5 Musts Every Story in Your Genre Should Have
I love reading YA fiction. My kindle is bursting with them. While there is no formula (that I have found) that makes a great YA book, a few things stick out in my head when comparing books I love.
All of my favorite YA books (mostly Paranormal and Fantasy) have compelling characters. We have to meet someone interesting on the first page, and they have to suck us in enough to continue to care about their lives until the last. I fall in love easily, so I rarely meet a YA main (or supporting) that makes me want to stop reading a book, but it’s possible. The character must be gripping, original, flawed, and loveable. That is much harder to write than it is to notice in something you’re reading, but as a writer, creating characters is one of my favorite things to do.
A good opening.
The opening sets the tone of the novel. As a reader, I want to be yanked into this world, thrown on a roller coaster, and not allowed to get off until it’s over. As I writer, I beg the gods to show me how to do this. It’s difficult but important. It’s not just the first page. It could be someone’s last. Think about or go back and read the openings from your favorite YA books. Did you fall in love with the character? Feel sorry for them? Want more of them? Of course, you did. That’s why it’s your favorite.
I’ve read a few books that had a cool premise, started well, and had a loveable character … but the stakes weren’t high enough. Those lose me. I want life or death, not I may be hated at school to the end of eternity. But that’s just me. I want to worry about the character, fear for their life. Others may be different, but I would guess that they at least want interesting stakes, even if it’s not a nail biter.
Just because YA readers are teens (and those of us who refuse to grow up), doesn’t mean they can’t spot weak relationships. As a believer of love at first sight, it’s easy for me to believe in the relationships in the YA books I’ve read. I love the idea of meeting someone on Monday and not being able to imagine your life without them on Tuesday. For some readers, that annoys the crap out of them. To me, it can be quick, it just has to be genuine and interesting.
A big finish.
No one likes a let down. I think YA books have to deliver whatever thing they’ve been building up to. I don’t want to read 80,000 words and never get to the big fight, or the break up, or have things summed up so fast I think I may have missed something. I love YA books that finish big, with a shock, yet the answer was there in my face all along. I love to go back to chapter one and say “Ohhhh. I see it now.” It makes the time I’ve invested worthwhile.
These five things, in my opinion, are vital to YA books. It certainly isn’t a recipe, and keep in mind that each of these aspects are subjective. A character that is compelling to me may be boring to someone else. Stakes that are high to me may make another reader yawn. But when you find a YA book with the right balance of these five elements for you, you’ll probably find that you can’t put it down.
Sixteen-year-old Leah Grant has given up on being normal. She’d settle for stopping the voices in her head, intrusive visions of the future, and better odds of making it to her seventeenth birthday.
That’s the thing about pretending to be human in a world where magic used to exist – at any moment, her cover could be blown and she’ll be burned to death like the rest of the witches.
Everything changes when she loses control of her powers and flees the orphanage she grew up in. She desperately wants to be invisible but finds her face plastered on every news channel as humans panic over the possible resurgence of her kind. And now the hunters won’t give up until they find her.
Making friends for the first time in her life and falling in love with one of them drives her to discover why she is unlike any being she’s ever met – human or otherwise. The dangerous powers inside of her that would repel Nathan, her new, handsome reason for living, are priceless to some. The locked up forever kind of priceless. And to others, they are too dangerous to allow her to live.
Let’s hope she can stay hidden.
Sienna snatched last week’s Chemistry test from my desk. I hadn’t turned it over. I knew it was a D minus.
She cackled and passed it around.
“Leah, you would think someone who spends most of her time alone would have better grades,” she said. Her birds laughed on cue. “What do you do all day? Obviously not study.” She gasped slowly like she’d gotten a revelation in that blonde head of hers. “You fantasize about us, don’t you? You probably sleep in Whit’s old bed to feel close to her.”
Laughter spread around the room like an airborne disease. Disease. I shivered. That was an intriguing thought; I could almost hear the sound their bodies would make against the floor when it hit.
“Leah, come on. Say something. Scream at me, it’s been a while. At least cry,” Sienna said, laughing and leaning into my desk, closer to danger.
I didn’t cry. I never cry. And if I were going to, it wouldn’t be because of Sienna. I had bigger problems. I’d just broken a promise I’d made to God to not think about hurting His people, His children. And today was not the day to piss Him off.
My old roommate, Whitney Nguyen, graciously returned my test as she cackled with the rest of the birds. She liked the idea of me pining over her, but she knew I didn’t spend my free time thinking about her or sleeping in her old bed. After fourteen years of hard labor as my roommate, she’d given up on being friends or me being remotely normal. The current theory to explain my oddness was that I was in love with all of the girls and consumed by lust.
As long as they didn’t know it was magic.
M. Lathan lives in San Antonio with her husband and mini-schnauzer. She enjoys writing and has a B.S. in Psych and a Masters in Counseling. Her passion is a blend of her two interests – creating new worlds and stocking them with crazy people. She enjoys reading anything with interesting characters and writing in front of a window while asking rhetorical questions … like her idol Carrie Bradshaw.
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I think these things hold true for most genre books, and not just YA. I'd like to add an original twist because sometimes when a particular genre becomes popular it feels as if you're reading the same story over and over.
Thank you for hosting.
Thanks for hosting!!
Good one, Shelley. That's very true! An original twist is a must!
Hard to be original for some, but so nice when they are.
Nice excerpt, thank you.
YA does seem more compelling than when I was in the desired age bracket...
Excellent 5 musts. For me the biggest is the beginning of a story. I need the story to grab me from the start.
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