My guest today is Jacqueline Seewald, who writes women’s romance and historical romance as well as books for children and young adults. Since most of us who write toy with the idea of writing for a younger audience from time to time, I’m especially pleased that Jacqueline chose this topic for her post.
Writing Books for Children and Young Adults that Sell by Jacqueline Seewald
Even before J. K. Rowling’s tremendous success with her Harry Potter series, publishers were frantically searching for fantasy and horror fiction for children and teenagers that they hope will top the bestseller list. Imitation may be the sincerest form of flattery, but it does not insure success as a writer.
Books set in the “real” world still have appeal for teens and children. Young readers are not necessarily trying to read books that provide a total escape from reality. Even fantasy books need to be believable, provide an element of reality through character development to which readers can relate.
One of the most important things in writing a successful young adult novel or children’s book is to develop a unique voice. That does not mean that you must write from a first person point of view. However, teenage readers often respond well to a first person narrative.
It is important to create a central character that young readers can both sympathize and identify with. Whether writing realistic or fantasy fiction, if the reader can’t care about the main character, than he or she won’t believe or accept what follows.
Teens as well as younger children enjoy an element of mystery. Every good work of fiction should have a plot that keeps the reader turning the pages, wanting to discover what is going to happen next. It’s important to set up some sort of a question that can’t be easily or immediately answered, a secret of the human heart that must be delved into.
A word of warning: If you are going to write about teens, you must know about them; do some research. Besides raising two teenagers, I taught English and later Library Science. I taught at all levels: the university, high school, middle school and elementary. But most of my years were in the high school. I am accustomed to the way teenagers think, talk and behave. If you are not a teen yourself, talk to teenagers, read their magazines, watch their favorite TV programs, observe how they behave at malls, amusement parks, movie theaters etc.
Get input from your own children. Have them read your writing and critique it. Consider collaborating with your children on the writing of your fiction. I wrote Where is Robert?, a middle grades/YA novel which was published by Royal Fireworks Press in 1997 and is still in print, with help from both of my sons who were teenagers at the time. Both boys contributed to the scenes of high school wrestling, since they both engaged in the sport. I couldn’t have written the book without them. I understand the novel has become something of a cult book for teenage boys who wrestle.
If you want to write for teenagers, you need to understand them. Dig into your own experiences as a teenager. How did you feel? Were you insecure? Did you feel that your parents didn’t understand or love you? In my YA novel, Claire’s Curse, the main character is part of a dysfunctional family. She feels unloved and rejected.
Make it dramatic. Dramatize your story. Don’t show, tell. I’m certain you’ve heard that advice before! How to do this? Create meaningful, realistic dialog for your characters. Each character should be an individual, talking a certain way to reflect a personal point of view, a unique way of thinking. Good dialog leads to action and conflict between people with different viewpoints and goals.
Settings need to be vividly described so that they seem real. In fact, there’s nothing wrong with using real places for background setting. My three previously published YA’s were set in Central New Jersey, an area very much like the one in which I lived. Verisimilitude is crucial in a teen novel. My latest YA novel, Stacy’s Song, published by L&L Dreamspell, is also set in New Jersey.
For my children’s picture book A Devil in the Pines, I created a faction story. I used the real setting of the New Jersey Pine Barrens and the legend of the Jersey Devil combined with the fictional story of a little boy who learns how to deal with fear. Afton Publishing has kept this book in print from its publication in 1999.
My advice, don’t write for the market; write the story you need to write. We are all writers. We all have within us a unique, important, wonderful story to share. Get in touch with your inner self. Start putting your ideas on paper. Begin with an outline, then a rough draft with key characters and scenes. When you develop your book, look for depth. Although books for teens can be shorter than those for adults, it doesn’t mean they require less creative thought. Respect your readers; give them quality.
The success of J. K. Rowling’s books has given new hope and inspiration to those of us who write juvenile fiction. No longer can we gripe that children and young adults do not read. If nothing else, the reception the Potter books received has proven that there is still an audience for fiction among young people.
Many thanks to Jacqueline for joining us today. I may have to spend a little more time on that idea I have for a middle grade mystery series.
Jacqueline is a monthly contributor to the Author Expressions blog. You can find interviews at Book-Club-Queen and Sling Words. Her latest adult novel is a paranormal Regency romance, Tea Leaves and Tarot Cards.