By Corey Dahl

Let’s be honest: Who hasn’t secretly (or not-so-secretly) fantasized about becoming the next J.K. Rowling? At least once? In my fantasy, I have a pet wallaby, a house on every continent, and a butler who is also my best friend/trusted advisor/synchronized dance routine partner.

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Victoria Hanley

Given the success of series and novels from Harry Potter to the Hunger Games to The Fault in Our Stars, it seems like the surest route to writerly fame and fortune these days means penning a young adult hit. But as anyone who has tried and wound up with, say, a mediocre story about teens with magical powers derived from their orthodontia can tell you, it’s not easy.

We asked Lighthouse instructor Victoria Hanley—who will be teaching a four-week Craft of Writing the YA, MG, or New Adult Novel class as well as an eight-week Writing the YA, MG, or New Adult Novel workshop this August—to answer a few of our questions.

Q. What’s different about writing a YA novel, compared to writing a novel geared toward adults?

A. Ooh, in 20 words or less? Ha! There are a number of differences, but since this is a blog, I’ll name only a couple significant areas:

  • The style of writing in YA is more streamlined than that of an adult novel, with more focus on the voice of the protagonist.
  • The YA genre showcases coming-of-age stories, meaning young characters are faced with difficulties that cannot be overcome unless they themselves take hold of their problems. Dealing with these conflicts forces characters to grow—out of childhood and into young adulthood.

Q. YA books have seen a huge surge in popularity in recent years. Why do you think that is? Do you see it changing anytime soon?

A. Well, the genre has been discovered by adults, who now make up more than half the readers of YA novels. And everyone can relate to coming-of-age stories, because we’ve all been there. Great stories, well told in the lean, eloquent YA style, are irresistible.

Q. If your students walk away from your class with one takeaway, what would you like it to be? Why?

A. Organize your novel around a core conflict that’s believable and true for your young character. The tension needs to be enough to drive the story forward and push the protagonist to become a young adult.

Q. Anything else we should know? 

A. There’s no time like the present. A cliché, yes, but one that keeps circulating because it expresses a relevant truth. If you’ve always wanted to try writing YA, make today the day you begin. Exploring this genre could lead you to new paths within yourself—and to gripping stories waiting to be written.