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Writing for Young Adults: Tips from Claire Hennessy

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Claire Hennessy

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Whether you are a young writer or an older one, the following are invaluable points to think about when writing for what is known in publishing as Young Adult, or the category below that, Tweens. Both areas are rapidly growing market sectors spearheaded by the Harry Potter and Twilight phenomenan.

Claire recommends you:

  1. Read lots and lots of young adult/teenage fiction! There are plenty of amazing books out there – and more appearing each year. Don’t rely on a vague idea of the field based on what you read as a teen, or on the handful of books that have been turned into movies.
  2. There’s a big difference between writing about a thirteen-year-old main character and a seventeen-year-old main character – it can be helpful to decide early on exactly how old your main character is and then figure out what that means for his/her life. How much freedom do the characters have (and want)? What kind of responsibilities do they have (and want)?
  3. If you’re writing about contemporary teenagers, it can be a good idea to do a bit of research – some people pester younger relatives for details on teenage life, others eavesdrop on conversations on the bus or in shops.
  4. If you have diaries from your teenage years, it’s always worth revisiting these before you start writing. Serious cringing may ensue, though.
  5. Take your characters seriously. One of the things that makes the teenage years so memorable (whether good or bad) is the intensity of things – whether it’s a friendship gone horribly wrong, a fight with a family member, or discovering something important about yourself or the world at large. It can be very easy to dismiss a young person’s reaction to certain events – but they do matter.
  6. So much of the teenage experience and novels for this age group is about ‘first times’ in some way – discovering or experiencing something for the first time, whether it’s love or betrayal or losing a friend or taking on an adult role in some way. But they won’t be totally naïve either – think about what they have experienced as well as what they have yet to.
  7. Usually the characters are at an age where, whether the story’s set in the real world or not, they’re expected to be learning and training in some way. This can be a great set-up for conflict with peers or authority figures, as well as a way of exploring what about life the character needs to discover that can’t be taught.
  8. Try creating a playlist that takes you back to your own teenage years, so that you can channel all that adolescent emotion into your writing!
  9. The teenage years are a time for starting to develop a unique identity – as well as a time of peer pressure. Your characters probably won’t behave the same way at home as they do at school, for example. Figuring out the different variations of their persona can tell you a lot about the kind of person they are.
  10. Have fun! Like any other kind of writing, the best reason to write for teenagers is because you enjoy it – some tough moments are to be expected, but it shouldn’t be an entirely hellish experience.

(Some!) Recommended Reads: Laurie Halse Anderson, Speak Jay Asher, Thirteen Reasons Why Malorie Blackman, Noughts and Crosses Judy Blume, Tiger Eyes Judy Blundell, What I Saw and How I Lied Melvin Burgess, Junk Stephen Chbosky, the perks of being a wallflower Margrit Cruickshank, The Door Gayle Forman, If I Stay Garret Freymann-Weyr, My Heartbeat John Green, Looking for Alaska Mark Haddon, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time Brent Hartinger, Geography Club Madeleine L’Engle, A Ring of Endless Light Jandy Nelson, The Sky Is Everywhere Meg Rosoff, How I Live Now Paul Zindel, My Darling, My Hamburger

About the author

Claire Hennessy was born in 1986, and is the author of nine novels for young people. She wrote her first book,Dear Diary…, when still in primary school, and continued writing and publishing throughout secondary school and college. She lives in Dublin, where she writes, teaches creative writing, and drinks too much tea. Her ninth book, Every Summer, was published in summer 2009.

One of the trio of writers who established The Big Smoke Writing Factory (www.bigsmokewritingfactory.com) and a facilitator or the Centre for Talented Youth Ireland and the Inkwell4Kids programme, she is a gifted teacher and has given writing.ie her top tips for writing for young people.

More information on Claire and her writing can be found at www.clairehennessy.com

Claire Hennessy discusses how a writing class can be helpful here.

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