5 Rules for Writing YA

1. The life of the story depends on the writer’s ability to convince the reader that the protagonist is one of them. Teens despise fakes. You must know kids well enough to channel their voices, thoughts and emotions.


Guest column by Regina Brooks, literary
agent at Serendipity Literary. This text
excerpted from Regina’s 2009 book,
Writing Great Books For Young Adults.

2. Don’t condescend to your readers. Young people won’t abide stories that suggest their turmoil or idealism will pass when they “grow up.” Brent Hartinger, author of Geography Club, says, “I’m a big believer that kids are smarter than we think they are … I think kids can handle complexity and nuances, and the advantage to writing that way is that the book appeals to both teenagers and adults. Don’t deal with young people by trying to push them in one direction or another. Deal with them where they’re at now.

3. Read, read, read today’s YA fiction.
A word of caution: Don’t emulate your favorite authors, but learn from them,. You’ll want to create work that is truly your own. The benefits to reading what’s already on the market are phenomenal. It will familiarize you with what’s selling, how kids today talk, what they wear, what issues concern them, and so on.

4. Silence your worries over commercial considerations. This allows you to concentrate on your primary objective, which is to tell your story. Keep your artistic integrityyour idealsahead of how commercially successful you want your book to be. If you focus on writing the best possible book, commercial success will follow later. The significant rise in the success of YA novels has opened the way for a multiplicity of  categories, and just to give you an idea, I’ve listed some alphabetically: adventure, chick lit, comical, fantasy, fantasy epics, futuristic, gay-themed, historical, multicultural, mystery, religious, romantic, science fiction, sports and urban. If your story doesn’t fit into any of these categories, you may have to invent one. Consider it an opportunity.

5. In your new world of YA fiction, erect no concrete barriers, wire fences or one-way signs. Instead, forge new paths. The YA field welcomes innovators. What will your contribution be? Think fresh. Remember that young people are trendsetters—they’re always looking to differentiate themselves from others. It’s how teens forge their own identities. Don’t be afraid to push the boar out as well. Coming up with a fresh idea will set you apart from the pack and might be the thing that sparks an editor’s interest in your work.


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7 thoughts on “5 Rules for Writing YA

  1. Lakisha Spletzer

    When your book arrived at my local library (Citrus County, Florida), the Branch Manager personally sought me out and handed it to me because I write for teens and also for children.

    I greatly enjoyed the entire book and have recommended to other aspiring writers.

    I agree with the points you listed here. I have two kids and I work around kids and teens from age 4 and up, and one thing that is a fast turn-off is being condescending. I think as adults we forget that we don’t like it when it’s done to us.

    I also like the idea "think fresh" because it is important to distinguish yourself from the pack.

  2. Stasia Kehoe

    A terrific, useful post, especially as I’m revising a YA for my editor right now. I’ve recently signed with an agent but I still read this blog–it’s a must! Thanks Regina, for writing, and Chuck for sharing another great resource.


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