Writing for Young Adults

In this modern age of exciting technology, or what some may call distractions, it can be a challenge to get the young adult audience invested in your book. Teenagers are surrounded by distractions, ranging from the fascination with iPhone apps to mindless Facebook surfing. They might be too tired to read after a late night work or they just want to play video games with a friend. Young adults do enjoy reading – they just have very specific ideas regarding what, why and when they choose to.

When you write for any genre, it is always crucial that you identify and write for your target audience. There are ways to capture the attention of a young adult and turn your book into one of their distractions! Get into the minds your audience – this factor is fundamental to the following tips on writing for young adults. If you can’t relate with your audience, they won’t relate to you and your characters. If you can relate to them, they will invest their time in your book.

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1. Point of View

Choosing between first, second or third person point of view is a critical decision in the success of a young adult novel. Consider the profile of your characters and how they drive your plot. Then, ask yourself which point of view will bring out the best in both of these.

writing for young adults
How do writers compete with today’s fast-paced technology-driven entertainment? Here’s a few tips on how to write for a young adult audience.
Image Credit: PJMixer via Flickr Creative Commons.

First person narration is perfect for a character driven story as it enables readers to engage with the thoughts and feelings of the protagonist. Conversely, if you would rather have your readers watch the action unfold from an omniscient perspective, third person point of view is a better choice as it gives the author more freedom. Another choice, though not as common, is second person viewpoint. This perspective puts readers into the story as one of the characters. For more detailed information on point of view, have a look at our article on literary devices here.

All three viewpoints have worked well within the young adult genre. For example, The Hunger Games trilogy by Suzanne Collins has been a huge success with teenage readers. All three books are written from the perspective of Katniss Everdeen, the protagonist. The first person narration helps readers connect with Katniss, as we are given direct access to her thoughts and feelings. Becoming one of the characters through second person narration is very popular – the Fighting Fantasy ‘choose your own adventure’ series first published in the eighties and early nineties is proof of this. Finally, the Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling, is a good example of how third person perspective enables the author to give the reader a broader idea of what’s going on overall, while still maintaining a distinctive point of view.

2. Current Jargon and Slang

Teenagers have a wonderful knack for coming up with interesting new words. As with any trend, however, words become out-dated and an entirely new vocabulary will issue from young adult mouths as quickly as the phase began. If you are seriously considering writing a young adult novel, the chances are you’ve been a teenager before! Consider how you and others communicated at this age and try to transfer this language onto paper, avoiding the current jargon and slang.

3. Create Vivid Imagery

Will your story win against the alluring video game console? To keep your young adult reader engaged with your text, you need to create vivid mental images to match those seen on television or the computer. Use plenty of action verbs and try to avoid extensive descriptive passages. Your audience will prefer to be immersed in the action, learning about the characters and the setting through brief sensory description.

4. Make a Flying Start!

While an older reader may find the patience to read through a slower opening chapter, young adult readers won’t be as forgiving! It is essential that your story make a flying start. Consider where your story begins – the best place to start is a moment of change. Introduce your character in the midst of an emotional meltdown. Put your reader in the shoes of the protagonist as they find out that something terrible has happened. Then, when you have grabbed your reader’s interest, you’ll have time to cover the background information later in the story.

5. Give Your Audience Hope

Even though adult novels deal with many of the same issues that are explored in the young adult genre, readers are often left with a miserable ending. If you’re writing an exciting thriller, don’t kill every character in your story. Don’t leave your reader in tears with absolutely nothing left to hold on to. Give them a glimmer of hope – let them know that it exists, even in the face of the most difficult situations.

Daniel Murphy

Teacher by day and writer by night, Daniel Murphy has self-published three books and appeared in Writer's Edit's anthology, Kindling 2. Currently living in Port Augusta, his spare time is dominated by sports rehab and complicated by part-time study. He loves cooking, reading and road trips.

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