Want to write for Young Adults?

To write about Young Adults, you have to understand them. Photograph: Livestrong Foundation
To write about Young Adults, you have to understand them. Photograph: LiveStrong Foundation

I am honored to introduce you to a guest blog written for me by a good friend and talented writer, Martha Orlando. She writes for Young Adults and is providing guidance to anyone who wants to produce books in the genre. Martha does know how it’s done and done correctly.

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ARE YOU CONTEMPLATING writing fiction for the young adult/”tween” reader? Before you get started on that best seller, here are some tips which are bound to make your venture as successful as possible.

Martha Orlando
Martha Orlando

Know Your Audience
I taught middle-school for fifteen years, sixth and then seventh grades to be precise. One great advantage I enjoyed during this time was observing which books my students chose to read for pleasure. I, in turn, would retrieve copies from the school library and read them for myself.
 I must have read hundreds of novels during this time period.

Though they differed in subject matter, setting, and tone, the most popular always had these components:
· Likeable, believable characters.
· Lots of dialogue.
· Limited, but thoughtfully crafted, descriptive passages.
· A hook/teaser in the first chapter which entices the reader to continue reading the story.

If it’s been years since you have read any young adult literature, pay a visit to your local middle school. Talk with the media specialist. Find out which authors and novels are popular with the students.
 Then, read them! Get a feel for the voice and the pace. Note what these books have in common. Is it action? Mystery? Magic? Humor? Or, do they contain a little bit of each of these aspects? Then, develop your story with these characteristics in mind.

Know Your Competition
If you are a baby-boomer, as I am, our childhood amusements were confined to playing outside, engaging in board games, building with Lincoln logs, and watching, when parents permitted, a choice of shows on only three television stations. Reading, for most of us, was a coveted pastime.

Books were the kings of the entertainment world! 
Not so today . . .
The amount of distractions facing the average young adult in the 21st Century is mind-boggling. I don’t think I need to elaborate here as we know that computer-generated diversions are rife and thriving among the young. And, when our children and grandchildren hear the stories of how life was when we were growing up, they assume we dwelt in the Dark Ages.

ttt-orlandoHow do we bridge that kind of generation gap?
 Simple. Tell a great story. One unique and so exciting, it can’t help but uproot young folks from their remote controls and their instant-access wi-fi connections. A story so riveting, they will read loyally and joyfully from beginning to end.

So, ask yourself the following questions: How meaningful and relevant is my story? Is it exciting? Engaging? Memorable? What can I do to hook, line, and sinker my audience?
Answer these questions honestly, and remember: You have competition . . . Big time!
K.I.S.S. – Keep It Short, Sweetie!

Aside from the Harry Potter phenomenon, I cannot recall any of my students toting an oversized book to class. Even Harry had lost his charm with this age group by books six and seven. Lesson learned? Keep it short!
 My publisher, thankfully, was all about this. When I submitted my original novel entitled, The Glade, she suggested we convert it into a trilogy. Wow! No better advice could have ever been given.
Sadly, young readers, especially those for whom books are only celebrated at school, are daunted by the length and width of a tome. As mentioned before, the all-competing venues for their attention contribute to their lassitude in tackling large-sized books.

Truth be told, it’s downright intimidating and discouraging to them.
And, it’s up to us, as writers, to make amends. To reach them where they are. To love them through our stories. To build their hopes, their faith, their dreams.
 To teach them that good things come in small packages, one precious and beautiful installment at a time.
 And, for them to learn and wait in patience, as Paul Harvey always said, “For the rest of the story.” Allow them the space and time and invitation to be willing and eager to read more!

Know Your Vocabulary (and Theirs)
I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t in love with the written word, and I was always eager to expand my vocabulary. Such is not the case with the majority of young people today. When in class it was time to begin a new vocabulary lesson, I braced myself for the wails, moans, and gnashing of teeth which inevitably ensued.

Even though I did everything I could think of to make learning vocabulary fun, from writing short stories to creating word games, I still could not engage them all.
So, how can we, as novelists, help young people to learn vocabulary and actually like doing so? By introducing challenging or unfamiliar words in context. For example, a seventh grader might not know the definition of “vulnerable,” but if you pair it with the word “weak”, he or she can glean an understanding of its meaning.

While they are gleefully reading your delightful story, they are unwittingly expanding their vocabulary knowledge.
By writing carefully and thoughtfully, your words can be the sugar which helps the bitter medicine of vocabulary learning go down!
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