Today I'm cutting straight to the chase. The gold nuggets for today are the highlights from a workshop called "Writing Novels For and About Young Adults" by author Helen Hemphill (LONG GONE DADDY, RUNAROUND).
8 Traits that Define YA
- Teen protagonist
- 200-250 pages
- Marginal adult characters and limited amount of secondary characters
- Brief times span, and a universal and familiar setting
- Few subplots
- Current teen language, slang, expressions
- A positive resolution to the crisis at hand, although never moralistic or In Your Face
- Focus on the experiences and the growth of one MC with problems specific to teens, and the journey into adulthood.
In the last 10-15 years, the resurgence of the YA novel has come up in pure entertainment.
Decidedly teen problems don’t necessarily exist anymore.
Imaginative plots, characters who are more than they seem, and complete creation of a world are all things readers want.
(Photo source: http://cltlblog.wordpress.com/)
* Conflict: Writing is about creating story. At its most basic, story IS conflict. No matter what the idea, something has to happen in the story. Hint from page 1. Choices, actions, and reactions must define and drive the conflict. Characters must be forced to make choices. They must be tested.
* The plot of your novel can’t sag. It can’t be loose or lacking tension and conflict at every turn. Conflict must be at the center of your story.
* Believability: the story must work. It must seem as if it is true. You want your readers to be so immersed that they forget they are reading a book.
* Do a proper set-up. If something unusual happens in chapter 15, you have to set it up in chapter 2.
* Coincidence: don’t use it. You get one per novel. It upsets the balance of reader expectations.
* Avoid cliché. You don’t want to be predictable. Be surprising.
* Resolution: Satisfying ending. You want a definitive change or outcome. It must be in the here and now of the story’s resolution.
o Round characters have the quirks, the insecurities, etc. They are the real ones.
o But in today’s YA, readers want more than just round characters. They need a defining role, trait, or association. They can’t just be normal or ordinary. (Bella, Edward, Katniss, etc.)
o POV is the qualifying factor in a YA novel. The hub. Most YAs are in first person, but that is rather limiting. 3rd person threatens to be too distant, but it can be managed. Action must move forward with each voice. Narrative voice should ring true to life. They should fit the characters. Their dialogue should reflect their personality.
o Super-round characters come from observation combined with imagination.
o “As a writer, you don’t have to live an exciting life; you just have to have friends who do.”
o High entertainment: KIDS ARE READING FOR ENTERTAINMENT.
o You are telling a story. Great plots, characters we care deeply about, and places that enthrall us.
o The best book of all is the one which takes us by surprise… because it refreshes what we already know… borrowed and uniquely imagined.”
(Photo source: http://blogs.learnnc.org/instructify/category/reading/page/5/)
Any thoughts? Do you write YA, and if not, do you think Ms. Hemphill's advice can translate into other genres? And what about those who do write YA: do you agree or disagree with these gold nuggets, or have other things to add?