I’m taking a break from poetry today to bring you a special guest post by my good friend, Laura L. Zimmerman.
The Drama of Writing YA
Long after I left my “young adult” years, I continued to read the books out of sheer enjoyment for the genre. I’d slip through the doors of Barnes and Noble, duck my head, and sneak to the back of the store where all the newly released YA novels were displayed. I knew I wasn’t the only adult who enjoyed the genre, but somehow, standing between groups of thirteen-year-old girls felt a bit intimidating. Still that didn’t stop me from enjoying a good read.
Since then, there have been times when I’ve read a popular YA novel only to think, ‘Wait. That’s not realistic!’ or ‘Whoa. Serious mood swings!’ So it’s no surprise that as I began to seriously write YA, I’d aim to get ‘inside’ a teenagers head but would strive to think of a more mature response. Something I would like to read.
Except, I was completely wrong.
I know this first hand because an actual teenager who read my actual work called me out on it. Big ouch.
Months prior I’d given this fourteen-year-old family friend one of my YA manuscripts. She enjoys writing, too, so I felt confident she’d give me a balanced review of my work.
But when I asked for her response, it wasn’t what I expected.
It was good, she said.
Okay, she hadn’t said it was boring, or confusing, or a plethora of other nightmarish things that a writer never wants to hear. But ‘It was good’ wasn’t hitting it out of the ballpark, either. I asked if she could sum up what stopped it from being great.
Her response? Not enough drama.
My YA novel didn’t have enough drama in it. Oops.
Of course, I had to defend myself. (Right?) I explained that I was tired of reading YA novels with love triangles, or where the main character is wish-washy with all of his/her decisions. I wanted to speak to a more mature audience—one who didn’t want to play high school games.
“Yeah, but a teenager doesn’t want to read that,” she said. “High school has drama in it. We’re teenagers. It’s what we do. A teen wants to read what they see every day. Not how they should act.”
Oh. Right. Because they’re…teenagers.
And then it hit me: There is a basic formula for what makes a YA novel because it works. It has worked in the past. It works now. It will likely continue to work for as long as teenagers read YA.
So, I went back and added a bit more theatrics to the story. A love triangle, a couple of lies, a few misconceptions between characters. Did any of it have anything to do with the storyline? Not really.
But a little bit of drama goes a long way.
A few years have passed since then, but each time I read a YA novel with a dramatic twist, I smile. That’s just how a teenager would act, after all. And that’s a good thing. For YA novels, anyway.
Laura L. Zimmerman resides in Phoenix, AZ and is a homeschooling mom to three beautiful daughters. She is thankful for a supportive husband, who is always quick to encourage her love of singing, reading, and drinking coffee. Laura enjoys writing young adult and middle grade fantasy fiction and hopes to encourage children toward a relationship in Christ through her work. Laura is represented by Cyle Young through Hartline Literary Agency.