I’m taking this week to distill the highlights of some of the panels I attended or served on at last weekend’s Imaginarium Convention. It was a great event, full of excellent content and inspiration. Yesterday, I talked about “Pitching a Small Press Publisher.” Today, let’s look at writing speculative fiction for young adults. I was honored to sit on this panel with Violet Patterson, Kirk Dougal, Leah Pugh, and J.L. Mulvihill.
Young adult speculative fiction is one of the hottest literary trends right now, thanks to books like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games, Divergent and The Maze Runner. We talked about the challenges of writing fantastic stories aimed at teens, and why it’s such a fun subgenre to write in.
The challenges of speculative YA
Across the board, nearly all the authors on the panel cited getting the dialogue right as the toughest part of writing young adult. Teens have a language all their own, and if you don’t get it right, it can ruin your novel.
Most of the authors on the panel, with the exception of Leah, have teens or tweens at home. So a big part of addressing that challenge is spending lots of time really listening to teens, especially when they’re in a relaxed environment. Some of the authors also read their work to their teen kids, who are only too happy to tell them when “nobody would ever say it like that.”
JL Mulvilhill and Leah Pugh pointed out that we’ve all been teenagers. So it’s also a matter of connecting to your inner adolescent, and remembering what that experience was like.
The benefits of writing speculative YA
Another challenge of writing speculative fiction for a younger audience is balancing the inner journey of growth against the external plot. Your protagonist’s coming-of-age story is equally important to any external conflicts, so you have to give enough attention to that without slowing down the action too much. However, getting to show that extreme character growth and progression is also one of the rewards of writing YA. As one author said, aside from infancy, your teen years are when you experience the most changes in the shortest period. It’s an exciting time to write about.
Which leads to another rewarding element of writing YA; the opportunity to address some of the important issues teens are facing. Particularly in speculative fiction, you have the opportunity to work in some important social issues in a more subtle way. You have the opportunity to speak to teens in the midst of their struggles and encourage them that things do get better, and that they aren’t the only ones to experience those issues. That can provide a really compelling reason to write.
The books you read as a young person tend to stay with you throughout life. By setting these stories in imaginative worlds, authors have the opportunity to help not just entertain, but encourage teens at a critical point in their lives.
What were your favorite books as a teen? Do you read YA as an adult? What do you find most enjoyable about SciFi and fantasy stories with younger protagonists?