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Top Four Pitfalls in Writing YA

by Angelle Pington

It’s no secret that Young Adult literature — particularly series fiction that appeals to both adult and teen readers — is successful right now. Agents’ and editors’ inboxes are flooded with the next best thing in YA. In a sea of teen angst and drama, how do you avoid the reject pile and stand out among your peers? Quality literature is key (have YOU hired an editor yet?), and so is avoiding these all-too-common pitfalls in writing for teens:

  1. Out of Date: Does the heroine in your contemporary novel wear scrunchies and listen to Duran Duran on her Walkman (without intending to be ironic)? If so, your protagonist is a bit out of date. Be on the lookout for dated pop culture, fashion, and tech references.
  2. Out of Sync: Are you aware of current trends in YA? Signs point toward a saturated fantasy/science fiction market and requests for honest, heartfelt contemporary with a strong hook. If you’re peddling a YA trilogy set in a dystopian society, it’s going to be a tough sell. Pay attention to deal reports and novels slated for release in the coming year. And if you’re writing YA, you should be reading YA too.
  3. Out of Style: Teen readers demand a strong sense of authenticity in their YA heroes and heroines. Watch out for the adult voice creeping into your teen characters’ thoughts and dialogue. The author’s wisdom of life experience—and a lack of awareness of how American teens talk (and text and tweet)—has a way of making teen characters feel stiff or unconvincing.
  4. Out of Touch: Never underestimate your audience! Authors often fall into the trap of watering down their YA characters or plotlines, wrongly assuming that a teen voice must be silly or uninformed, that a lack of life experience equals a lack of emotional depth. Not so! Some of the best YA tackles serious issues with intelligent characters who just happen to be juggling raging hormones, a desire for autonomy, and an inflated sense of self. Great teen characters are every bit as nuanced, flawed, and fabulous as great adult characters

For help with these and other issues in writing YA fiction, seek an expert editor with experience in the field. It’s a worthwhile investment in your craft!

Angelle Pington has been a professional book editor since 2001. She was an in-house acquisitions/development editor for Penguin Group (Puffin/Speak) before becoming a full-time freelance editor of children, juvenile, and adult fiction. She has edited award-winning young adult novels, middle grade series, illustrated picture books, adult romances, thrillers, and mysteries.

Angelle has a positive, professional demeanor; a straightforward, kind approach to editorial feedback; and a meticulous eye for detail and accuracy. She truly enjoys helping authors shape their work, encouraging them to learn more about their characters, to explore something unexpected with their plotline, and to strive to inspire emotion (of any type!) in their readers.

She offers developmental/substantive editing, line editing, copyediting, proofreading, and manuscript/query letter critique.

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