Writing Notes #4 – LTUE & Writing Excuses – What Makes Good YA

Some of this comes from LTUE and some of it comes from the Writing Excuses podcast Season 2 Episode 2 “Writing for Children with Brandon Mull.”

What is YA?

First of all, let’s define what exactly the YA genre is.  It overlaps with Middle Grade and New Adult (which is a new genre working on blooming at the moment).  The main thing that determines which of these genres your story fits will be the age of your protagonist.  For YA it can range from 14-18.  New adult targets the ages 18-30.  But what about 12 & 13, you might ask, aren’t they teens also? Well, they’re middle grade. (And actually, 13 is a tricky age publishers hate and work hard to avoid, so it’s just best to make your protagonist 12 or 14 most of the time.) An easy way to break it down is that middle school is middle grade, and high school is YA.  Anything after high school is probably New Adult.

YA can then be further sub-divided into the genres you see in adult fiction. Examples: romance, science fiction, historical fiction, fantasy, and so on. In adult fiction these genres have strict rules to divide them, but in YA these rules become blurred and sometimes non-existent. YA is a very fluid, plastic genre where anything goes.

So, really the only key to writing good YA is to know how to write a good story tailored to your audience. That brings up the question:

How do you tailor a story to a teenage audience?

I have some tips and things for you to remember that should help with that.


I know you might want to teach teenagers and young adults important life lessons, but nobody wants to be lectured or preached to, especially teenagers.  We go to church and school for that.  That’s not usually why we read.

Remember WHY kids read.  YA is the genre where the readers start choosing the stories for themselves instead of having the stories handed to them by their parents.  They will put your book down if it doesn’t satisfy their needs and desires for reading.  Personally, I read and write to have fun, to feel emotion, and to be moved by something deep.  Other people read to escape harsh reality, have a laugh, experience romance, or one of many other reasons.  None of those reasons include getting preached to.

However, that doesn’t mean your story can’t teach a lesson.  It does mean that when you teach a lesson it has to be deep in the story as a guiding theme.  Be subtle.  Show and don’t tell.  Let it be a natural part of the story, more like a side-effect than the main purpose.  They’ll get it and appreciate you not rubbing it in their face.

2. Make the characters memorable.

What makes a memorable character? Don’t worry. I’ll write a post entirely on that and link to it here when I do.

3. It doesn’t have to have a romantic subplot.

Really, it doesn’t. There’s more to life than romance and sex, and some people don’t even have that on their radar. They don’t care and don’t want to read about it.

The world is already bursting with stories about sex. We could use more stories about different things.

4. How important is family?

It depends on if it adds conflict. Ever wondered why so many protagonists are orphans? Well, if those protagonists had happy safe family lives at home they might not have ever left on whatever epic quest their story took them on. Harry Potter wouldn’t have ever needed to face Lord Voldemort if his parents hadn’t died. Simba would have happily grown up a spoiled child at pride rock if Scar hadn’t killed Mufasa. Think of some other stories about orphans or children with one parent. If they had a complete happy family, would their story ever happen? Probably not.

Every aspect of a story needs to add conflict and push the plot forward. Most often a happy home life doesn’t do that. An unhappy home life, however, does. Families can be an important part of the main character’s conflict. If having a family will make the protagonist’s journey more difficult, then by all means add one in! Dealing with family can be an entire story or character arc of it’s own. There’s no need to avoid letting your main character have a family as long as it doesn’t detract from the story. If it does, get rid of it or change it until it helps instead of hinders.

5. Teenagers can carry the world on their shoulders.

YA needs to deal with problems that affect young adults, but young adults deal with a lot. Their external issues  can be anything from battling inter-dimensional space dragons to save the world, being a teen parent or oldest sibling who has to take care of their family, to taking out the non-metaphorical trash. Some teens deal with “normal” teen issues, while others have to be adults before their time. The important thing to remember is that while their external issues might be the same as an adult’s, they will be dealing with them with the mind of a teenager. Their internal issues need to match their metal age. Even mature teens are still teens.

This doesn’t mean you downplay their mental reasoning or maturity. Teenagers see themselves as grown up and mature, so treat your character that way. I liked the way Bryce Moore put it while speaking in the LTUE panel:  “However old you are is the oldest you’ve ever been, so you’re mature, dang it!”

6. Diversity is cool! (Except for when it isn’t.)

Diversity helps make your story more interesting and unique. By adding diversity you broaden your own mind view as well as the view of your audience and make the world a better place. At least, that’s the theory. If abused and used when it shouldn’t be then diversity becomes a gimmick and fails to benefit your story.

So don’t treat diversity like vegetables in a meal. You know what I mean, with that “I have to eat them because they’re healthy” attitude so you stick them in everything.

Just because diversity is cool and something people are pushing for doesn’t mean you have to add it to your story. Don’t force it if it isn’t right. You don’t have to add a multicultural character just because it’s what’s expected. That does your story and people of other cultures or backgrounds an injustice. For example, I have a story based in Colorado. There are almost no people of color there, so adding in a black person just for the sake of diversity would be wrong. It would go against the setting. (And hey, it’s already got werewolves and other magic beasts. Do I really need to add anything?) However, in my sci-fi story based in a futuristic space station game center, making everyone white would be wrong. That setting requires a large diversity of cultures, skin-types, and species (like aliens!).

Diversity in your story can be subtle or complex and up-front. Find things that are different and cool about the location and culture of the area and make them an integral fun part of the book. If diversity will add to your story, then great! If it doesn’t, don’t worry about it.

That doesn’t mean you should just shrug diversity off and never worry about it. Seriously consider diversity for your story and whether or not it will work. If you want to make your story more diverse, but don’t see a way to with your setting then ask yourself what you can change. Would a change of location help? Maybe instead of basing your story in bleached white no-name USA, you could take it to New Orleans, Chicago, Cuba, or even Canada. Or you could change the time period. You could even change the race of your main character (which might require a location change). There’s a multitude of ways to add diversity.

Just make sure to thoroughly research whatever type of diversity you’re putting into your story. You don’t want to make/encourage stereotypes. That defeats the purpose. If you’re going to have diversity in your story, then do it justice.

Also, secondary world fantasy is a cool, growing genre to consider. What’s that? Well, it’s fantasy based on cultures other than the standard western medieval ages. A good example is Drift by M. K. Hutchins. Personally, I love stories like this and want to read more. I will write at least one someday.

And that’s it!

So there you have it. Six things to remember to help yourself tailor your story to a teen audience. Now go forth and write!

-Writing Senpai

Hi! I’m back!

Sorry for being absent. I’ve been working on a movie, writing on my novel and webcomic, and then moving across the continent into another country. I am now in Canada and am still unpacking and still super behind on everything, but it’s time to change that!

I have several posts for you in very rough first drafts. Look for them here over the next few weeks.

Writing with Goals

Hi! Long time no see. 😛 I took on a freelance visual effects job recently that I thought would last for two weeks and then stretched out to almost six months. It ate my time. Sorry for the absence, but I’m back now!

And I wish to return with a word or two about writing with goals. Sure, all these tips and advice are great help, but they won’t do you any good without a goal, a SMART goal. What is a SMART goal, you might ask? Well, it’s a goal that works because it’s: Specific, Measurable, Attainable, Realistic, and Time-bound.

Goals like, “I’m going to write a book!” are great and all, but in order to achieve them they need to be broken down into SMART goals, like NaNoWriMo’s “Write 50,000 words in 30 days.” That fits all the requirements. Fifty thousand words in a month is a very big goal, though, one I don’t recommend doing on a regular basis, but 20-30 thousand might be more doable.

You might be saying, “Well yes, Senpai, writing 20k words a month sounds like a good goal, but what about all the other aspects of writing a story?” All aspects of writing a novel, comic, or other type of story can be broken down into SMART goals to help you keep moving forward. You can plot out your story to a pre-made structure or method in a month, or develop a character a day. If you’re not a word-count kind of person you could write a scene per week, or decide on a time minimum to write every day.

Not only do SMART goals help you move forward, they give you something to look forward to accomplishing. Once you achieve your goal you can take a moment to celebrate before moving on to the next SMART goal. Don’t party for too long, though. Once you get your novel written there’s revision, querying agents, and other things you can make SMART goals for to help you achieve that nebulous goal of getting published!

My friend Whitney recently wrote about how she’s using SMART goals to help herself in her writing.

Go, write, win!

Your Writing Senpai

A Moment of Freedom

So, remember my WIFR post? Remember the post I did just before it where I mentioned being so excited to be done with a job and focus on writing and arting? Well, just before WIFYR I got called back in again to that job. I returned to it right after WIFYR. NOW it is finally done. I am free. And with that freedom I spent the last two and a half weeks helping a friend re-roof a little shed-barn-thing, played Guild Wars 2 like a maniac, and overall avoided being productive. Yay? I felt like my brain needed a break. That, and staring into the future of no required work and a boundless list of potential projects left me feeling a little lost.

Okay, maybe a lot lost.

But hey, I want to get back on track and working. I’m doing projects now! I have the script for the first three chapters of my webcomic figured out and waiting for review from an esteemed beta reader, my story timeline for the series I’m working on is now falling into place, and I have the starts of a Journey cosplay. I also got all my Brilliance in Action comics all queued up on the new comic website and it will be updating on it’s own through December! Go check out the new site: here. It still needs a header image, but it’s so much better than the site I had before.

Stay tuned for more posts from me! Hopefully I’ll have more time? No promises, though. I did apply today for a seasonal position at a local farm, so I might be working again soon. 😛 There’s stuff I still need money to pay for.

WIFYR 2015

I’m trying to get back in the swing of things now that WIFYR is over.  However, I got called back in to that freelance gig for a couple more weeks.  I agreed since I know it’s very close to done, but it does postpone my ability to be a full-time comic artist and author.  I will be there soon, though!  Sooooooon!

So, WIFYR.  It was great.  I saw my wonderful teachers and friends Carol Lynch Williams and Jake Parker.  I got hugs from both of them.  I like hugs.  In fact, Carol demanded I give her 80 hugs over the course of the week, so I made sure to hug her every time I saw her.  I think I only managed around 21 hugs.  I’ll do better next time!

I took a boot camp novel workshop with David Farland as the instructor.  There were ten other people in the class as well, and we critiqued the first 55 pages of all of our novels.  It was a humbling and enlightening experience.  They critiqued my stuff on the first day, and I totally thought I could handle it, and I did.  It was great.  All the verbal comments made sense and I could see the trend of what I needed to fix in my story.  However, then I got home and read the written comments.  It destroyed me.  I never thought I’d cry from being critiqued, but I did.  After reading comments from half the class I felt like I’d failed as an author.  My story seemed so very, very broken.  The next day I attended a panel on revisions and then it dawned on me that my story isn’t broken, it’s just a work in progress.  Then the day after that I read another written critique from a classmate and they understood every part of my story.  I didn’t fail.  That helped me feel a lot better.  As long as someone who knew nothing before reading it understood it, I succeeded.  Now to make it accessible to more people, after I finish this draft.


Here’s me and David Farland! He’s holding my sword. I brought it to show off the last day of class.

I also had the opportunity to practice pitching to an editor, and then to get a practice query letter critiqued by the same editor and an agent.  I received a lot of helpful input, and the editor asked me to send her my manuscript when I’m done!  EEEEEEEE!  I think that made my week.

Overall I had a great time.  I’m definitely going again next year.

Summary of the Last Two Months

Hi everyone!  The last two months have been busy.  The next two weeks will also be busy.  I’m attending Writing and Illustrating For Young Readers (WIFYR) in two weeks and I have a bunch of stuff to do in order to prep for that.

So, the last two months.  I worked at a slow but steady pace on my novel, succeeded at NaNoWriMo camp, rearranged my studio (still in the process of that), and visited Texas for a cousin’s high school graduation.  The freelance job I took up lasted two and a half months instead of two weeks, so I’m a bit behind on everything and where I wanted to be at this point in the year, but it was good.  It gave me enough money to buy some protective equipment for my new HEMA hobby AND a shiny new professional artist level printer.

This month I plan on trying to catch up as much as possible around preparing for and attending WIFYR.  It will be a challenge, but I am so ready to get back to arting and writing as a career.

A Laundry Mystery

Soooo, I was trying to figure out why my sheets weren’t getting dry in my parent’s dryer.  This morning I ran my new sheets through my washer and then remembered Dad wants me to use their dryer because he realized my dryer vent is venting to someplace inside the house instead of outside like it’s supposed to.  So I ran up and stuck them in their dryer as I left for church.  Upon arriving back home I discovered the sheets still wet.  I figured they’d just gotten too tangled up, so I pulled them apart and stuck the fitted sheet back in.  Once the machine finished the sheet remained wet.  This confused me.  It was evenly damp.  No part had dried at all.  Was the machine broken?  I asked my parents and they gave suggestions, so I stuck it back in and changed the settings.  Then, as I watched my cat watch the machine start up with anxious curiosity (he’s not allowed upstairs without an escort), it dawned on me.  That was the washing machine, not the dryer.


So now my new top sheet and pillowcases have been washed twice, and the fitted sheet thrice.

They’re all in the dryer now.

It’s Camp Time!

Camp NaNoWriMo that is.

For those of you who don’t know, NaNoWriMo stands for National Novel Writing Month.  It happens in November and you aim to write 50K words in one month to get well on your way to having a novel.  Camp NaNoWriMo happens twice during the summer (April and July) and it used to be exactly the same.  This year they’re letting you set your own goals.  Since I still have that VFX job going on and some major editing to do in the next ten days for a workshop, I set my goal for revision and 20,000 words.  I’m still behind, but that’s okay.  I’m going to do a lot of catching up today.

An update on the sword equipment.  All of it was too cheap, thin, or didn’t fit, so I’m sending it all back.  I’m going to wait to build up some money and shop around at local sports and motorcycle stores before making my next purchase.  Anything worthwhile costs a lot.


Phew!  Wow.  A month flew by, didn’t it?  Well, it did for me.

I got a freelance VFX compositing job this month and have been working on that along with taking care of friend drama.  I got overwhelmed and behind on everything at home, but at least I still managed to write.  I get to commute on the train to this little job, which gives me a good hour and a half writing time through the day.  Thanks to that I was able to rewrite the first two chapters of my webcomic in my notebook.  It’s so much better this time around!

I also hermited this week and got caught up on all the home stuff, just so you don’t worry about me.  I’m fine now.  🙂

I’ve been slowly getting better at wielding my longsword, and am using the money from this job to start building up my sword fighting equipment, like shinguards, chest padding, and a motorcycle jacket with lots of protective plastic plates.  I’ll have to get a picture of myself in it once it all shows up.  HEMA is turning out to be a more expensive hobby than I expected, but it’s so much fun and well worth it.  Two weeks ago I got a cramp in my right arm from clicking a mouse so much in a position I’m not used to.  While rubbing I noticed I had some muscle mass there.  I then rubbed my left arm and discovered it had less.  I’m getting sword arm.  Now I need to start practicing things left handed to balance myself back out!