Young Adult (YA) novels can be cathartic for the writer. Forget about trends, current issues, and the headlines of Vogue. Instead, tap a vein.
Personal story: When I finished Me and the Maniac in Outer Space, when re-reading it, serendipitously, my boyhood BFF friended me on Facebook. And my mouth fell open. The characters in my book were us! I am Hudson, and my friend is Jack. Hudson, the smart, cowardly kid who envied his fearless, reckless, big-hearted and strong best friend Jack… was me! Our backstories were different, and we didn’t find an alien personal transportation device, but the guts of their relationship was us.
Every book and story I’ve written has had an element of my life in it, normally so transformed that it’s unrecognizable, but to me, it’s glaringly obvious. I’m sure it’s the same for you.
So why not turn that inside-out?
Don’t try to figure out what today’s teen feels like. Remember what you felt like, and more importantly, what did you believe that was wrong, that if you only knew then what you know now? Isolate that belief, and imbue your main character with the feeling, not necessary the manifestation of it.
Another personal story: My current project is about a boy with damaged nerves in his face, so he drools and slurs a bit. It makes him feel like an outcast and unworthy of anyone’s attention. My face is fine, despite the natural frown that is my mouth. But I felt all those things because of a long-forgotten bone disease that no one knew about and the fact that I was six feet tall and about 85 pounds. What I know now is that no one cared. For me, a smart mouth and savage wit was a tactic that is the opposite of my young character’s, who is withdrawn and silent.
This story is a bit more calculated than Me and the Maniac, but I have a guide that I didn’t have before. What would I do in this situation with that broken belief? What kind of situation can I throw him into that will prove that belief wrong? What would I have done if I’d realized the truth back then?
Not much of the story will mirror your life, but you’ll have touchstones, guideposts, and by making it real to yourself, you’ll make it real to others. That beats trends any day of the week.