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How to Write a Young Adult Novel

In this post, learn how to write a young adult novel from beginning to end, including 4 approaches for the first chapter of your novel, how to write for teens without sounding like an adult writing for teens, tips on writing pitch perfect YA characters, how to write a young adult crossover novel, and more.

In this post, learn how to write a young adult novel from beginning to end, including 4 approaches for the first chapter of your novel, how to write for teens without sounding like an adult writing for teens, tips on writing pitch perfect YA characters, how to write a young adult crossover novel, and more.

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On a basic level, young adult (or YA) novels are aimed at readers aged 13 to 18. But as many people already know, adults read YA novels too. The 90,000-word "sweet spot" for adult novels is generally shortened to a 75,000-word (or shorter) "sweet spot." Plus, YA novels tend to be first-person narratives.

(Click here to learn the key differences between middle grade and young adult novels.)

Starting Your Young Adult Novel

While a great opening will not guarantee a successful novel, a bad opening will usually guarantee a failed novel. That's because writers have a limited amount of time to hook their audience before they abandon a story and move on to something better. Fair or not, this reality places a great deal of emphasis on a compelling beginning.

As such, here are a few posts related to starting your novel:

  • 4 Approaches for the First Chapter of Your Novel, by Jeff Gerke. In this article, Gerke shares the four primary approaches for beginning a successful novel: The prologue beginning, the hero action beginning, the in medias res beginning, and the frame device. Of course, there are other approaches, but these are the most common that tend to work time and time again.
  • 5 Great Tips for Starting a Novel Right, by Jessica Strawser. In this post, Strawser shares five great tips for starting your novel from bestselling novelists, including James Scott Bell, Karen Dionne, and Lee Child. For instance, Bell advises novelists create a "doorway of no return" for their protagonist in the first 1/5 of the book.
  • Famous First Lines of Novels and 7 Tips for Getting Started, by Zachary Petit and Jacob M. Appel. The first half of this post shares excellent opening lines from novels to use as inspiration and reference for your own. Then, the second half shares seven strategies for starting your novel on a sentence level.

If you need to start at an even earlier step in the process, check out Cheryl Pon's 5 Ways to Start Writing Your Novel Today, which is focused on the sometimes stifling step of just getting started.

Are you new to writing fiction for young adults? Do you want to learn how to write a young adult book and break into the market? Let Writing the Young Adult Novel be your guide. When you take this workshop, you'll get step-by-step instruction on writing for young adults and learn how to sell your novel.

Are you new to writing fiction for young adults? Do you want to learn how to write a young adult book and break into the market? Let Writing the Young Adult Novel be your guide. When you take this workshop, you'll get step-by-step instruction on writing for young adults and learn how to sell your novel.

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How to Write Your Young Adult Novel

Once you've worked through those first pages, most novelists find there's a lot more to the process of novel writing than an excellent opening scene and compelling protagonist. For young adult, this is just as true as any other genre (or age level), because there's a chance your characters are dealing with shifting perspectives on the world in which they live, the tug and pull of freedom and responsibility, and other big shifts in emotional and relational experiences.

Here are a few posts to help you through that process:

  • 4 Ways to Keep Teen & Young Adult Readers Hooked, by Lorena Koppel. In this post, a teen writer (and avid reader) shares her four tips for writers of all ages on how to hook your target audience and keep them mesmerized.
  • Writing for the Young Adult Audience, by Mary Kole. In this post, literary agent Kole shares how to get inside the mind of your young adult reader by looking at romance and darkness and themes and big ideas in YA.
  • How to Write for Teens Without Sounding Like an Adult Writing for Teens, by Kurt Dinan. Many adults were once young adults, right? But sometimes, it's a real challenge for adults to get back into that mindset. Dinan shares how to channel a not-adult voice.
  • 7 Ways to Add Subplots to Your Novel, by Elizabeth Sims. While not specifically young adult, this post is applicable to all novel genres and the need for seamless subplots. Sims shares tactics, such as the isolated chunk, the swallowtail, the bridge character, and others.
  • How to Write Flawed Characters & Antiheroes, by David Corbett. While a great novel (in any genre) doesn't need to have a flawed protagonist, they can often make for a fun read and more convincing and endearing character. In this article, Corbett shares his advice on creating these characters in fiction.
  • 6 Tips for Young Adult Horror, by April Genevieve Tucholke. In this piece, Tucholke shares how to use environment and atmosphere to create dread, shares how many mad characters your YA horror novel should have, whether to make your narrator reliable, and more.
  • 4 Tips on Creating Pitch Perfect YA Characters, by Amy S. Foster. Foster shares a few sound strategies on creating young adult characters that feel real, as opposed to stilted or stereotypical portrayals of YA characters. Works for protagonists, antagonists, and secondary characters.
  • The Dos and Don'ts of Novel Endings, by James V. Smith. In this piece, Smith shares very practical advice on how to successfully finish a novel (regardless of genre). These includes dos like "resolve the central conflict" and "enmesh your reader deeply in outcome," as well as don'ts like "introduce any new characters or subplots" and "resort to gimmicks."
  • 6 Pitfalls to Avoid When Writing LGBTQI+ Characters in Teen Fiction, by Lisa Freeman. Freeman shares pitfalls to avoid in writing LGBTQI+ characters in teen fiction to help writers write these characters with an appreciation and respect due all fictional characters, regardless of orientation.

How to Finish Your Young Adult Novel (and Beyond)

Since I included the "The Dos and Don'ts of Novel Endings" above, you may have guessed that by finishing your young adult novel, I'm thinking more in the sense of finishing the writing process, which includes typing "The End" (even if not literally) and revising the manuscript.

Here are a few posts on finishing and beyond:

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Improve Your Novel With a 2nd Draft Critique!

Ensure your manuscript skips the slush pile and lands on the desk of an acquisitions editor or literary agent and—get a 2nd Draft critique! When you send in at least 50 consecutive pages of your manuscript for review, you'll get an overall evaluation of your manuscript's strengths and weaknesses.

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Writing fiction? You'll receive comments on your plot, characterization, dialogue, and setting. You'll also get feedback on your proposed target market and audience. Plus, a professional critique editor will point out (but not correct for you) any consistent issues within your manuscript pertaining to grammar, mechanics, spelling, or style.

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A Conversation With Baron R. Birtcher On Social Media

A Conversation With Baron R. Birtcher on Social Media: Bestseller. No Website. No Me. (Killer Writers)

Killer Nashville founder Clay Stafford continues his series of interviews with mystery, thriller, and suspense authors. Here he has a conversation with bestselling novelist Baron R. Birtcher about author websites and social media.

How a Book Distributor Ended Up Selling Her Own Book

How a Book Distributor Ended Up Selling Her Own Book

Davida G. Breier’s publishing story is certainly one for the books. Here she discusses how, as a books distributor, she ended up selling her debut novel.

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Submitting Your Work

Writing Mistakes Writers Make: Not Submitting Your Work

The Writer's Digest team has witnessed many writing mistakes over the years, so we started this series to help identify them for other writers (along with correction strategies). This week's writing mistake is not submitting your work.

Making Your Fiction a Place You Want To Be

Making Your Fiction a Place You Want To Be

Author Janet Key shares the feeling of not wanting to revisit the world she was creating and the tools she used to help make her fiction a place she wanted to be.

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Backstory Change

Plot Twist Story Prompts: Backstory Change

Every good story needs a nice (or not so nice) turn or two to keep it interesting. This week, have a character's backstory change.

Writer’s Digest Official Book Club Selection: Portrait of a Thief

Writer’s Digest Official Book Club Selection: Portrait of a Thief

The editors of Writer’s Digest are proud to bring you the first book club pick, Portrait of a Thief, to read along with us.

6 Ways To Fight Your Inner Critics

6 Ways To Fight Your Inner Critics

For many writers, self-critique gets in the way of making much progress. Here, author Julia Crouch shares 6 ways to fight your inner critics.

Writing Allegory: A Convenient Place to Hide

Writing Allegory: A Convenient Place to Hide

Where realistic fiction felt both too restrictive and too revealing for author Susan Speranza’s transition from poetry to fiction, she turned to allegory. Here, she shares examples of famous allegories throughout history and how allegorical writing helped shape her novel, Ice Out.

Instagram: An Underutilized Tool for the Freelance Writer

Instagram: An Underutilized Tool for the Freelance Writer

In this post, author C. Hope Clark shares tips on how freelance writers can use Instagram as a tool to find more freelance writing connections, assignments, and overall success.