5 Ways to Improve Young Adult Fiction Writing- Guest Post #1

First guest post of the month by writer Michael Blaylock

I am beyond thrilled to feature this awesome guest post by the writer Michael Blaylock. He is the author of supernatural/fantasy novella, Ferryman and runs an amazing website called- Fencingwithink.com 

Let’s head to his post now:

Oooookay. So the Young Adult genre and I have a little bit of love-hate relationship. I love many of the concepts, but hate many of the books.

Why? Simple: terrible writing about interesting ideas with poor execution dressed up in sensationalism.

In my opinion.

Granted, I am not in the YA audience anymore. But unless we’ve decided that the YA audience is stupid and doesn’t deserve good books, we still need standards.

So here are five ideas for making Young Adult fiction better.

Or in some cases, just making it good.

1. No More Dystopias

YA is an audience, not a genre. You can write anything. You can write a YA Western, Historical Fiction, Contemporary, even a Non-Supernatural Romance.

So how about we all agree the bleak future where there world is overrun by war and destruction, then taken over by an evil government that likes to oppress its population and make its children play deadly games to prove themselves has been done to death?

What’s that? You like bleak dystopian future stories? Well, then…

2. Better Dystopias

Hunger Games worked (the first one). Why? Because it thought out its history. War ravaged the world, then the Capital came to power and enslaved the other districts, forcing their children to play a mass-murder game as a constant reminder of their power. It’s simple, yet draws on actual political mindsets and the trend of reality TV.

I read that book only once and remembered the backstory.

In Divergent, the world split into personality factions because…um…I honestly can’t remember after reading the book and watching the movie. And if you say, “They explain it in later books,” well then the first book should have been good enough to keep reading the series.

Concepts are only as good as their execution. How did the world get this way? Why? What effect did it have and why those particular effects? Who benefits from the oppression? And how? And why?

In fact, just ask everything about your story “How?” and “Why?” and you’ll fare much better than even the most popular YA stories. Heck, even some non-YA stories.

3. Lead Characters with Character

Darrow from Red Rising is a Gary Stu. He’s perfect except when the plot needs him to not be. His only real talent is being clever except when he’s not. And yet he’s better than everyone at everything. He’s so amazing that the plot just stagnates because there’s no tension.

And I have no idea who he is. He’s angry, sure, but that’s a reaction, not a personality trait. He’s thrust into extremes and playacting without us ever really getting to know who he is when he’s just being himself. As a result, he’s boring and it’s difficult to relate to him.

Sadly, he is not alone. Too many YA female characters are good at fighting, then suddenly aren’t (usually when there’s a man around). And then they suddenly are again, at the least-believable moment (fake tension). Or have a generically-special trait that makes them unique and important in lieu of actual character development (the chosen one).

If you’re going to make me follow somebody for 350 pages (usually in first person), I need to like them. Give them motivation, personality, comfort zones, history, preferences, all those things that make up an individual. In short, don’t just give them situations, give them character to rub against the situation.

4. Love Stories with Actual Depth (or No Love Stories)

Why does every YA love triangle whittle down to Edward vs. Jacob? One guy is mysterious and sexy, but scary. The other is wonderful and available, but bland. How about a love triangle where each option fits the lead in some unique and reasonable way, rather than rehashing the light-vs-darkness love story?

Or how about a love story without the triangle? You know, like most people? And I don’t mean “love story” as in steamy glances and more blushes than the cosmetics industry. I mean characters growing together, appreciating each other, and helping each other. Preferably without a shirtless scene that’s only there because the author read Fifty Shades of Gray but didn’t want to lose her book contract, so she settled.

Friggin’ underage smut…

And here’s one more crazy idea: what if there was no love story? Or perhaps the love story was in the background? How would that push the book in a new direction? It’s almost like the main character would have to actually grow on their own. Or that they can just be friends with the opposite sex.

Or other messages the YA demographic could really use right now.

5. Goodness Without Gimmicks 

This summarizes everything that makes the YA genre function or fail: what is your story like in the downtime?

When your characters aren’t fighting “The Man,” do they have anything interesting to say? Is the dialogue functional and appropriate for the person speaking it or is it rote blabber we’ve heard before? Do you have a story or just a concept?

I made fun of Divergent before because it was a cool idea, but lacked in execution. It had a nice hierarchy and division of peoples, but couldn’t make me believe it. Many YA stories have neat ideas, whether the end of the world, dragon riders, or love stories. But you can’t write an idea. You can only write a story.

Joel Schumaker took Batman and made him a laughing stock. Christopher Nolan came right after him and made Batman serious. Two creators can take the same premise and one will succeed while the other will fail.

Good writing is more than cool marketing and sensational gimmicks. It’s why Hunger Games is beloved, but Mockingjay disappointed. The first knew what to do with the materials it had, but the final book did not (I’m aware deadlines played into the story, but the result is the same).

A good writer chooses the right words, creates fleshed-out characters, and understands the nuances of subtlety and art. A bad writer only has neat, in-your-face ideas. It might make a lot of money, but in the end it will be laughed at, derided, or forgotten.

Good writing lasts forever.