Head Over Heels: Writing Young Adult Fiction

    By Jamie Thornton

    I write young adult (YA) fiction in the fantasy and sci-fi genres. While the intended audience is teenagers, some of my biggest fans are grownups from their thirties to their eighties. You see this phenomenon with hugely popular book series too, like Harry Potter and The Hunger Games. How can you, as a writer, meet the reader expectations for both young readers and older fans?

    YA fiction requires that your protagonist has to be a teenager, but it’s more complex than that. The reader expectation is that your protagonist must experience many “firsts” throughout the course of your novel.

    The Vibrancy of a First Experience

    Whether it’s a first conflict with a family member, or a first emotional betrayal by a close friend, or a first love, the experiences have more poignancy because the protagonist doesn’t have life experience to draw from. Every decision is vibrant and vivid in a way that grownups don’t experience because they’ve been through it before. “Firsts” can bring adult readers back to a time in their lives when anything was possible, before they made their decisions for their careers, friendships, or partnerships. When you fall in love after two divorces in your forties, it’s a much different feeling than falling in love for the first time when you’re sixteen. When you’re young, nothing is set in stone, and there’s an innocence and an idealism that often gets lost as we go through life.

    In successful YA novels, readers get the feeling that the protagonist goes “head-over-heels” for everything, whether it’s falling in love or rushing into dangerous situations. There’s an intensity to these decisions can be such a roller coaster for you as an author—and can be very satisfying to readers, no matter if they’re teens or octogenarians.

    Jamie Thornton is the New York Times and USA Today bestselling author of the Doormaker series and the Zombies Are Human (formerly Feast of Weeds) series. She lives in the Sacramento area with her husband, two dogs, a garden, lots of chickens, a viola, and a bicycle. Follow her at JamieThornton.com to learn more about her post-apocalyptic fantasy and science fiction stories.

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