Writing Tip — Cliches I Hate in YA Fiction

readw-515531_1280Since I started the month writing about why I write YA fiction, I’m ending it with cliches I  hate in YA fiction.

All the adults are mean, stupid, or unrealistic.

All the characters in a book should have an understandable motive for how they act. In YA fiction, the adult characters should be as well developed as the teen ones. If the father of the main character is cruel to him, the author must provide a reason other than it’s convenient for the plot. If the parents don’t know what their teens are up to, it shouldn’t be because they are too stupid to realize their kids are into trouble.

This kind of character motivation was brought home to me by my friend, author Cindy Thomson. I wrote about this in my post “Digging Deeper into Characters”. With both your major or minor character, you need to ask why characters act the way they do. I think this is especially important when developing a villain. She does things because she’s bad isn’t a good reason.

In my novel The Truth and Other StrangersSheriff Acker hates the family my main character belongs to and goes outside of the law to deal with them. Why? Because some members of the Lody family are con artists, and the sheriff assumes all Lodys are bad. But why does he go outside the law? Because he thinks like a Pharisee. He believes he acts so perfectly in both his personal and professional life that he can accurately judge when to use extra-legal methods to protect law-abiding citizens from anyone he labels a criminal.

When any of my characters isn’t behaving correctly or won’t behave at all, I need to ask why. Over and over until I come up with a realistic answer.

Private Schools

In YA book after YA book, the main setting is a private school. In Christian fiction, it’s often a private Christian high school. A variation is for a kid in a private school to lose her money and be forced to attend a public school. I don’t have the numbers in front of me, but I think most American teens never attend a private school, certainly very few attend a private high school. My kids don’t. The teens in my church don’t.

I see some advantages for this setting. The teens have less oversight if they board at a private school, giving the author more room to get them into trouble. It’s also an easy way to employ the fish-out-of-water plot: poor, deserving teen wins a scholarship to snooty private school and is set upon by rich brats. (By the way, why do so many YA books deal with rich brats? Do publishers or authors thinks poor kids don’t have interesting problems?)

Although authors can use this setting well, new authors should find other ways to get their characters into trouble or throw them into uncomfortable situations. The private school is growing old. And I think readers would appreciate seeing characters in a setting more familiar to them.

Your turn. What cliches do you hate in YA fiction?

Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Laurie Lucking

My guest today is YA fantasy author Laurie Lucking. Instead of an interview, Laurie has written a post on authenticity. It has so many great points! Take it away, Laurie!

Authenticity in Writing for Teens

Laurie Lucking HeadshotOne of the cautions I hear most about writing for a teen audience is you have to be authentic—if you’re not genuine, they’ll spot it from a mile away. The thought makes me nervous! I’m not a teen, nor do I currently have any young adults in my family or close circle of friends. So will my teenage characters come off as inauthentic stereotypes? Will I distance myself from readers by sounding like a preachy adult?

But here’s the thing—I was a teen, back in the day. In fact, it was such a formative time in my life that I wanted to write books like the ones that shaped me in middle school and high school. As I write my teen characters, I can still tap into those memories and emotions. Even more importantly, I bring myself back to the simple but essential reminder that each teen is an individual. And I’ve found the key to avoiding stereotypes and preachiness is to focus on writing individual characters. Complex, relatable characters that read like real people. In the case of young adult fiction, these characters happen to be teenagers when the story takes place. But they’re so much more than just “teens.”

Do you see the difference? Writing how you imagine all teens think, act, and speak leads to characters who feel like stereotypes. Yes, many teenagers like certain music, watch certain television shows, or use particular slang. But not all. Some quote Shakespeare, some rap along with Jay-Z, others play classical music on their oboes or read every issue of Seventeenmagazine. A select few might do all four! So write your characters as interesting, three-dimensional, sometimes surprising individuals, not generic teens as you expect them to act based on news stories or the grumblings of older generations.

In a similar vein, refrain from using your story to illustrate how you think teens should act. As with characters who feel like stereotypes, an obvious agenda will distance readers from you and your narrative. Even inspiring characters must be written as individuals, or readers may find them preachy and impossible to relate to. Some young adults live very virtuous lives, and there’s nothing wrong with using that as a starting point for a character as long as he or she also has some faults, quirks, and temptations, with dialogue and thoughts that are realistic instead of reading like mini sermons. Or, if a character starts out in a bad situation and matures and grows during the course of the story, make those struggles tangible and multifaceted, not a straightforward climb from wrong to right. As many of us know, learning important life lessons is never easy whether you’re a child, teen, or adult!

All this isn’t to say we can lose sight of the fact that our principal characters are teenagers. They shouldn’t think and act just like adults, nor have the relative innocence of grade schoolers. The young adult phase of life is unique in its endless possibilities, intense emotions, strong but complex bonds with peers, and the excitement and angst of being so close and yet so far from being a true adult. My favorite part of writing for teens is embracing the trials and joys of that extraordinary phase of life between childhood and adulthood, and I hope that comes through in the characters and stories I write.

Now I want to hear from you! What do you find the most enjoyable or challenging about writing for teens? Do you have any tips to share? Thanks for having me today!


Common-coverOnly one person knows of the plot against the royal family and cares enough to try to stop it—the servant girl they banished.

Leah spends her days scrubbing floors, polishing silver, and meekly curtsying to nobility. Nothing distinguishes her from the other commoners serving at the palace, except her red hair.

And her secret friendship with Rafe, the Crown Prince of Imperia.

But Leah’s safe, ordinary world begins to splinter. Rafe’s parents announce his betrothal to a foreign princess, and she unearths a plot to overthrow the royal family. When she reports it without proof, her life shatters completely when the queen banishes her for treason.

Harbored by an unusual group of nuns, Leah must secure Rafe’s safety before it’s too late. But her quest reveals a villain far more sinister than an ambitious nobleman with his eye on the throne.

Can a common maidservant summon the courage to fight for her dearest friend?

Common purchase links

Amazon: https://www.amazon.com/dp/B07958ZV6X

Barnes & Noble: https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/common-laurie-lucking/1127863203

iBooks: https://itunes.apple.com/us/book/common/id1338176577

Kobo: https://www.kobo.com/us/en/ebook/common-1

Goodreads: https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/36755967-common


An avid reader practically since birth, Laurie Lucking discovered her passion for writing after leaving her career as an attorney to become a stay-at-home mom. When she gets a break from playing board games and finding lost toys, she writes young adult fantasy with a strong thread of fairy tale romance. Her debut novel, Common, won the Christian Editor Connection’s Excellence in Editing Award, placed third in the Christian Women Reader’s Club Literary Lighthouse Awards, and is a finalist in the ACFW Carol Awards. She has short stories published in Mythical Doorways, Encircled, and the upcoming Christmas Fiction off the Beaten Path. Laurie is the Secretary of her local ACFW chapter and a co-founder of Lands Uncharted, a blog for fans of clean young adult speculative fiction. A Midwestern girl through and through, she currently lives in Minnesota with her husband and three children. Find out more by visiting www.laurielucking.com.

Or on these sites: her blog, Amazon, Reader’s Group, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Goodreads, and Pinterest.



Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Clare Campbell

Picture1.Today, fantasy YA writer Clare Campbell is here to talk about her experience writing YA fiction. Welcome, Clare!

One of the great things about YA fiction is that you can write in any genre as along as your main character is a teen. What genre do you write? Why?

Fantasy. I blame Disney for whisking me off to Serengeti sunrises, Arabian nights, and bewitched castles.

What’s great about YA fantasy is that it seems to be rooted in these early fairytales. Some of the best YA hits have all been wonderful re-twists on fairytale folklore. It’s fodder for imagination, and I believe that’s important to preserve. Young lives are so ‘plugged-in’ to social media, it’s essential that a good story transports them to other worlds, landscapes, and exciting concepts.

What I love most about YA fiction is that it explores issues important to young people. It’s their voice in the humdrum of society. If you want to know what’s bothering the youth of today, walk into a bookstore and take a gander at the YA titles. They’ll scream off the shelf in bold color. They’ll dazzle with fierce voices that dismantle worn-out kingdoms. They’ll bleed a rainbow of love. They’ll sing of acceptance and true beauty. Words for everyone regardless of age.

Which comes first when starting a story – character, plot, or setting?

For me, it’s a strong sense of character. If you know who the character is then their attitude will inform the plot, and the setting will veil around them like an outward projection of themselves.

Ever notice how a serious character creates a moodier atmosphere in a story? Or, how a kid with attitude lives in this bold, ‘in-yo-face’ world?

If I’ve a strong attachment to the nature and purpose of the main character, the setting and plot seem to flow with ease. Everything I write tends to fall into the magical or mythic, so I recommend having a constant nose for good folklore. Every chance I get I’m travelling, or reading about various cultures, mythologies, or religions. It gives me a diverse well of information to draw upon.

I love reading myths and folklore, looking for inspiration.

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.

What are some other unique challenges about writing YA?

The market! It can sound like doomsday to authors. At times I felt like there was a sign on the gate, ‘don’t bother, we’re full.’

And then I remembered something important.

If you treat something like an impossible mountain, you’ll never climb it. I started off not knowing a darn thing about writing, and made two million readers fall in love with my online, fanfiction—an oversaturated market. I made that mountain move. I think I’ve enough brazen impudence, and youthful spark in me to kick the gate down too.

Success is in the mind. May the odds be ever in your favor. Live long and prosper my fellow YA authors.

What’s been your most unusual source of inspiration for a story or character?

Dame Judi Dench did this amazing documentary on trees. Trees play a significant role in Irish mythology, and a significant role to the world. Dame Judi and I appear to share this quirky interest. At one part in the documentary she was able to prove that trees communicate. At another she held a stethoscope up to the trunk and listened to it “breathe.” This ‘consciousness of trees’ really shaped how I tackled world building. I was able to give life to those silent giants, almost making them characters in their own right.

Thanks so much for stopping by!


Clare is a successful and highly popular author of award winning Fanfiction, with thousands of online fans and over 2 million reads on her Lord of the Rings Fanfic epic. Clare has also won several writing awards. Her YA fantasy Tempest, was awarded runner-up for Serious Writer, Writer of the Year’ 2019.

As well as writing, Clare is an experienced Occupational Therapist, with a passion for enabling people. Her love of storytelling, merged with her positive messages, inspires her to create meaningful narratives that represent diversity and promote unity.

As a native Irish woman, she can usually be found searching for the fair folk, exploring ancient Viking harbors, and defending the odd castle. To learn more about Clare, discover her fanfiction, and join her on her publication journey, visit; www.CJCampbellOfficial.com.

Join Clare’s mailing list and receive platform building hints and access to exclusive online content: http://cjcampbellofficial.com/contact-us/. 

You can also follow her on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.



Picture2Platform often scares so many authors, especially in YA, but do you know a lot of young people read and write fanfiction?

I began my career writing fanfiction, and to date have thousands of committed fans, and 2 million readers. How? Well, I learned how to identify and write fanfiction to create MAJOR platform.

I’ve put together this geeky, fandom-filled class for Serious Writer Academy to teach other authors how to build platform, engage with readers, and have a ton of fun doing it. Find out more info here: https://www.seriouswriteracademy.com/clare-campbell/













Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, Hope Bolinger

65634667_2083290778641269_7865434335707398144_nSo happy to have Hope Bollinger as my guest today. I met Hope at the Ohio Christian Writer’s Conference in 2018. Not only is she an author but also an agent with Cyle Young and a fellow Buckeye! Welcome, Hope!

One of the great things about YA fiction is that you can write in any genre as along as your main character is a teen. What genre do you write? Why?

I do contemporary with a speculative twist (whether it be angels, time travel, etc.). I always felt like the real world often has some speculative elements if you look closely enough. As for fantasy and other subgenres, I never got into them as much while reading them. I wanted to dive into topics which teens in today’s society had to tackle. But I like to throw in a little “weird” into the story.

Which comes first when starting a story – character, plot, or setting?

The plot. I usually think of what situations I never would want to end up in, and then I throw ill-suited characters into those scenarios.

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

I’m 22, so I’m just weaning off of the YA age range. But I try to have conversations often with those in that age group through youth groups and talking in school. I try to stay well-read in that genre as well.

What are some other unique challenges about writing YA?

So, so many. First, as mentioned above, you need to sound authentic. Too many YA books talk down to teens. Second, if you write cleaner YA, you have to balance the line of talking about edgy topics while keeping the manuscript free of profanity, violence, or sex. Third, you have to compete in a very crowded space. You want an original idea that still plays into some tropes, so publishers and readers won’t reject you right away.

What’s been your most unusual source of inspiration for a story or character?

Hot topic X Tumblr making a Christian baby. Hence, Hannah from Blaze (my debut) was born. She has a weird morbid sense of humor and can scare away quite a few people, but I love her unapologetic sense of self.

Thanks so much for stopping by!


61617836_2826857410872236_2353109429248851968_nIf you can’t stand the heat, don’t walk into the fire.

Danny knew his sophomore year would be stressful . . . but he didn’t expect his school to burn down on the first day.

To make matters worse (and they were about to get a lot worse), he — and his three best friends — receive an email in their inboxes from the principal of their rival, King’s Academy, offering full-rides to attend the town’s prestigious boarding school. Danny wants nothing to do with King’s Academy and says no. Of course his mother says yes. So off he goes to be bullied and picked on for not being part of the popular and rich “in crowd.”

From day one at King’s, Danny encounters hazing, mocking insults from girls at the “popular and pretty” table, and cafeteria food that, for such a prestigious school, tastes as if it were purchased from a military surplus supply warehouse. If he survives, Danny will have to overcome his fears of failure, rejection, and loneliness—all while standing strong in his beliefs and walking into the fire.


Hope Bolinger is a literary agent at C.Y.L.E. and a recent graduate of Taylor University’s professional writing program. More than 350 of her works have been featured in various publications ranging from Writer’s Digest to Keys for Kids. She has worked for various publishing companies, magazines, newspapers, and literary agencies and has edited the work of authors such as Jerry B. Jenkins and Michelle Medlock Adams. Her column “Hope’s Hacks,” tips and tricks to avoid writer’s block, reaches 3,000+ readers weekly and is featured monthly on Cyle Young’s blog, which receives 63,000+ monthly hits. She is excited her modern-day Daniel “Blaze” just released with IlluminateYA (an imprint of Lighthouse Publishing of the Carolinas) and they just contracted the sequel “Den.” She enjoys all things theater, cats, and fire. You can find more about her at www.hopebolinger.com and on Facebook and Instagram.



Writing Tip — Guest Blogger, June Breland Whatley

clip_image001As I head out on vacation with my family, I am featuring guest bloggers who write YA. I’m eager to share their insights in the genre close to my heart. First up is June Breland Whatley. She’s already written a nonfiction book and is turning her hand to a YA novel. Welcome, June!

One of the great things about YA fiction is that you can write in any genre as along as your main character is a teen. What genre do you write? Why?

I’m currently working on, Beware the Fallen. It is an Allegory, or some people call it a Speculative, because it is set in a ‘fallen garden of Eden’-type setting. I love writing about Christian discovery and growth for young people because research shows that possibly as many as 85% of Christian teens, when they go to a secular college, fall away from church and away from their faith. I would like to help instill a deeper understanding and deeper faith in our young people. We need young ‘heroes of faith’ today.

Which comes first when starting a story – character, plot, or setting?

That is hard to say. The original idea for Beware the Fallen came from some photos of a friend’s children. That gave me an idea for a story and I had my characters. Beware the Fallen has grown from there. But these days the plot comes first, although the characters in this book and the next #2 and #3 are the same. They have become very personal to me. They are like family that I want to help train. I guess I would say, characters come first and then they write the plot.

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

I was young once, although I don’t think that counts because things are so much different today. I rely on my grandkids for inspiration and the new words for this generation. My grandson is about the age of the main character Ashton, though he is more of a Mican by nature. (Just a teaser for the book.)

What are some other unique challenges about writing YA?

Building a platform of YA readers is a challenge. They ‘friend’ people their own age, but I haven’t found a way to get into their Social Media circle. Mostly I have parents and other writers on Fb, Twitter, etc. Does anyone have any tips to share? Part of the holdup is that the book is not yet published, but I’m working with an editor.

What’s been your most unusual source of inspiration for a story or character?

I guess that would be the horse, named Warrior. As I have mentioned, my characters for this series were inspired by some amazing photos. The photographer had the children dressed in ‘period’ costumes. There was even a horse in the pics that knelt to the little girl. I named him Warrior. He took on a personality and a role of his own. The whole story grew from those great photographs.

I will gladly send chapter 1 of Beware the Fallen to anyone who is interested. To receive your copy, send a (1.) friends’ request and a (2.) private message with (3.) your email address to either of the pages above and (4.) Like the page (if you enjoy the chapter). Thank you, and Blessings!

Thanks for stopping by! You can follow June on her Facebook at June Breland Whatley, author and June Ireland Whatley, author page.


clip_image003My previous book is available, #LifeChange: A Treasure Hunt for More is currently available under the name June Breland Whatley on Amazon. It is nonfiction, for MG-Senior Adults. It is about a dream from the Lord and shows how some people fear becoming a Christian and how to protect oneself from attack, even after becoming a Christian.


I earned a combination Master of Arts degree, in Education/Counseling, from Regent University. I have worked as a teacher, college counselor and a testing tech for a Neuropsychologist, but my life goal, through my writing and speaking, is to introduce people to Christ or give them tools to draw closer to Him.

The first book was on socialization, to the Homeschool Market, Will My Child Fit? Socialization no longer seems to be the issue, as it was twenty years ago, so it is out of print.

Beware the Fallen will be my third book.







I earned a combination Master of Arts degree, in Education/Counseling, from Regent University. I have worked as a teacher, college counselor and a Testing Tech for a Neuropsychologist, but my life goal, through my writing and speaking, is to introduce people to Christ or give them tools to draw closer to Him.

Powered by WordPress.com.

Up ↑