Keeping Ahead of Trends in YA Lit

Weekend Writing Special

You’ve finished the first draft of your young adult manuscript. It’s new! It’s got a great hook! Nobody has done anything like this before! It’s a reality-television-show-to-the-death featuring vampire-esque aliens. You imagine literary agents begging, no, clamoring, for your manuscript. Your idea is The Newest Thing.

Until, a few weeks later as you’re hard at work on revisions, all of a sudden everyone has done this. And their books are being published Right Now. That author of Twilight (whose name I keep forgetting) does a horror reality television show novel. Suzanne Collins has something with alien-vampires. J. K. Rowling creates a Harry Potter spin-off featuring vampires who run a television series about aliens.

My personal experience with this is not nearly as extreme or ridiculous. I had this idea for a future, post-apocalyptic setting for a novel, and I dove (dived?) right in. Minutes later, I read The Hunger Games. Then The Forest of Hands and Teeth. Then, while reading Publishers Lunch from Publishers Marketplace, I found two other post-apocalyptic YA trilogies due out in a year. How can I compete with that?

I can’t. Not as far as the general idea goes. No one can. In a lot of ways, we are all tuned into the collective unconscious. We read many of the same books, watch the same movies and television shows, hear the same news stories, and on and on. My hook has to be more than “post-apocalyptic” etcetera and so forth. An intriguing story idea can do a lot…

…but an awesome character does so much more.

An author friend of mine was worried about this a few months ago, as was I. We’d just finished revisions on our manuscripts (we thought) and we were ready to embark on our new projects. “I’m thinking vampires,” she said. “But it’s been done, you know?”

I did know. I wrote one. And then I told her something I should pay attention to myself: if the characters are memorable and compelling, it doesn’t matter what the setting is, or what creatures they are. Vampires, werewolves, telepathic fairy-kin, selkies, were-amoebas. After all, we’ve read contemporary fiction featuring regular old humans for…hmmm…just about forever. Humans? Regular people? In a regular setting? How boring…not. Most of Sarah Dessen’s books feature teenage girls in the same little town in North Carolina. I’ve read every single one of them because her characters are fabulous.

So it’s not just another vampire book, or another post-apocalyptic zombie book, or another (sigh) werewolf book. It’s a real story featuring a compelling character who deals with an intriguing, gripping conflict. You don’t need to keep ahead of trends, or even worry about them, if you’re writing what you love and focusing on your own unique characters.

Comments
5 Responses to “Keeping Ahead of Trends in YA Lit”
  1. Dana says:

    Ooo, a special weekend edition! Woohoo!

    I’d totally read about were-amoebas. I hope it’s a comedy.

  2. Seven N Blue says:

    Were-amoebas. Hilarious. So funny you posted this today. I needed to hear this 🙂

  3. bethhull says:

    Dana, Seven- I’ll get right to work on that were-amoeba manuscript. It’ll be full of protozoan drama.

    • Dana says:

      No drama. Comedy. Make them sparkle and stuff. And they can get angsty about mitosis. “Nooooo, I don’t want to split! I want to be whole forEVER!”

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