SMC: Writing YA Novels Kids Can’t Put Down

Storymaker notes continue, this time with Janette Rallison (who also writes as CJ Hill). A night of only 5 hours of sleep was catching up to me at this point, but I think I got the meat of what she was saying.


Remember that kids tend to read up. Write about issues that teens care about. Many of these include fitting in, growing up, and dating. But whatever the issue is, make it important to the teen. Keep the novel fast-moving. Don’t put in too much beautiful description or you’ll bore your audience. Often YA novels will end up being somewhere between 200 and 300 pages. Write it in a voice teens can relate to.


  1. Your MC should want something they don’t already have.
  2. Their goal should be something worthy.
  3. The best goals are important and urgent.
  4. Goals don’t always have to be achieved. (aka they realize something they want more along the way)
  5. All the main characters in your novel should have goals. (realistic support characters will be doing things for their own reasons and should)


  1. Don’t let your character wander around the story without motivation.
  2. Don’t make your character an idiot. (Seems obvious, but don’t have them doing things that your readers will scream is stupid at the book.)
  3. Characters should have both internal and external motivation and goals.

Revenge could have been a great motivation for Obi-wan in Eps 2 & 3. Too bad they killed off Darth Maul in the same scene…


  1. Conflict is two dogs & one bone. (They want something someone else wants just as badly).
  2. Conflict is not the same as arguing.
  3. Any conflict that can be cleared up with a 2 minute frank conversation between characters is not a conflict.
  4. Your characters should come to every scene with a goal and conflict.


Have a strong antagonist, but realize that the antagonist doesn’t always have to be a villain. And when it comes to YA novels, you can’t have an adult solve the teen’s problem. That’s often why you’ll find YA stories about orphans (Harry Potter) or who have useless parent(s) (Hunger Games).

The reader needs to know the dire consequences that will befall the main character if he/she does not reach his/her goal. Otherwise they won’t feel the tension in what they’re reading and may disengage.

And as Dwight Swain says each story should have a problem, character, goal, antagonist, and disaster. Write down each of these categories and make sure you can define each of these when it comes to your novel.

Any tips you would add? Have you found places where you were ruining motivation when you could have been using it? What do you do to make sure you give your characters motivation and conflict in every scene?

One more thing on ruining motivation. In earlier iterations of my novel, I had a main character who started as a great conflicting force for my MC that essentially disappeared for the rest of the book after being in the first few chapters. It took me several rewrites to realize I was killing some excellent motivation for my MC. Now that character doesn’t disappear and I think things are much improved. Scour your own novel and make sure you’re not killing off good conflict before it comes to grand fruition.

The Pitch Wars Cometh…

I know, I’m terribly late to posting today. One of those days. But that’s all right, because tomorrow is….

Pitch Wars Day!

That’s right. The day I’ve been long preparing for is finally arriving tomorrow. For those who haven’t heard, Pitch Wars was a contest sponsored by Brenda Drake and a slew of other fabulous people where if selected the writer would be mentored by a business professional. They would receive feedback on their manuscript and work with their mentor to prepare a pitch for participating agents in the hopes of receiving requests for more material.

Why is this such a great opportunity? The professional feedback alone is worth the effort. But as any of you who’ve tried querying know, it’s hard to get an agent’s attention when they get hit with mountains of submissions daily. This is like stepping to the front of the line for consideration. Sure, it’s no guarantee, but front of the line, people!

My mentor is Marieke Nijkamp and you’d think we were destined to be mentor and mentee from the beginning. Both of us have rabid loves of all things geek, especially Doctor Who. I knew, however, when she was getting my obscure Captain Planet references we were a good match. She gave me great feedback, but I feel like I should explain. It’s one thing to get typo corrections and sentence structure feedback, which is important. But Marieke really dug into the heart of my book. It was like having my subconscious coming out and telling me the weaknesses of my story. The best part was she didn’t tell me this is how you must fix the manuscript. She told me more what she believed I was going for and where she thought it was week and what she thought could help fix problems.

Point being, I didn’t really disagree with anything. I really felt like she’d given SHADE a fair shake and helped me see things my subconscious had tried to tell me all along. And I really like where things went from there. I can’t believe how much SHADE has come along, and I’m proud of where it stands now. Thanks so much Marieke! And Happy Birthday tomorrow!

If only all our birthdays could be as awesome as this!

So tomorrow’s the day. I encourage you to visit the YA Misfits blog to see the pitches of yours truly as well as other mentees. I think it’s good to see how they pitched things to learn how good pitches are made.

The alternates’ pitches are being hosted on the blogs of Kimberly, Dee, FizzyGrrl, Mónica, and Brenda, which you should definitely take a look at as well. These are all strong stories. And if Pitch Wars isn’t what makes it for them, I’m sure you’ll see them in publication down the road via another route very soon. I know an agent would be crazy not to take a look at my the pitches of my friends Brian (The Key to Eden) and Kati & Heidi (Mystic Cooking).

Wish us all luck tomorrow! 🙂