Three Reasons I Write YA fiction

I started this month’s theme on YA fiction with a post about why you might want to write YA. I’ll wrap up with three reasons I write YA fiction.

My Natural Bent

I can’t fight it. I just seem to think in terms of a teen. In 2017, I was invited to write a short story set in Ohio with a Christian worldview. It could be any genre, any time period, as long as the setting was Ohio. I had the freedom to write any story I chose. I tried writing a humor piece based on a misadventure my sisters and I had during one Christmas when I was in college. As my husband kindly put it, humor is not my thing. I ended up writing “Debt to Pay”, a country noir set in Wayne National Forest and told from the point of view of a sixteen-year-old boy. This was published in an anthology, From the Lake to the River.

Last year, I had another opportunity to contribute to an anthology. Again, it was tied to Ohio, this time to its literary heritage. I changed course and wrote an inverse mystery from the POV of an elitist New York novelist who comes to my fictional Marlin County, Ohio, to plan a crime. This mystery became “Bovine” in Ohio Trail Mix. Writing from the perspective of an adult character stretched my imagination, but I still think I write best from the perspective of a teen or young adult because …

Teens Makes Great Amateur Detectives

A story that has an amateur solve mysteries is already asking the readers to suspend their disbelief. I think it’s easier for readers to do this if the amateur detective is a teen. Why? Because certain behaviors in a teen are understandable. Teens take risks that would make adults looks childish. They also make mistakes that lead to all sorts of plot complications because they are just learning how the world works. An adult wouldn’t commit nearly as many of those mistakes, making the adult characters more believable but less fun.

In my Christmas mystery, “A Rose from the Ashes”, nineteen-year-old Rae Riley comes to Marlin County to discover her father and her mother’s assailant and if the two are the same man. She does this secretly, entirely alone. A forty-year-old digging into family history might try to hire a private investigator. And a forty-year-old would certainly hesitate to confront a possible killer alone at an abandoned house with only a rifle as protection. A teen would think she could do it.

It’s Easier to Make Teens Grow

When creating a main character, writers are advised to make the character believe a lie, spend the story uncovering the truth, embracing that truth, and then the character has grown and changed by the end of the story.

This is fine character development for a stand alone story. But I find it difficult to sustain that sort of structure over a series. Eventually, the main adult character is going to look like dope because he or she has believed so many lies. Not that it’s not true in real life. I just find it hard to pull off in fiction.

But the teen period of life is a time of growth and change already. That makes teens perfect as a series main character. As he learns about life, he changes over the course of the series.

Why do you write in the genre or genres that you do?

What’s Their Setting for a YA Story?

Last week, I asked you to vote on a plot for the protagonist and antagonist pictured above. I had a tie between the puzzle and the quest. So I chose … the puzzle because that’s what I write. But a puzzle, or mystery, does not have to be related to crime. It’s any problem the protagonist must solve and the antagonist wants to prevent him from solving. Now comes the last block to build a story. What’s their setting for a YA story?

I list some traditional and not so traditional choices, but the main setting should be a place where the protagonist and antagonist come into regular contact. And it should be easy to introduce other characters. We also have to decide if our main characters are high school or college age because that also will affect the choice of setting. Feel free to choose more than one. For example, both characters could work a local pizza place in a small town.

  • Small town
  • Big city
  • Public high school
  • Private high school
  • State university
  • Private college
  • Restuarant
  • Riding stable
  • Charter boat service or other service in a vacation town
  • Library–personal favorite because I worked in libraries for ten years
  • State house in state capital–another personal favorite because my niece just got a job working as a legislative page. Sounds very interesting.
  • Garden center
  • Farm
  • State park

To see the previous prompts for building a YA story, click here.

Let me know your choices in the comments!

How to Create Authentic YA Characters

Since you’ve heard a lot from me this month on how to create authentic YA characters, I decided to pull from previous author interviews I’ve done so you can read other author’s opinions.

What do you think are the keys to creating engaging main characters for young adult readers?

Laurie Lucking

Laurie Lucking

I’ve found that young adult readers seem to really engage with a character when they get to deeply experience that character’s perspective throughout the book. Rather than telling a story or giving limited glances into a character’s mind, narratives that allow the reader to live through the action right alongside the main character – practically feeling like they could be that character – are the ones teens just can’t put down. And I’m right there on the edge of my seat with them!

I still have a long way to go toward writing that kind of immersive point of view, but I think a huge key is having an understanding of the human mind and heart and translating it onto the page. Balancing beautiful prose with the way people actually think. Including internal responses in the midst of actions and dialogue. Taking the time to think through what sensory details your specific character would notice in place of generic descriptions. It’s a long, work-intensive process, but it’s amazing how that in-depth experience really draws readers in!

Read her whole interview here.

C. S. Wachter

C.S. Wachter

Round the characters. Flat or stereotyped characters won’t fly. Even secondary characters need to be more than cardboard cutouts. The characters need to be relatable. They need to experience real feelings: boredom, anger, pain, loss, sadness, confusion, pride. They help drive the story forward and keep the plot moving. Though teens are good at wearing masks of confidence, inside, they question themselves. I don’t try to use slang because I would most likely mess up and use it incorrectly, a big problem. I keep try to keep the language simple and not dated.

Read her whole interview here.

Most YA writers aren’t YA. How do you write authentically about characters younger than you are?

Clare Campbell

Clare Campbell

Young people are awesome! I’ve worked with all kinds of teenagers. From the homeless, to the disabled, to the exceptional, and each of them has a magnetic spark. A spark, I believe, we never lose no matter how old we get. Some of us might forget about it, or deem it too immature, or naïve. But, some of us retain that spark and hold it up as the thing that makes us see the world through a lens of hope. Or, the youthful energy that makes us believe we can achieve the impossible even against the odds. That’s all you need to connect with YA audiences.

Read her whole interview here.

Now it’s your turn. What do you think it takes to create authentic YA characters?

What’s Their Plot for a YA Story?

Last week, I posted photos for readers to choose an antagonist for the young man in the Nike shirt as we assemble the literary building blocks for a YA story. The winner is this red-headed girl. Now that we have our protagonist and antagonist, we can turn to plot. What’s their plot for a YA story?

Plots for a YA Story:

  • Betrayal
  • Revenge
  • The puzzle–in other words, a mystery but it doesn’t have to be crime related
  • Coming of age
  • The quest–this doesn’t have to be a fantasy or sci-fi story
  • The competition
  • Catastrophe and survival*
  • Self-sacrifice*
  • Rebellion*

*I found these plot points in Steal This Plot by June and William Noble.

Please state in the comments which of the following plots you think would work best for this protagonist and antagonist. I’ll announce which plot got the most votes next Monday.

To see the previous prompts for our YA story, click here.

Creating the YA Antagonist

Last week, I wrote about creating the YA protagonist. Now I flip the equation to discuss creating the YA antagonist. A protagonist is only as compelling as the antagonist he or she has to deal with. Would Sherlock Holmes be as memorable without matching wits with Professor Moriarty? You should invest as much care in developing your antagonist as your protagonist.

General Rules for Antagonists

They Don’t Have to be People.

An antagonist is whoever or whatever prevents the protagonist for reaching her goal. In Hatchet by Gary Paulsen, the main character is up against surviving in the Canadian wilderness with nothing but a hatchet and a windbreaker. In the nonfiction book Dove, Robin Lee Graham, who began sailing around the world at sixteen, must battle the sea and his own thoughts while he’s alone on the ocean. The antagonist for the main character in Challenger Deep is his own schizophrenia.

They Don’t Have to be Villains.

The antagonist doesn’t have to be evil or the bad guy. Just the person who is throwing obstacles in the way of the protagonist. Let’s say the main character is a sixteen-year-old boy who wants to become a cop like his late father, who died in the line of duty. His mother is dead set against his goal and does everything in her power to dissuade him in the name of safety. She’s the antagonist but not a villain.

I think it’s far more challenging to write about an antagonist, who is a good person, but is at odds with the protagonist. I can’t rely on painting my antagonist in pure black. I have to use more nuanced colors. While this can be challenging, and even frustrating, there’s also a greater reward if I succeed, creating two characters who aren’t just the good guy and the bad guy.

Rules for YA Antagonists

Your Antagonist is an Adult.

Don’t fall into the cliches I’ve seen in a lot of teen books in which all the adult characters are either stupid or mean or both. The adult characters in a YA story should be as fleshed out as the teen characters. If the adult antagonist is a villain, I have to supply a better reason for his villainy than “I said so”.

It’s difficult for a teen to contend with an adult because of the vast experience an adult has built up. But don’t level the playing field by making the adult antagonist a dope. First, you want your teen main character to have a worthy adversary. As I said in a teen writing workshop I led over the summer, you don’t want Conan the Barbarian going up against the Easter Bunny. You have to develop a realistic way for your teen to overcome the adult antagonist to make the characters both believable and the story rewarding for the reader.

Your Antagonist is a Teen

If your antagonist is a teen, you may run into the flip side of the problem above. To make the clash between protagonist and antagonist interesting, I may end up with two characters who dress like teens but act like adults. Since I write mysteries, I might have a teen as the culprit. Having been a teen and known teens, I don’t buy the teen villain who hatches his plan like a master criminal. What seems more believable is the teen who commits a crime in a sudden burst of anger and then spends the story trying to stay ahead of the police and the teen protagonist.

What are your thoughts on creating the YA antagonist? Who are your favorites?

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