It was in 1951 when J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye changed the face of teen fiction. Holden Caulfield became the poster child for the young adult hero generations of writers after Salinger still characterize. But the landscape of young adult literature has changed, and it has evolved into one of the most read publication right now.
Some may think a YA novel is easy to write. After all, what's so complicated about writing a hero within the age range of 12-18? Their lives seem simple enough even writers with very little experience can produce a novel worthy of praise. Wrong. It's never easy to create a character you can root for. Take Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games for example. It would be hard to care for her survival if she weren't crafted into someone so strong and able, and yet, who still has her weaknesses.
YA heroes (and heroines, of course) don't have to be likable, but they must at least be someone you can support. Though you certainly can whip up a character out of thin air, it needs planning and enough research. Researching and planning the characters for your YA novel may not be as time consuming and technical as in other genres,. It it's essential though, if you want to create a character that will be as timeless as Holden. Here are 5 tips to help you craft an unforgettable YA character:
1. Start by reading tons of young adult novels.
Familiarize yourself with the genre. There's a good chance you've read a fair share of YA novels, but it's necessary for you to read more. There are cross-genres in YA literature. It's often mixed with dystopian themes, fantastical concepts and even science fiction. But the general running theme in all cross-genres is the lead character's coming of age. Familiarizing yourself with the usual characterization of YA heroes will give you a better idea of what to avoid and what works.
2. Do your own research.
If you're well in your 20s or 30s, you probably don't interact much with teens. You can start by reading books and studies focusing on the complications and complexities teens and young adults deal with on a daily basis. With the mentality of an adult, it's probably difficult to understand them. Getting an insight from researches can help. At the same time, maybe reading magazines catered for teens and young adults will ease you in with the common interests and hobbies of their age group.
3. Talk to actual young adults.
Devoting time on technical studies and published materials aren't enough. You need to understand one to write about one. Observing their interaction with one another is one of the many things you can do. Knowing them is the first step to understanding them. You were a young adult once, but that was years ago. You've changed and so are the things around you. It's critical that you see things from the perspective of an 18-year-old if you want to create a believable 18-year-old YA hero. S.E. Hinton, the author of the classic The Outsiders, was 16 years old when she wrote the book. And yet, through observation and familiarization, she managed to write a good portrayal of teen boys.
4. Remember, it's not just about angst.
80% of the time, it may seem like the only thing they do is brood. But angst is merely one of the many things a YA character goes through. Give your characters layers, tons of it. Give them everyday worries, and give them something to brood about. There must be a reason behind the angst! Give them real emotions because that's the only way to breathe them to life.
5. Define a motivation for the character.
Something important some YA writers seem to forget is to give their characters a backstory. For character development to happen, you need to give them a motivation, a reason why they do the things they do. This motivation is the reason behind their reaction to situations. Don't give them good dialogue just because it sounds pretty. There must be a motivation for why they say the things they say and why they do the things they do. You can't say you're infinite simply because it sounds good on paper. Charlie in The Perks of Being a Wallflower felt infinite due to a succession of events and how he got there in the first place.
Get to know your YA characters well. In young adult novels, they're the foundation of a wondrous story. It's the characters that define the genre of the young adult literature and not their circumstances. So before you pick up your pen and create your great perhaps, thoroughly understand and embrace your hero first.