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Writing YA Fiction

Matt Whyman

I’m going to keep this short, as I believe the advice I have to share about writing teenage fiction is straightforward:  Don’t write for teenagers. Write about them.

It’s been a while since I was one, but we’ve all been there. It’s a time of life that fascinates me.  We’re all geared up to make our mark on the world, but ill-equipped with the skills or knowledge. It’s a heady mixture of ambition, naivety, dreams, ideals, passion, self-doubt, recklessness and boundary-testing that defines such years, which I’d sum up as the teen spirit.

It can’t be bottled, but you can put it into words.

Teenagers aren’t a different species, however. They don’t communicate in another language, and if you’re going to get hung up on youth speak or teen trends then step away from the keyboard right now. The fact is young people are intelligent human beings, with thoughts and feelings just like you and me. The only difference is that we’ve been around to become world-weary and cynical while they’re at a formative time in their lives. For better or worse, optimism is a compelling force when it comes to storytelling.

My books are labelled as teen or young adult fiction.  I don’t believe there’s a difference. I also pay the label no attention whatsoever. While I write about young people, I aim to appeal to readers of any age. At the same time, I’m well aware that teen fiction can serve as a mirror for teen readers – enabling them to measure their values against characters in realistic or fantastical situation. That’s fine by me. My job is to connect with as many readers as I can, after all.

At the same time, teenagers are busy people. They fill their leisure time with everything from friends and social networks to TV on demand, films and videogames. If my novels are going to feature in that mix, they need to offer the same appeal. We’re not just talking about superficial immediacy – the literary equivalent of special effects – but engaging narratives with depth and soul; the kind of stories, I think, that continue to resonate long after you’ve left your adolescence behind.


Matt Whyman’s latest novel, AMERICAN SAVAGE is published in June by Hot Key Books. Find out more about Matt on his website and follow him on Twitter.