I’m not sure I’m the best person to be giving out tips – my only qualification for writing YA is being a mother of teenagers (and of course having been a Young Adult myself, back in pre-history). I’ve not studied the genre, written a learned thesis, or spent a lifetime selling books into the market.
My success has been based on the fact that I wrote for one reader – one very well defined, curious and intelligent twelve year old – my daughter Ellie, and unconsciously these were the rules I set for myself.
Tip 1. Know your reader. As I planned my first book, and then later, as I wrote it, at every point I was asking myself “What would Ellie think about this? Would she believe it? Would she behave this way? Is this boy someone she would fancy?” When I wasn’t sure I would ask her (sometimes in a rather roundabout fashion because she didn’t know what I was doing) and listen to her answers. The result (according to my publisher) was a really strong voice, and that makes the book more believable.
Tip 2. Use the sort of vocabulary that they should know, not what you know that they already know. I believe that reading is the best way to increase your vocabulary, so I don’t shirk away from using words which might be new to the readers, but put into a context where they can guess the meaning.
Tip 3. Don’t try and speak like a teenager. This may be different for some of the younger writers, of course, but I feel very uncomfortable with using the teenage slang in my books. I’m pretty sure I won’t get it right, I don’t like reading it, and it will probably date. Also – and this is much harder – don’t swear, This is entirely unrealistic, but you have to consider the potential market for the books, and if you are writing for the young teenage market as I am, no swearing is allowed.
Tip 4. On a related note, be careful with technology in your books. If it’s a contemporary setting, think twice about naming the games console or phone which your character is using, Something which you want to show as being cool could be last season’s news by the time your book actually gets to the shelves.
Tip 5. Get yourself a Beta reader. Find a willing victim of the right sort of age who will read the draft and be honest with you. I’ve found this really useful in identifying where a plot is becoming too complicated, or the guy isn’t appealing enough or the friendships aren’t ringing true. My daughter Ellie reads all my books first, and she doesn’t mind being brutal with me.
Most importantly though, I think, is to read. There are so many great YA writers out there now, covering so many different genres, and we can all learn from them.
So those are my rules for writing YA. What are yours?