Susan’s top ten list of how to write Middle Grade and Young Adult Fiction.
After reading the first chapters of Hunger Games, Twilight, and/or Harry Potter, you’ve decided it’s time for you to quit writing literary fiction and make some real money by writing the next best selling middle grade or young adult novel. Easy right?
“How critical can the undiscerning readers of YA fiction be? They’re kids after all,” you say, overloaded with confidence in your ability to overcome the ever mysterious, impossibly cynical minds of readers aged ten to eighteen.
My answer is to you is an unequivocal, “It’s a lot harder than you think.” So before you quit your day job, heed my advice and read my top ten list for writing middle grade (MG) and young adult (YA) Fiction.
1. Main characters must be in their teens:
15 and above for YA, under 15 is more likely MG. In my novel The End of Normal, the oldest major character (love interest Sawyer Rising) is 15. The story’s protagonists (Olivia and Charlie) are 14 year-old twins. Not only are they super smart, they are also able to kick some serious adult bad guy butt, when necessary. Heroes and heroines aged 14 and 15 are the norm in YA and MG, so find your inner child before embarking on your novel.
3. Action driven:
Unlike literary fiction and a lot of other adult fiction (not to mention a lot of adult life) the characters don’t sit around talking about what they should or should not do, trying to solve problems by talking them to death (where do you think the phrase “Beat a Dead Horse” comes from? Certainly not a YA or MG novel). No, these young heroes react by physically doing what needs to be done. Not all of their actions make sense (see hormones below) and they never look before they leap, which are the ying and yang of YA and MG fiction.
4. Just like their hormones, teenage characters behave erratically, going from one extreme to another:
They might rush wildly into a pack of ghosts while crying for mommy. If you question this, I advise you to let your mind wander to your time as a teen. If you’re honest with yourself, you know exactly of what I speak here.
5. A current theme is to have a teenage girl be desired by two teenage males:
And somewhere in the series she’ll have to choose between them. Oh, and of course, they are all ridiculously good-looking. Do you ever wonder why they’re always so good looking instead of average looking? I do and admit that it bothers me so I purposely make all of my characters attractive in an average sort of way.
9. MG and YA heroes take chances and make big decisions:
With no parents to save them, they are forced to face the consequences. Young readers seem to relish this and ride the coattails of their heroes into all sorts of crazy schemes.
10. As with all good fiction, it must be well written:
This is the most important thing of all. Readers of MG and YA fiction are sophisticated readers with high expectations so don’t think you can skip important things like interesting plotting or well-drawn characters. If the only reason you’ve decided to write this genre is because you think you can throw any old thing together and make a boat load of money, I suggest you put down your laptop and walk away because young readers deserve the best.
About Susan C Arscott
Susan C Arscott followed the above list in her first YA novel, The End Of Normal, (book cover blurb: After surviving a mysterious drone attack, 14 year-old Olivia, twin brother Charlie, and friends Clara, Adam, and Sawyer uncover a conspiracy to hide the discovery of a second earth.) Look for it June 1, 2014 at any online bookseller.
She is currently working on several NA romances based on her beloved Jane Austen's novels. You can find out more at http://www.susanarscott.com
A Writer's Tale
Scarlett Van Dijk
Writer of young adult, fantasy series, the Sky Stone series, poetry and short stories.
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