Despite its widely popular levels of readership, Young Adult fiction hasn’t always been the household name it is today. In fact, it’s only over the last decade or so that Young Adult, or YA, novels have truly made their impact in the world of literature.
Typically defined as a category written for those between the ages of 12 and 18, Young Adult fiction has expanded beyond tweens and teens, reaching adult readers on a daily basis. But what is it that draws readers to this genre, and how can you implement this in your work as an author?
1. Write a Relatable Heroine
A large part of the appeal of Young Adult books comes from the relatability of the heroines. Now, you could say that this is important throughout all genres of books, and to some extent this is largely true. What is unique about Young Adult fiction, however, is the centrality of your main character. Readers need to feel they can connect with the heroine in almost all aspects of their journey, regardless of whether the novel’s set in a far-off land or simply in a small, white-picket town. Ensuring your main character is relatable will allow your audience to easily connect with the journey they take, better allowing them to empathise and fully immerse themselves in the world you have created.
2. Think Like a Teen
This can be harder than you might originally think, especially if your teen self feels worlds away from where you are now. Regardless, conveying that all-important teen or tween point of view is crucial to the flow of your story. One of the best ways to achieve this is by spending time with your target audience. If you’re writing as and for 16 year-olds but haven’t had any contact with that age group since you were last in school, chances are you’ll end up alienating your audience rather than connecting with them. Just as you would research for any other genre of novel, it’s crucial with Young Adult fiction that you’re able to convince your readers of the authenticity of your characters’ age and life experiences to capture that true teen essence.
3. Make it a Page Turner
Keeping the story moving is crucial to Young Adult fiction. Unlike adult novels, where authors have the luxury of spending chapters building anticipation, Young Adult fiction tends to be more demanding when it comes to the pace of the storyline. So, while it’s important you’re able to build tension, it’s equally important you do so in a timely manner. This isn’t to say Young Adult authors must rush the plot, but more that readers should be given pockets of excitement throughout. This is often why many YA novels are set in dystopian worlds – although this isn’t a necessity, as John Green (The Fault in Our Stars) and Stephen Chbosky (The Perks of Being a Wallflower), among others, have successfully proven. Whether you’re utilising the thrill of adrenaline to keep the page turning or adopting a sense of wanderlust, so long as your reader remains thoroughly and entirely engaged, you’re onto a winner.
4. Develop Complex Emotions
If you spend much time around teenagers, or remember how you were yourself, you’ll likely know how deep and thoughtful teens can be. There’s no denying it, being a teenager is hard. Because of this, it’s often equally as difficult to capture this complexity of emotion in your writing. In the transition from child to adult, things become foggy, intertwined and confusing. This sense of journey needs to be reflected in your work. Readers require the immersive feeling of falling in love, making difficult decisions, enduring life’s torments, coping with mental and physical health, or handling grief, all while feeling it’s for the very first time.
5. Shine the Light at the End of the Tunnel
Young Adult fiction frequently deals with dark and heavy topics, which is often a big draw for the genre’s readers. Encapsulating that coming-of-age sense of independence in dealing with such themes for the first time is crucial to the structure of a Young Adult novel’s plot. Growing up can be an intimidating thing and this is something all audiences can relate to. Young Adult fiction often deals with this through eliminating the hand-holding comfort many of us will have experienced and oftentimes poses very real barriers for the heroine to independently overcome.
As an author, while your novel may deal with intense themes, it’s important to allow your readers that glimmer of hope as you draw your novel to a close. Life is difficult, but tomorrow is a new day. This is a theme you must ensure to incorporate as the heroine prepares to face her final hurdle and overcome the challenges that lie ahead.