by Ron Estrada
We’re constantly told to write what we love to read. Easier said than done, because I find that most writers read a wide range of genres. But I had a long discussion with myself late last year and was forced to admit that I love YA novels, even the contemporary, nearly romantic ones.
- An MG character will tend to be very self-centered. The world revolves around 8 to 12 year-olds, as any parent can attest. A YA character, in her high school years, also tends to be self-centered, but will begin to see the world through the eyes of others. In fact, that’s a common character arc for a teen protagonist, from “it’s all about me” to “I’ll sacrifice for you.
- MG readers want snarky humor. Even if a horde of zombies is about to invade his living room, the MG character will think and say humorous things. Dialogue, especially, will be filled with one-line zingers. For boys, yes, potty jokes will always be the rage (try it, say “fart” in front of a group of ten year old boys and watch them erupt into laughter).
- So the drama. What adults see as minor blips in their day, MG characters must see as end-of-the-world scenarios. Her BFF didn’t “like” her Instagram photo of her first day of school outfit? Call the Marines and Dr. Phil.
- A great deal of tension (and we love tension, right?) is gained from the clique-ish behavior of middle-school kids. Split your characters into groups and set them against each other. Most of us can remember it. Yes, it’s still that brutal.
- MG readers are pretty darn smart. If they’re reading, they can handle three-syllable words. But they like a fast pace, lots of action, and–shall I mention it again?–humor. Of course, action is easy when every little thing in the MG world is high drama.
- Adults can be present, and even major characters, but they cannot solve the protagonist’s problem. Just like in adult fiction, your MG protagonist must be clever, smart, and move the story forward herself to its final conclusion. Mom cannot save the day at the end.
Those are a few of the tips I’ve picked up while delving into MG fiction. It’s a fantastic world where we can dig deeper and release that youthful voice that we must often restrain in our adult novels. It’s not easier writing by far. Some of us have to reach back quite a few decades to find those feelings we shelved on our way to adulthood.
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