For the fourth stop on my blog tour for my WWII historical fiction novel Why Aren’t You Sweet Like Me??, Ellen from Always YA at Heart asked me to talk about writing to the YA fiction audience. Also, my manuscript for EMPIRE (YA Fantasy) is almost done! Many thanks to Shane over at Itching for Books for setting up these guest postings! (Shane is also doing a giveaway on his site for a signed copy of my novel)
To hook a young audience
Youth in America are bombarded by materialism, instant communication, temptation, and violence in a way that they never have before. Turn on the hit show “Vampire Diaries” and you have sex, underage drinking, and prolific gore wrapped up in a pretty package. However, this show is also shrouded under a fantastical veil that removes the audience from the situation. It is not inclusive; therefore, it does not invite the audience in to be a part of it. It is this veil that keeps the actions portrayed on this series non-traumatic but still fairly controversial.
Between relationships, video games, movies, television, sports, and school, how can writers break through to young adults? And how do we hook the attention of an entire generation with the written word? We can identify with them. Character building, not just an intriguing action, should be the basis of the hook. If we appeal to the humanity of the audience, we can build a relationship that is not easily severed.
Think about a favorite book that you have read recently. What about the first few pages reeled you in?
In the first book in the Vampire Diaries series, Elena has the issue of being placed into a very particular box. She knows what’s expected of her. All of her actions (save for writing in her diary) are set in motion by others but she propels them. Why? Because she wants to fit in. She wants to be in control. Her insecurities are a vulnerability and so she locks them away. We can all empathize with this. When we want to fit in, we fake it if we have to. Only Stephan breaks down her barriers and show her that she doesn’t always have to be what others want her to be.
In Unearthly, Clara has greatness thrust upon her while she is also the new kid in school (with unfortunate hair) who yearns to be close to the good-looking, popular Christian. Again, I think 90% of girls can relate.
And in the Harry Potter books, we have three possible heroes to identify with – just in case Harry, himself (an average person with extraordinary circumstances), isn’t enough.
So when reading YA fiction, how do we get roped in? With everything else in our lives that tells us not to commit too much to one thing, sitting down with a book and reading the entirety of it is made possible by the hook and micro-tension (as agent Don Maass calls it) within the text. As such, when we write YA fiction, we must give the audience a character that latches onto their soul but also presents enough mystery that we MUST KEEP GOING.
Within the first minutes of the movie “The Wrestler,” we see a broken down has-been of a man sleeping in his car after a theatrical wrestling match. Kids come and knock on his car windows, effectively waking and angering the sleeping man. Why would these kids venture to do such a thing? Don’t they know how volatile he is? The irony here is that he chases the kids – not to yell at them or punish them – but to play with them. At this, I had to know more. **As a side note, my WWII historical fiction novel Why Aren’t You Sweet Like Me?? starts in just this way: with a deep connecting insight into the main character. My work-in-progress, EMPIRE, does as well.
So if you are writing to this age group, take your first few paragraphs. Are they memorable? Are they urgent? Do they create tension and mystery while also building a bridge? Read them aloud first, and then ask yourself: “If I didn’t write this, would I be instantly connected?”
In this world of death and decay and debauchery, we, as writers, are in constant competition. We must seize control over other influences. Create worlds that are a safe haven from all that young adults must deal with today. Build a Hogwarts, a Forks, or a Middle Earth. Make maps, shape characters that take on their own life so much so that they can take over the story and you are simply an observer. But first, make sure that you have the reader’s full attention.