The Drama of Writing YA
If you know me, you know I love anything young adult. Even after I was married and had children, I never stopped reading it and I especially love to write it! Every time I meet a new author and I find out they write YA, my first question is if I can be a reader for them! 🙂
Not too long ago I would read all those fantastic YA novels and I’d see them from an adult point of view. (Despite how many times I try to convince myself I’m not an adult yet 😉 ) Because of this, I’d often think, ‘Well, if I wrote this, I’d tone down this fight’, or ‘Whoa. Serious mood swings! Get the angst under control!’ So it’s no surprise that as I began to seriously write YA, I’d aim to get my head ‘inside’ a teenagers, but then I’d often strive to think of a more mature response. Something that I’d like to read.
Yeah, except I’d be completely wrong.
I know this because a teenager called me out on it. Ouch.
A couple years ago, I gave the manuscript I’m currently editing – ‘Unveil’ – to a family friend, who was in the fourteen/fifteen age range. She happens to be a pretty serious writer, and she has quite a following on Wattpad. She even has one story with well over 100,000 ‘likes’. Needless to say, I felt fairly confident she’d give me a balanced review!
I emailed the manuscript and waited for her response. I was just so sure she’d love it and would tell all 100,000 of her Wattpad friends and I’d be an instant hit!
Her response: It was good.
Ok, so she hadn’t said it was hard to get through, or confusing, or a plethora of other things that is nightmarish for a writer to hear. But ‘it was good’ isn’t hitting it out of the ballpark, either. I asked her if she could sum up what bothered her about it.
Not enough drama.
She said my YA novel didn’t have enough drama in it. Period.
Of course, I right away had to defend myself, explaining that I was tired of reading YA novel after YA novel where there’s a love triangle, or the main character is wish-washy, bouncing back and forth between boys. I wanted to speak to a more mature audience – one who didn’t want games.
“Yeah, but a teenager doesn’t want to read that,” she said. “High school has drama in it. We’re teenagers. It’s what we do. A teen wants to read what they see every day. Not how they should act.”
Whoa. Really? Teenagers weren’t tired of the constant merry-go-round of relationships and girl fights? What about John Green’s “The Fault in our Stars”?
Oh wait… I’m not John Green.
I realized that there’d always be an exception to the rule (like TFIOS) but that there is a basic formula for what makes up a good YA novel because it works. It has worked in the past. It works now. It will likely continue to work for as long as I write.
She suggested I add in a girl to steal the boy away from the main character. (Ugh! Just what I was trying to avoid!) And that the main character needed more mood swings, where she wasn’t sure of her relationship with the boy and didn’t always get along with other girls. (Ugh again! Just the sort of thing I thought I was redeeming!)
So, I did. Instead of the boy going to prom stag and the main character eventually dancing the night away with him, I have him going with another girl (competition) and still have the main character eventually pulling him away. The same thing was accomplished, but with more theatrics. And ya know what? It wasn’t that hard. I realized there was no need to add an insulting amount of drama to blow things out of proportion, but just adding an eye roll here and a flirt there, really did add some teen flare.
Does any of it have anything to do with the actual storyline? Of course not. But a little bit of drama goes a long way.
What about you? Do you write YA? Do you find it easy to add drama? I’d love to hear what you have to say in the comments below!
Happy reading, friends!