Tips for writing contemporary YA

Writers can fall into one of two camps: those who stick to one genre, and those who like to dot around. Today, I’m talking to both camps – but only if you both like YA Contemporary!
YA Contemporary books are fascinating, deep and full of emotional layers. This is the time of life where teenagers are developing into adults, learning their place in the world, tackling new (and sometimes weighty) issues that are now coming their way. Plus a whole lot of other stuff, too.
If you’re not sure what contemporary YA work is, it’s basically books for teens that come under the realm of realistic fiction. It’s real life, in the now, tackling modern issues. Some people say it’s imperative to have a love story in the plot, and while this is often a big part of the writing, it’s not 100% mandatory. Some stories just don’t call for it.
If you’re writing in this genre, here are some tips to help your writing stand up above the crowd:
Read the genre you write in.
 By Eneas De Troya from Mexico City, México – Lectura para unas vidas, CC BY 2.0,
There are some amazing YA books out there:
The Fault in our Stars by John Green
Simon vs. the Homo Sapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Forbidden by Tabitha Suzuma
Eleanor and Park by Rainbow Rowell
You Against Me by Jenny Downham
Well, you get the gist.
But above that, there are some other, concrete tips you can use:
Don’t forget to use technology. Whether we like it or not, it’s part of teen life and to omit it would be to make a mistake.
Actually research what teens like. Don’t just rely on your own experience. What are they listening to right now? What are they watching? Do they care about what’s on the news (you’d be surprised – I didn’t when I was a teen, but some of them do nowadays!)?
Give your main characters a diverse experience – by that, I mean let them be individuals rather than cardboard cut outs. It’s easy to avoid a stereotype, but sometimes it hard to avoid a generic character. Give your teenager passions outside of the normal “I like football” or “oh this is cool music”. Some teens do like those things. However, others might like L33T speak, some might be heavy into moshing (not that they should); others still might love to be squirreled away in museums. Remember, it takes all kinds, and just because they are teenagers, doesn’t mean they don’t have diverse experiences and tastes!
We all hear this (and most of us hate to hear it) – it’s all about the voice. But how can you know whether you’re getting it right or wrong? Well, here’s an idea: give it to a teen and see! When you have your ms ready, ask a teen to read! Sure, this is actually scarier than getting a fellow writer to read, because this is your target market, and if they don’t like it…well, if they don’t, find out why. See how you can make it better, more relevant.
I take my hat off to everyone who writes contemporary YA as it’s not as easy as it looks. Here’s to much success for everyone and I look forward to all the new young adult books that will hit our shelves in the upcoming years!

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s