I just love to see young authors coming up through the ranks, don’t you? As a book editor, I’m often giving story writing tips to teenagers and young adults as they’re grappling with learning this craft.
I just love talking to high schoolers, and even junior-high folks, about story and characters and how they can begin their fiction-writing careers.
I’ve also worked with a number of young writers, who’ve become well-published authors. J.L. Woodson’s Superwoman’s Child was nominated for the 38th NAACP Image Awards for “Outstanding Literary Work”! His first published novel, The Things I Could Tell You, began as a high school assignment and grew into a beautiful book.
Of course, we talk about all things story/character, but what are the main points I try to instill in young writers?
Here are 5:
1. Stick to what you know.
Especially when starting out, writing about the things you know lets you focus on the characters and story, rather than having to deal with all the things you don’t know in addition to everything else.
The world of YA is filled with enough conflict for a thousand books! And that’s what your readers will want from your story anyway.
There will be time enough for adult themes when you get there 🙂
2. Speaking of audience . . .
Of all story-writing tips, this one spans all genres.
Write for your audience. Not for someone else’s.
Get very clear on who your reader is. Keep that forefront in your mind, then address what your readers want.
Teen readers want stories about the things they’re going through, not what some ratty adult is dealing with. They get enough of the latter in real life.
So many themes play out for this category—peer pressure, parents, girlfriends/boyfriends, school, sports, and the list goes on and on.
Explore these themes—thoroughly. They’re a gold mine of plots and characters for you to draw from.
3. Create characters who are just a hair older than your audience.
Young readers want a hero who is just a year or so ahead of them.
Now, that seems to fly in the face of number one, no? And in some ways, it does. You haven’t experienced personally the issues someone older than you has. Then again, you have older siblings, or cousins, or neighbors, or classmates, or . . .
Watch them. Talk to them. They’ve hopefully learned something about life that you’re just now trying to master.
Which of course, kills two ducks with one shot.
And, by the time the book is written, edited, revised, rewritten, you’ll be there anyway and can add the nuances that make it all oh-so real.
4. Base at least some of your characters loosely on people you know.
Writers do this anyway, and it’s great to learn this now. Because this causes you to look deeper into people, to wonder of their motivations, their trials and tribulations, to have empathy for them.
One thing all authors need is empathy for their characters. Even the bad guys! That’s what makes for deep, rich, nuanced people on your pages.
Then, let your creativity run from there, and fashion these people into characters of their own.
5. Stick to it.
Your first book may go nowhere. Your second may crash and burn as well. Writing well is a long, exacting process.
One of my favorite young authors, Kevin Don Porter, couldn’t find a home for his first manuscript. But he kept on. And kept on. His wonderful ‘Tweener book, Missing, went on to be published by a literary press, and his career took off!
I know—this can be difficult in the face of rejection. But all writers go through rejections. Tons of them, in fact. It’s just the nature of the beast.
Story-writing tips would be nothing without this last one: Believe in yourself and believe in your talent. Believe that you have the fortitude to make writing your life, and be successful at it.
As a book editor, if I can impart that last bit, my job has been successful.
So what have you got to lose? Dive in and see where your creativity takes you!