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Overcoming the Challenges of Writing Young Adult Fiction

Overcoming the Challenges of Writing Young Adult Fiction by Gillian Leggat

As the world is changing so fast, and young adults are faced with so many challenges and distractions that weren’t around merely a few years ago, I would argue that this is the most challenging group of people to gain interest. Forgive my generalisation, but I suspect that a vast majority of this group doesn’t read very much. They’re too involved in sports, connecting with the opposite sex, or preparing for their host of exams. Where would they even take the time to read? Put a book in their hands, and they’ll probably either skim it, yawn and put it down after the first page or drop it on the table and leave it there for somebody else to pick up. There are exceptions, of course – thank goodness for exceptions or writers of YA fiction would be out of business!!! Some avid readers amongst this group read a great variety of fiction – books I’ve never even heard of – and some non-fiction as well. Thank goodness, also, for the huge variety of books in this world.

So, how do you attempt to write for this age group? And what genre do you think would interest them most? I’ll answer my second question first…because it doesn’t really have an answer. Readers' tastes in any age group, I believe, are as wide as there are genres. The type of book they’ll prefer will depend on their personalities, experiences, what they’ve been exposed to before, and what their favourite books were as small children. So, I really am going to pass on that question. My first question I will attempt to answer by giving would-be YA writers out there three tips.

Three tips on writing Young Adult Fiction:

Tip One: Plot

Make sure your story is a good one. Take time to develop your plot. Add plenty of twists and turns to add interest. And you must have a hook near the beginning of the story. That is absolutely essential. And a hook or two further on as well to prevent your reader’s interest from flagging. Whether you are writing a more realistic story where problems and emotions are being explored, a thriller where exciting turns keep happening, or a fantasy where your reader needs to suspend their disbelief, it is important to keep the story pacey. Add cliffhangers to the end of each chapter, keep the reader guessing what will happen next, and allow your readers to go on a rollicking adventure.

Tip Two: Characters

Make your characters REALLY convincing. This is particularly important for this age group. Gone are the fairy-tale stories of beautiful, perfect princesses or grossly ugly, evil witches. Your heroes need to have flaws, and your villains need to have redeeming features. That is if you want your readers to believe in the characters you create. Then, their dialogue also needs to sound authentic. Make it sound like ‘teenage-speak’ if you can. I’m not suggesting that you include slang, where new words fly out of the window with each new fad. Nothing can outdate your story than using the ‘current’ slang – bearing in mind that it usually takes at least two years to produce a book. But make your characters talk about issues that young adults might be interested in. And make their speech sound natural. Use contractions, break off their sentences in the middle, and do whatever you must to make their speech sound natural.

Tip Three: Theme

Carefully consider your theme. What is your story REALLY about? And why would the themes in your story resonate with your readers? Why are the ideas you’re writing about important to them? Are the ideas in your novel thought-provoking? Will they inspire your readers to ask questions long after they put down your book? Is your story memorable? Or will they forget about it the minute they put it down?

I enjoy writing for this age group. My recent YA trilogy(The Golden Highway, The Diamond Pathway and The Emerald Treasure Chamber)  I would describe as a ‘rollicking fantasy adventure’, while my stand-alone book, The Seekers, is more reflective, dealing more with some of the problems that young adults face, their relationships and how they cope with them. I have two more YA books coming out this year, so I’m not giving up on this genre quite yet, despite its challenges.

Enjoy your writing adventure.

Breath of God by Gillian Leggat
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