Choose an Antagonist for a YA Story

After tabulating the votes, we have a tie for which one of the photos from last week will be our YA protagonist. To break the tie, I selected … the young man below. I like his thoughtful look. This week, choose an antagonist for a YA story from the other photos I provide. An antagonist doest not have to be a villain. It is just someone, or sometimes, something, that stands in the way of the protagonist from reaching his goal. That antagonist could be someone the main character loves, but for some reason, they are on opposite sides of an issue.

Here’s our protagonist.

Now here are the antagonists. Please let me know in the comments which person you think would be a great one.

For more writing prompts for YA stories, click here.

Creating the YA Protagonist

Creating the YA protagonist is the most important part when it comes to writing a YA story. If your protagonist doesn’t appeal to your audience, nothing else in the story will matter. So how do you create a protagonist that teens will want to get to know from page 1 until the end? From my writing and reading, I think the key ingredients are giving the protagonist characteristics that make them likable and relatable as well as vulnerable.


Your YA protagonist should be someone teen readers want to spend time with. What qualities could your main character possess that would attract teen readers? Reread stories you liked as a teen and take notes. What appealed to you about these teen characters way back when? Was it their sense of humor? Their loyalty to friends? Their bravery? If you don’t remember, read current teen books and make notes about what you like and don’t like about the main characters.


When creating the YA protagonist, you have to make him or her relatable, even if your character is a Plutonian with X-ray eyes, or a page to a medieval knight, or was raised on the run by a father, who is wanted by the F.B.I. The main character has to have some qualities that teens share through time and space.

I fell in love with The Outsiders in high school, although the protagonist, Ponyboy Curtis, is fourteen, lives with his two older brothers since their parents died, and has to worry about getting jumped by the rich kids in 1960’s Tulsa, Oklahoma. I had none of those problems and was a teen in the 80’s, but I related to Ponyboy’s anger over class distinction. He also likes to watch a movie so he could live the story with actors. I was becoming a serious movie fan at the time, so I could relate to Ponyboy’s desire.


Giving your main character certain vulnerabilities goes a long way to making them both likable and relatable. If your protagonist is afraid of driving because of all the responsibilities it entails, that’s a vulernability readers can relate to or sympathize with. If you sympathize with a character, chances are you like her. Also since we all have areas in our life where we’re vulnerable, it makes the character seem human, and therefore, relatable.

Now, a Warning …

Two things that irritate me when I encounter them in protagonist in YA stories are main characters with tons of attitude or wisdom beyond their years.

My objection to the character with attitude is it’s been done. A lot. I understand why. It’s easy and fun to develop a character who is always mouthing off and making snarky comments in his head. I learned this when I wrote an inverse mystery, “Bovine”, from the point of view of a snobbish New York author. But all the nasty observations can be a thin cover for the fact that there isn’t much development of the character.

Of course, your protagonist carries a certain attitude toward life and you have to convey that. Just be sure to flesh out your main character, that he has more going for him than a caustic wit and disrespect for his fellow humans.

When I read about teen characters who move through their lives with more wisdom than Yoda, I’m turned off. A teen can’t know as much as an adult. They haven’t had the time. Now they can be very knowledgeable in certain areas, but when it comes to dealing with people, they should not be masters. Most elderly people are not masters, so it’s silly to create teen characters who have such a deep understanding of other people’s motivations, that they can read them correctly or give advice.

I have to watch this when writing my mysteries with my teen detective. Rae Riley is supposed to be smart. But she’s also nineteen, going on twenty. She will do things wrong simply because of her age, and I have to let her so that readers are convinced she’s nineteen, going on twenty.

For more tips on writing YA, click here.

What advice do you have for creating the YA protagonist? Which books have great YA main characters?

Choose a Protagonist for a YA Story

Protagonist is just an English major way of saying main character. My prompt today is for you to choose a protagonist for a YA story based on the photos below. In the comments, name the one you think would make a good protagonist. I’ll pick the one that gets the most comments, and then next week, we’ll pick an antagonist. By the end of the month, we’ll have the building block for a YA story.

For more writing prompts for YA stories, click here.

If You Want to Write YA Fiction

As we follow “The Journey of Book” this year on my blog, we’ll examine some genres as well as discuss tips on developing plot, settings, and characters. Studying young adult or YA fiction was a natural choice because that’s what I usually write. With a mystery twist. If you want to write YA fiction, keep reading and follow my blog this month for more posts and prompts about this genre.

Before you delve into your story for teens, you need to consider the following and decide if this is the correct genre for your story.

What’s the Age of Your Main Character?

I was reminded on Wikipedia that the age range for the YA genre is twelve to eighteen, although some adults like to read YA. And kids tend to read up. By that I mean, younger kids want to read about older kids and not usually vice versa. If you’re main character is twelve, then your story will appeal to kids eight to ten-years-old and you have a middle grade novel, not a YA one. My mystery, A Shadow on the Snow, has a nineteen-year-old amateur detective, a good age to interest high school readers.

Be aware that there’s a big difference in character development and plot possibilities if your main character is eighteen or nineteen, legally an adult. I’ve made that fact a part of my plotting; the newly-found father of my teen detective Rae isn’t sure what his role is as a parent of an adult because his next oldest child is thirteen.

Is Your Main Character Dealing with Something that Concerns Teens?

This is a topic adult writers fear and spend a considerable time wrestling with. After all, life is so different for teens now, especially those who were teens during the pandemic. Or is it?

One way to discover a relevant problems for your teen main character to deal with is to take a trip back to your teen years. What were your interests back then? What were your fears? What were your joys? Your goals?

I’ve read advice about talking to teens now and asking them those questions, but I only do that if I’m checking on manners and slang. Because I find writing from my own experiences as a teen to be much more authentic than borrowing those thoughts and emotions from someone else.

For example, I fell in love with old movies and classic mysteries in my teen years, which instilled an interest and delight in them I still hold. At seventeen, I discovered the humorous short stories of Damon Runyon. I’d never read stories in which the author wrote in dialect. I thought I’d uncovered a tremendous literary secret.

I can apply that passion to any number of hobbies or pursuits a teen might like, but the way I make it come to life is to remember my emotions about my own hobbies or pursuits as a teen.

What is Your Motivation for Writing YA?

If you want to write YA fiction because you think current YA fiction is too graphic or immoral or boring or unimaginative, and your story will shake up the genre, be very, very careful.

None of those reasons are bad in themselves. But if you start with an agenda, instead of a story, then your story will most likely suffer and be of little interest to readers. That doesn’t mean you can’t explore themes in your stories. But the theme should serve the story, not the other way around, or readers will feel like they are being lectured by the author instead of hearing from the characters.

For more on agenda vs. theme, click here for an excellent article on The Write Conversation. For another view on the author’s view ruining a story, click here.

If you want to write YA fiction, I’d love to read your reasons!

Powered by

Up ↑