Shelley Widhalm

The ins and outs of writing young adult fiction

In Shelley Widhalm, Writing, Young Adult Fiction on October 5, 2014 at 11:00 am

With the entrée into vampires, zombies and all things apocalyptic, young adult writing has become a trendy—and stable—source of storytelling.

I never thought I would write anything other than adult fiction and maybe a children’s picture book, but I got the idea for my young adult novel, “The Money Finder,” prior to NaNoWriMo 2013. I wrote the 70,000-word manuscript in six weeks, or during November, plus the first two weeks of December.

My inspiration came from finding $60 at a bar that I returned to the bouncer, because it was near his greeting stand, but regretted it when he acted surprised. It wasn’t the bar’s money after all and, I figured, went into his pocket.

But what I got out of finding and returning the money is the idea for a novel about a 15-year-old who uses her money finding abilities to try to solve her family crisis. She keeps finding money in odd places, which she stashes away to pay off bills to prevent her family from going into homelessness. The problem is that money isn’t her answer.

Writing the young adult novel involves writing about new, odd and exciting things, because the teenage years present the first time for many life experiences.

These experiences can include falling in love and undergoing a huge, strong emotion, making choices good and bad, deciding who to hang out with and befriend, and figuring out how to treat others and how to allow yourself to be treated, despite what your parents and upbringing teach you.

The teenager is leaving behind childhood but isn’t yet an adult as she begins to take on adult responsibilities. My character, Grace Elliott, takes on too many adult responsibilities, such as paying bills, taking care of her younger sister, Star, and watching out for an alcoholic mother, something that could but doesn’t break her because she has Star.

In a young adult novel, there are multiple approaches to those first experiences, including letting your point-of-view character:

• Solve her own problems, instead of relying on the adults around her.
• Grow and learn from her mistakes, even those involving drugs, alcohol and sex.
• Take on some adult responsibilities but not too many that she gets overwhelmed and has a breakdown.
• Process her life emotionally and physically, so that she comes to an understanding of how the world works.

In young adult fiction, the story is absolutely important. Teens want edgy and controversial topics, such as self-injury, depression, sexuality, grief and anything traumatic. They want the focus on emotion and the emotional rollercoaster teens go through, and they want to be fully immersed in the story, as if they were living it, too.

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