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?
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!
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.
Most YA writers aren’t YA. How do you write authentically about characters younger than you are?
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.
Now it’s your turn. What do you think it takes to create authentic YA characters?