My post yesterday about the conference I attended made me dig up my old notes. I found some great advice in there I had forgotten since I attended. The best seminar by far was the one called "Young Adult: Why Write It, How Not To" taught by the editor-in-chief of an award winning small press. Many of the things I learned I am employing today. They may seem like no-brainers, but they were quite enlightening to me at the time.
Most importantly, don't dumb down or patronize your words just because you are writing for kids. Kids are smart and will spot that a mile away. Mine do. They also have a strong sense of justice. You have to decide how far you will go before your character offends your audience's sense of right vs. wrong. I find I analyze that as I write now.
Another biggie is that while your story will have an antogonist, it won't always be the bad guy. This was a stunner for me and helped me out of a writing corner. Your antagonist can be the person who loves them the most, but just keeps them from getting what they want. He or she will hinder, challenge, or outright deny them their goal, while loving them all the way. In this way, the antagonist will illustrate the protagonist the most and help us understand him the best. This conflict, then, drives the story. Isn't that awesome?
Here's a couple more eye openers for me: Dialogue should NEVER reveal the character. Only action reveals the character. That, for me, was the definition of show, don't tell. Take a paragraph you've written that just isn't working for you. Yank out the yammer and rewrite it with show words. Now read it out loud. Better, right? I love, love, love doing that. Works every time. Layer in sensory words for taste and texture. End each paragraph with a landing line, a pause that makes the reader WANT to read more. Then you are exciting the reader's curiosity. Kids bore easily. You as the writer have to keep their world alive.
Another cool trick: A one word paragraph punches the reader in the stomach with finality. Here's an example. The landing line would be: She said she was pregnant.
See how powerful it is when it sits by itself? Do this on your first page and an agent can't help but be interested in what you do next.
Great notes, right? See? GO TO A CONFERENCE. I'm telling you. Worth the money. :-)