Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Things to Remember When Writing YA

I have been asked to be a judge in an upcoming short story contest being held on one of the groups I frequent on facebook.  I consider the request to be a great honour indeed.  Only three authors were asked and of the three, two of us appear to be receiving extremely favorable reviews for our book and one has a huge following for a book due out next month.  One of us is very active in the making of book trailers and all three of us are quite active in the marketing of ourselves, our brand and our published pieces.  We have given interviews, we blog often and mostly about writing, and all that being said, I believe we are all three wonderful candidates as judges.
We are myself, author of Spellbound, Scott Prussing, author of Breathless, and Kyberlee Burks-Miller, author of the soon-to-be released Compulsion.

The contest is a short story contest for a YA short, not to exceed 7500 words, beginning July 30 thru Aug, 6, 2011/  Get details here: http://www.facebook.com/event.php?eid=108939899205399.  Anyone who is a member of  YA Reads on facebook is eligible to enter.  Check it out!

I thought it might be a good time to give some of my tips about writing young adult.  These are just my suggestions.  None of these should be cast in stone.
  1. Remember at all times that writing for teens doesn't mean write as though they are stupid.  They aren't. In most cases, they are highly intelligent kids, learning about themselves and feeling their way through some of the most enlightening periods of their lives.  Respect that.
  2. Don't trivialize what they are going through.  If your think the scene you wrote sounds like a bad after-school special, it probably does.  Treat your characters with dignity, no matter what you have them going through.
  3. Don't think the lingo and terminology from YOUR youth will still play today.  It won't.  And your reader will realize it almost on the first page if you try and fake it.  If you intend to write for a specific age group, you have to spend time with them.  Join a library group and read to them, volunteer at a school, or just go hang out at the beach.  But do it A LOT.  One hour at the mall won't do it.  Teens have a whole different language and it will take time and dedication to master it.  There is no Rosetta Stone for teenspeak.
  4. Understand a teen's attention span is about the same to us as our life is to the life of the common housefly.  SHORT.  You have to capture it on the first page or they toss the book/ipad/kindle aside and grab a DS/Wii/PSP instead.  There is no world-building/character-study/working-up-to-it-ness allowed in a middle-grade or young, young-adult book.  You have to slam them into the action IMMEDIATELY and keep them there for the whole first chapter.  They have to be asking questions at the end of the first paragraph and wanting answers or you already lost them.
  5. Covers are EVERYTHING.  Splashy, gaudy, dripping with color, or with a teen just like them on the cover and they will buy it every time.  Think of every Sarah Dessen book you ever saw.  What's on the cover?  Something that relates to a teen-aged girl, right?  Look at her latest one....back view of low-rise jeans, bottoms covering the feet, hands stuffed in the back pocket in the classic "What-ever." pose.  That cover SOLD that book.  Plus her name of course....synonymous with teen angst and empathy.
  6. Here's the plus side:  If you get all that right, teens practically DEMAND books they love get made into movies.  They buy and buy and buy until agents and movie producers sit up and take notice and before you know it Mandy Moore and KStew and Emma Stone are lining up to play your ansgst teenaged heroine in a movie based on your book!  (So I dream.  We all do.  Whatever.  Move on.)
All I'm saying is everyone thinks it's so easy to write YA and I just want you to know, it's not.  Just remember, as complicated as you were when you were a young adult, consider putting all THAT done on paper.  Right?  I rest my case.

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