How to Write a Blockbuster YA Novel

I am woefully behind the times in my reading. Ask me about the classics, and I’m all over it:

  • Sophocles (check)
  • Thucydides (indeed)
  • Aeschylus (yup)
  • Vergil (certainly)
  • Homer (you bet, and I even know this is out of chronological order)
  • Plato (uh-huh)
  • Xenophon (in Greek, love him–have you read his bit on horse training?)
  • Shakespeare (duh)
  • Milton (of course)
  • Chaucer (in the original Middle English, yes)
  • Too many to list (you betcha)

What about novels, you ask?

  • Mark Twain 
  • Hemingway
  • Jane Austin
  • Charles Dickens
  • Eudora Welty
  • Kurt Vonnegut
  • Heinlein
  • Lovecraft
  • Philip K. Dick
  • Harper Lee
  • Etc. Etc. Etc.

Now ask me about anything written in the past ten years, and, well, look:

  • Hunger Games
  • Harry Potter
  • Um.
  • Twilight (hangs her head in shame…)
  • Uh.
  • That’s it.
  • I think.
  • WAIT! The Magicians. Of course.
  • Yup.
  • That’s it.

twilight poster_9

I can’t un-read Twilight alas, but I can do penance by reading a whole bunch of other recent YA titles. My Amazon bill has grown ridiculous. But that’s okay, because I’m about to get rich. Because it turns out you don’t need to be original to write a blockbuster. All you need is a recipe. And I have the recipe.

Recipe for a Blockbuster YA Novel

  • Take one gorgeous but troubled female teenager who has no idea she’s beautiful, and put her in the center of the plot
  • Mix in insecurity, self-deprecation, and a selfless desire to please everyone at her own expense.
  • Add one gorgeous but troubled male teenager who is inaccessible due to a bad-boy reputation, his community/school role, or his own dark secrets.
  • Mix in a large pinch of “why do I like him?” angst.
  • Add a crisis that throws them inadvertently together, often in close physical proximity, and mix well with breathlessness each time their skin touches.
  • In another container, mix together a large quantity of possessiveness, controlling, and jealousy, add carefully to the male teenager, and disguise it with the sweetness of I Love You.
  • Gradually fold in a good reason why they can’t be together, that inevitably boils down to “I’m afraid I’ll hurt him” (because of her special talent, because the bad guys are after everyone she loves, because she also loves someone else, because she always hurts everyone she loves, or similar–you get to be a little original here if you want, but don’t go too crazy.)
  • Add heat.
  • When plot reaches a full boil, place a decision in the hands of female character–on the one hand, she can be with the boy forever; on the other hand, she can do something selfless that will serve to separate them forever. It’s okay if this one is a stretch, as long as she definitely has to choose and there is no middle option.
  • When she chooses the selfless act, remove story from heat.
  • When male & female settle out separately, leave them in proximity, but not mixed.
  • Cover with a cloth and leave to ferment. Will they end up together or not? That is the delicious finish everyone craves. Don’t answer.
  • Wait for film deals to roll in, along with riches.

Try it and let me know how it goes.

By the way, my WIP doesn’t follow this formula. There’s very little romance, way too many main characters, and not nearly enough teenage angst. They’re too busy trying to not be eaten or tortured to be overly concerned about pimples. Is my book YA? I’m no longer convinced.

Also, I’ll probably die poor.

4 thoughts on “How to Write a Blockbuster YA Novel

  1. Well, at least this is the recipe for YA paranormal romance. Also just known as “paranormal romance published now.” You’ll be fine though, because James Dashner, Rick Riordan, etc — as I said in my email. Am I to understand you haven’t read a lot of YA? They’re huge. And good. Okay, so I haven’t read James Dashner because I was introduced to The Maze Runner after I was tired of YA — and it skewed a little young anyway — but I read almost all the Percy Jackson novels from Riordan… which also skew young. His Egyptian-y books look great. If I were 15.

    I had an idea earlier today which would be BANK as a paranormal romance YA novel. Except I only care about it enough for short story length. So it would not be BANK. Nope. In fact, “don’t develop the plot longer than could just as well fit into a short story” could be another item on your list up there. All those plots are like a handful of M&Ms when you need a candy shop.

  2. I gotta check those guys out next. I gotta find SOMETHING that isn’t this same formula–it’s making me a little crazy.

    And it does seem to seep beyond paranormal romance–Divergence (dystopian/sci-fi, right?) follows the recipe. Even Graceling uses parts of it, though at least she breaks the mold a bit.

    Of course, there is no such thing as a new story, but it drives me a little nuts the way all the love interests have this controlling thing going on (NOT Po, though, which is why I love him) and that is considered sexy. So. Not. Sexy. In fact, it worries me the message these stories send to young women about what to expect, what’s okay. It’s not okay for a guy to control you with his “Love.” Not okay.

    Anyway. Love your addition. Actually, a lot of books are that way. I think the worst offender is William Faulkner. Omigawd. Actually, his plots are about as long as a tweet.

    And yeah, definitely most of the YA books I’ve read too. Which is not, as you point out, that many. Gotta expand my horizons. ;)

    • Yep, not Po, which is why Graceling remains the *only* YA romance I like.

      Divergent has a female protagonist and a love lead and, though I love V-Roth to death — she is seriously an amazing person — I didn’t finish the book because the world-building (aka sci-fi/dystopian part of it) was so… poorly conceived. And as I said up there, I don’t like YA romance, so. Nope. (I’m writing this as if she’s ever going to read it. I really do like her.)

      The Maze Runner has a male protagonist, I believe? So it doesn’t do the stupid romance stuff. Same with Rick Riordan. I keep shouting their names like I love both of them. I don’t really. RR didn’t knock my socks off with Percy Jackson. It was mildly fun.

      • Carey reminded me that I’ve heard some of Rick Riordan (as read to the kids by him)& yup, I’m with you. It’s not that great. BUT a great reminder that it doesn’t have to be YA romance to fly. Checking out Maze Runner now.

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