The middle grade and YA sections of your local bookstore and/or library these days are teeming with genres, styles and subject matters for teens and ‘tweens to explore. Some offer up fantastical and imaginative worlds, others deal with gritty topical issues – and there’s a vast range in between. But no matter what genre or format you choose to write in, there is a universal key to crafting a compelling plot for young readers: resonance for your intended audience.
What does that mean?
You want to be sure the central problem or big idea that your story grapples with is relevant to your target audience on a very practical, concrete level. In other words, the reader must identify with it. Feeling different, seeking independence, navigating relationships, testing boundaries – these are all universal experiences that any teen or tween can relate to, whether the story unfolds in the past, present or future and no matter where in the world it takes place. (This is not to say that you can’t write about a subject that only a select number of young readers can relate to… but that will narrow your audience, so marketing well to that ‘niche’ group becomes even more essential when the time comes.)
No matter your story’s genre or format, who the central characters are or the time and place in which it unfolds, be sure that the central issue the hero is wrestling with is germane to your target audience. If you don’t have ready access to kids the same age as your target reader, spend some time studying the developmental issues and concerns of children, pre-teens or teens in that age group (The Gesell Institute’s child development book series is a great resource to start with.) Knowing the age-specific passions, questions, struggles and quirks of your intended reader is the best way to brainstorm kid-friendly ideas and craft compelling characters with authentic voices that young readers will relate to.
(Interested in more information like this? Check out my home study courses in writing picture books, chapter books and middle grade novels and young adult fiction, at JustWriteChildrensBooks.com)