Posted by: Kathy Temean | July 1, 2015

The Power of YA

Erika Wassall, the Jersey Farm Scribe here on…

Writing for Teens – the unique power of YA 


They’re known for being difficult to live with, filled with angst, and even defiant or manipulative.

Hmmm.  You know… I remember my mother telling me that when people put me down, it was because they were jealous.  Does this negative portrayal perhaps come from the same place?

Aren’t we all just a little bit jealous of the intense relationship teens have with their world?

I know I am.

It’s one of the reasons we may find ourselves drawn to the world of YA.  Our visions of reality are redefined.  Transformation is at the tip of our fingers.  Words like freedom and self-expression have a taste and a texture.

The arch of any good story involves transformation.  Sometimes upon close inspection, much of the surroundings are surprisingly similar to the opening chapters.  It’s them that has changed.

It’s not what the world brings them, but rather, what they bring to the world.

Maybe an early teen breaks away from a sheltered childhood, or a 16-year-old falls in love for the first time and sees completely new possibilities.  Maybe a single high school senior saves the world from threat to destroy Earth to make way for an intersection between Jupiter and Venus.

A wide range of topics, yet with similarities.  Decisions will have a large-scale effect. Big emotions, and a sense of emerging SELF is at the heart of many successful YAs.

Yes!  Yes!  I want my manuscript to resonate with this age group.  To be a part of the representation of the coming of age of humanity ITSELF!!

Too dramatic???   Perhaps.  But ah-well, I guess that’s part of the point.  An almost obsessive sense of importance is embedded into almost every decision a teenager makes.

This is powerful stuff.  And it ain’t easy!!

Here are a few key points I try to keep in mind:

The STORY must come FIRST

You want not only the concept, but the writing itself to have the engulfing power of a teenage transformation.  But there must be a story first and it mustn’t be overshadowed by angsty indulgence that often fuels self-discovery.

This is a piece of LITERATURE first, and a YA novel second.  I want the “coming of age” aspect to be woven throughout my plotline.  Not the other way around.

Plus, a YA novel is a common read for adults.  You don’t want to turn off an entire sector with droning memoirs of whatever the drama of the day happens to be.

Cut the Slang

It can be tempting to try to throw in some hip lingo (oh yes, I said “hip lingo”).  But even if you manage to not sound like you’re faking it, terminology changes fast.  By the time the novel is released, those words may have gone the way of wazzzup, or NOT!.  Scary to say it, but by then, current slang will be SO 2015 and who knows what the “new black” will be by then.

Trust Your Audience

Kids are smart.  And remember that most of the kids who read your book will be… well… readers.

Pause before you over explain a situation or waste a paragraph interpreting the conversation that preceded it.  Your audience is knowledgeable, resourceful and longs to be challenged.

Be Real and Be Yourself

While this holds true for any writing, teenagers are often highly skilled at sniffing out when something isn’t genuine.

Teen years are beautiful.  They hold something uniquely timeless.  Something we can all relate to.  Something draws us to their struggles and fulfillments over and over again.

There is nothing more raw, nothing more passionate, and often, nothing more unabashedly human, than a teenager.

I’d love to hear your thoughts in the comments.  What are some of your tips for writing for teenagers or balancing the layers of a good YA novel?

I believe that seeing the beauty and power in teenage transformation can be both overwhelming and enchanting.  Challenging that energy into a novel is a great challenge, and in many ways, a great honor.

And us as writers, and our manuscripts, are worth it.


Erika Wassall is a writer, a farmer and a liver of life. She is a member of SCBWI and a proud Mad Scientist, bringing science experiments right into children’s classrooms, and hearts. She has a small farm in New Jersey with sheep, chickens, pigs and vegetables. Check out her new website at where as a first generation farmer, she often takes the long way, learning the tricks of the trade on The Farm. On her website is also The Shop page with tips and a free Q/A from her husband’s mechanic shop, and The Writer page where she shares stories, experiences and characters from the heart. Follow her on Twitter at @NJFarmScribe. She’d love to hear from you!

Thank you Erika for another great post. We all enjoy your posts.

Talk tomorrow,



  1. I really enjoyed this post and it insistence that writing must be genuine and good. With the popularity of YA (and the responsibility that comes with an adult writing for teens) the quality must not get lost in the bottom line.


  2. Great post, Erika. I appreciated the reminder not to over-explain. I wonder if that’s the adult in me, trying to explain stuff? But yes, to respect my reader I shouldn’t. My goal is to make my characters and story authentic.


  3. Thanks, Erika, for some great tips. Your comment on slang is reassuring, because I would have to choose between several decades of goodies to draw on, and I am sure I would get it wrong. Now, I know I can discard slang altogether. Thanks, also, for the reminder that the teenage years are rich and wonderful. Sometimes, I forget that in the midst of raising my own 13- and 17-year-olds.


  4. Thanks for sharing! I’m a teen myself and have never ventured into the unique portion of YA books, mostly because I find that too many want to be startlingly real as if it is a jump to adulthood rather suddenly. Some books however, are rather good and slide teens into the world they are entering rather well.


  5. Thanks Erika! Your post is great. Yesterday I started (after thinking and thinking about for 2 years.) my YA novel. I am doing CampNaNoWriMo, and while this may have it’s pros and cons, it is forcing to actually sit my posterior down and write. The term First Shitty Draft really applies here. Thanks for pointing out not to drone on and on of daily things. I had that it in my first attempt. As for slang, I have no idea what is hip anyway, so I don’t even attempt. Hope to hear from you again soon. ‘Groove On!’ 😉


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