BlogThe Writing Process5 Tips on Creating Your Own Holden Caulfield

5 Tips on Creating Your Own Holden Caulfield


In 1951, J.D. Salinger's The Catcher in the Rye changed the face of teen fiction. The book's protagonist, Holden Caulfield, became the archetype for the young adult hero for generations to come. But the landscape of young adult literature nowadays has changed. It's evolved into one of our most popular genres.

Some may think young adult (YA) novels are easy to write. After all, what's so complicated about a hero within the age range of 12 and 18? Their lives seem simple enough. Even writers with very little experience can produce a novel worthy of praise. Right?

Wrong. It's never easy to create a character you can root for. Take Katniss Everdeen of The Hunger Games for example. We wouldn't care about her survival if she didn't have that perfect blend of courage, resourcefulness, and yes, even weakness.

If you want to create a young adult character as timeless as Holden Caulfield or Katniss Everdeen, consider these five tips.

  1. 1. Read Tons of Young Adult Novels
  2. 2. Do Your Research
  3. 3. Talk to Actual Young Adults
  4. 4. Remember, It's Not Just About Angst
  5. 5. Define a Motivation for Your Character

1. Read Tons of Young Adult Novels

You've probably read your fair share of YA novels. But you can always read more! You'll find there are cross-genres in YA literature. It's often mixed with dystopian themes, supernatural 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 embrace and what to avoid.

2. Do Your Research

If you're in your 30s, you probably don't interact much with teens. 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 insight from researchers 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 to technical studies and published materials isn't enough. You need to understand young adults to write about them. Observe their interactions. 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 have 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.

4. Remember, It's Not Just About Angst

Eighty percent 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 will experience. Give your characters layers. Tons of them. Give them everyday worries, and give them something to brood about. There must be a reason behind the angst!

5. Define a Motivation for Your Character

An essential detail some YA writers seem to forget is 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. A character can't say they're complicated simply because it sounds good on paper. Show the backstory that makes it so.

Get to know your characters. In young adult novels, they're the foundation of a wondrous story. It's the characters that define the genre of young adult literature, not their circumstances. So before you pick up your pen and create your great story, thoroughly understand and embrace your hero first.

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Paige Donahue is a copy editor for She's currently in the middle of writing a young adult novel about a tortured genius.

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