Wednesday, November 17, 2010

6 Tips for Writing for Young Adults

As some of you know, I went to a Writer’s Festival on the weekend. The second speaker was a Young Adult writer,
William Kostakis. He wrote Loathing Lola when he was only 17. The story is about the ups and downs of being Australia’s newest teenage reality TV star. Sixteen-year-old Courtney Marlow struggles with friends, fame, love, loss and... Lola.

Below are some writing tips he offered for writing for young adults:

1. Write with passion. When William first started writing he often heard the advice, “find your audience”. But William suggested that “You are your own audience.” There is little point writing what you think will be popular. Many writers write what they think will sell but they aren’t necessarily writing from the heart. When we write with passion, we find our voice.

2. Try to capture the joy of youth. The appeal of youth is the joy of life, so even if you are writing a sad story, try to find the joy of life.

3. Write with honesty. When you write, don’t try to emulate someone else’s writing. Be confident enough to find your own voice. This will resonate with your readers.

4. Avoid being called an imposter. Sometimes it’s clear an older writer has written for a younger audience. William used the example of reading someone’s work where the author had described Facebook as the Facebook. Get at least one young adult reader to proof read your manuscript.

5. Not every character needs to be 3 dimensional. He suggested that sometimes stereotypes are true and gave the example of his grandmother who is “crazy, old and ethnic”. Also, we don’t have to spell out a character’s history all the time.

6. Write how you speak and keep it simple. You want people to understand you so write small words to reflect big ideas.

Do you have any other tips for writing for the Young Adult market? What's your favourite YA book at the moment and why?


  1. GREAT advice, Lynda! This has given me a lot to consider, and I look forward to sitting down and reflecting on how well I've accomplished each of these points. Thanks so much for sharing.

  2. I'll say the same thing again - write with a huge sense of responsibility paying attention to moral values you present in your YA book. Teens are the most open to other people's influence as thus writers must not expose them to brutality, unnecessary violence, indecent behaviour, they should not promote aggression and impulsive thinking and acting .....

  3. Paul, I recommend you attend workshops and conferences and writers festivals. I gained so much out of this particular festival.

  4. Dezzy, what you say is true. Recently there has been a lot of controversy over books that reflect the darker side of life for teens. If handled carefully, they are fine and have an important place on the shelves. But if they promote brutality or any other kind of anti social behaviour then I think they fail to show responsibility toward the youth. They aren't books I like to read so I don't write that kind of book.

  5. Great advice!!! I wish I attended this conference.

  6. Lynda,
    These are great tips and can really work for any piece of writing you are doing. Thanks so much for posting them, they will be helpful to me later.

  7. Great advice that transcends the YA genre. We all need to heed these words.
    N. R. Williams, fantasy author

  8. Melissa, I'll let you know the next time a conference is on in Sydney. Maybe you could fly down here ;)

    Summer, absolutely they are helpful for any fiction writer.

    Nancy, I guess that's what was so good about the talks.

  9. Great post! Thanks. My advice? Listen to teenagers for:
    1. Dialogue
    2. Word choices
    3. Concerns
    4. Attitudes
    5. Values

    If you don't hang out with them on a regular basis - put yourself where they are... for example, this weekend I will be a judge at a high school debate competition. I will be surrounded by teenagers for two solid days. I view this as a WONDERFUL opportunity!!

  10. Margo, great additional advice. It is important to hang out with teenagers in some form to be able to write for them.

  11. Terrific advice. Writing for the YA audience isn't easy - it takes a lot of skill and a lot of voice (at least I think so!)

  12. All great tips! Thanks so much for sharing what you learned.

  13. Thank you for sharing these tips. I love to hear what other writers say and learn at conferences.

  14. I agree with these, particularly the one about writing passionately. When you write in such a state of mind, it's like everything is in perfect synch.

  15. I really like #2--the joy of life! In a novel, the focus can be so much on conflict, conflict, conflict, that it's difficult to remember to put in those shining moments of humor, tenderness, people-to-people connections, and so on. As writers, we want to inspire, not just set teeth on edge or create unnerving tension.

  16. That sounds like really good advice! Thanks for passing it on...

  17. Jemi, yep, I think you are right. It's not easy at all.

    Lydia, no problem :)

    Karen, I'm the same. Conferences are invaluable.

  18. Jeffrey, that's so true. Passion helps as not only to write well, but also smoothly

    Carol, you said that really well. We want to inspire :)

    Pat, glad it helped :)

  19. When he was 17?!?! WOW! These are really great tips!

  20. I thought this post was so awesome - I gave you an award on my blog! Check it out. :)

  21. Great post! I agree about writing with passion - not only will it produce your best work (and be more fun!), but if you try to anticipate trends, by the time your book actually gets published you may have totally missed it.

  22. Christina, yeah pretty amazing huh. Not only was he only 17 but he also only wrote the first 5 chapters and got an advance based on those! Pretty impressive.

    Margo, oh, thank you so much for the award!

    Alexia, exactly right! Trends come and go. You have to write your own story. And like you said, it's more fun that way too.

  23. Great tips! That one about having at least one YA reader proof read your manuscript is awesome advice! I'm so lucky to have two teenagers of my own and some teenage nieces, too.

    My favorite YA books at the moment are the Hunger Games trilogy, and I imagine they'll hold that top spot for a long time to come.

  24. Susan, you are definitely at an advantage with all those teenagers around you. And yes the Hunger Games trilogy is great.


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