. It may be the main character’s home. It may be a particular neighbourhood. It may be a camp. It may be a country. The place is important because it is a reflection of the main character’s life. It is where she lives and where she learns about herself and her world.


I hope you have enjoyed this post on how to write young adult fiction. It is both fun and challenging to write for this audienc, and I believe it is a challenge that every writer should accept at least once. You will find that the young are not so different from you. They worry about their bodies. They worry about their friendships. They worry about the future. They worry about whether they are good enough. And they worry about love. And all this worry is written in the hopes that you will love them enough to give them your attention and your time.

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