How to Write a Young Adult Book – A Complete Guide

Posted on Aug 27, 2023

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When one thinks of great literary works, the first authors and titles that come to mind are likely not those of Young Adult fiction and in fact it is potentially the easiest type of work to overlook. 

Often unfairly dismissed as full of cliches or a stop gap before more mature works, in recent years young adult fiction has come on leaps and bounds with some of the finest writing to be found within its pages.

But how exactly does one create a great work of fiction aimed at this target market? In this article, we will provide a guide to doing just that, with easy to follow advice and actionable takeaways for aspiring writers seeking to make their mark within this field.

On top of that, we will provide some history on young adult fiction as well as some notable examples of the best works in recent times, to round out this comprehensive guide.

This guide on how to write a young adult book contains:

  1. What is young adult fiction?
  2. History of young adult fiction
  3. How to write a young adult book
  4. Notable examples of young adult fiction in the 21st century
  5. How to write a young adult book – closing thoughts

What is young adult fiction?

Young adult fiction can be defined as a literary genre that primarily targets readers in their teenage years, typically ranging from around 12 to 18 years old, although wider readership amongst all ages is common.

The main characters within these stories are usually of a similar age to the targeted readership, aiming to create a level of relatability and resonance between the book and the readers.

History of young adult fiction

The history of young adult fiction is relatively short as it can be considered something of a recent development within literature.

The genre is considered to have fully emerged in the mid 1900s and has since evolved and grown into a significant and influential category of its own, appealing to both young readers and adults alike. 

In the early 20th century, classic works such as The Adventures of Tom Sawyer by Mark Twain may be retrospectively seen as potentially Young Adult fiction, but were certainly not categorized as such at the time. 

In the middle of the century as we mentioned, the genre started to fully develop and many authors began writing novels that dealt specifically with the challenges and experiences of young adult protagonists in coming of age stories.

In the 60s and 70s, reflecting the wider cultural revolution that was taking place, works emerged that tackled more complex and controversial themes, designed to appeal to the developing interests of teenage readers.

Towards the end of the century, this expansion continued and new sub and cross genres became popular, with combinations of young adult and fantasy, science fiction, romance and horror gained traction in the market.

In the 21st century, young adult fiction catapulted into the mainstream, with titles like Harry Potter, The Hunger Games and The Fault in Our Stars making the leap from the page to the film screen, these works are now some of the most popular worldwide, having a huge impact on the wider culture.

How to write a young adult book

The young adult genre can seem a tricky one to navigate with such a plethora of titles available nowadays, finding a niche or having something new to say can seem difficult.

But by focussing on the fundamentals in our guide below, writers will put themselves in good stead to create the best work possible.

Choose Your Idea

Find an idea that resonates with young readers, tackling themes of identity, growth and challenges.

Whether it is a contemporary issue or a mythical adventure, your concept should evoke relatable emotions and offer a fresh perspective on the teenage experience

Develop Your Characters

Write characters that mirror the complexities of real teens and don’t be afraid to take inspiration from your own teenage years.

Remember memorable moments from your own life and adapt, twist or mold them into your fictional narrative for a perfect combination of relatability and imagination.

Create a Strong Opening

Begin the book with a memorable and impactful opening that can capture and subsequently hold the attention of the reader.

Introduce the protagonist and the world they live in, start to touch on any of their goals or conflicts and set the tone for the journey ahead. 

Outline Your Plot

Sketch out a plot structure that outlines the shape of the story you want to write and the key moments within it.

Having this outline to guide you and also to refer back to will make the process much easier than working constantly off the cuff.

Imagine the Setting

Imagine a rich and immersive backdrop that enhances the story’s atmosphere.

Whether it is a modern day school with incredible detailing or an imagined and futuristic world alien to our own, the setting should not simply be wallpaper to the story. It should amplify and add to the story itself, helping the reader to be transported.

Address Relevant Themes

Ensure that the themes of the books will resonate with young adults. Explore topics like friendship, self-discovery, love and societal issues.

These universal themes allow readers to connect with your characters’ journeys and provide insight into their own lives allowing for both entertainment and self reflection.

Write Authentic Dialogue

Write dialogue that mirrors the way teens speak; casual, relatable and natural. Do research, read other young adult fiction or watch shows that give insight into current vernacular, style and trends.

By creating a world recognisable to your readers, it will give credibility to your work, allowing readers to become immersed and not alienated. 

Build Tension and Conflict

Make sure that the conflict your characters face reflects the real world teenages inhabit.

Teen years are always filled with drama and relationship challenges as they start to mature and have to navigate the young adult world. 

Show Emotional Depth

Being a teenager is like being on a rollercoaster of emotions, so ensure that your story reflects that.

Heartbreaks, friendships, fallings out and much more often consume our lives at this age, so make sure this is reflected in your characters.

Revise and Edit

Approach your initial draft with fresh eyes after a break. Edit for clarity, smooth pacing, grammar and consistency. Seek test readers to offer constructive feedback, refining your narrative into the best work possible. 

Notable examples of young adult fiction in the 21st century

Harry Potter – J K Rowling

The Hunger Games – Suzanne Collins

Twilight – Stephanie Meyer

The Fault in our Stars – John Green

Divergent – Veronica Roth

Percy Jackson – Rick Riordan

The Maze Runner – James Dashner

The Giver – Lois Lowry

To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before – Jenny Han

The Book Thief – Markus Zusak

How to write a young adult book – closing thoughts

As we have learnt from the above, young adult fiction as a genre is going from strength to strength and in recent years, it has developed from the background into the fore and impacted large parts of mainstream culture.

Writers seeking to create works in this area, can refer to the above guide as a way to navigate what may at first glance appear a difficult genre to deal with.

But through understanding what has made some of the books on the above list a success and understanding the history and trends of young adult fiction, writers will be in a good position to create a great story and make their mark.

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