by Heather Burch, author of The Halflings series
Here are three of the most important things you need to write an awesome YA novel:
1. An unforgettable character
2. An impossible situation
3. A relentless threat
Why are these so important? They are the building blocks for great storytelling. Let’s break them down a little.
1. Unforgettable character.
Who are some of your all time favorite characters? Why? Let’s use Lord of the Rings as an example. Frodo. Unforgettable. Not because he’s short or has hairy feet. No, Frodo is unforgettable because he’s willing to dive into danger (terrified) but willing. Think of the scene where the fellowship is arguing about taking the ring to the Fires of Mount Doom. Here’s Frodo with all these great warriors and none are willing to do it. Yet he steps up and says, “I’ll take it. But I do not know the way.” I’ll take it shows Frodo’s amazing character. But I do not know the way, tells us how out of place he is in this quest. Hmm, this is a perfect intro to #2 (impossible situation.)
2. Impossible situation.
Remember what Boromir says in that scene? He talks about reaching the Fires of Mount Doom. “The very air you breathe is toxic … Not with 10,000 men could you do this. It is folly.”
I believe I’d call this an impossible situation. Can’t breathe the air. 10,000 men can’t make it. But we have Frodo and Sam (another unforgettable character) willing to go. Think of your story and an impossible situation for your character. Is there one? If not, how can you incorporate one? Sometimes, it’s the situation that makes your character memorable. Impossible situations keep readers turning pages. Don’t be afraid to go beyond what you think you can write your character out of. Amp the tension. You’ll be surprised at how creative your characters can be. They will give you all kinds of ideas about how to get out of that impossible situation. If it doesn’t work, you can always go back and rewrite. But what if it does work?
3. Relentless threat.
Who or what is the relentless threat in your book? It can be as grand as the evil Lord Sauron or as small as a hateful math tutor. Whichever, they need to supply an endless amount of strife for your main character. In Halflings, Nikki is being hunted by hell-hounds and demons. That threat never ends. Even though there are only three or four attacks in book one, the threat is always there, just off the page. Think of ways you can amp the threat to your character. Maybe it’s the college entrance exam … she’s terrified (adds tension) plus she has to babysit for her neighbor the night before the exam when the neighbor’s husband is in a terrible car accident. Five hours before the exam, your character is frazzled, fried, and exhausted. See how one thing can take the tension higher? What can you do to torture your character? Remember, it has to be believable. We have to relate. But I bet you can find endless ways to create more threat for your main character.
Heather Burch grew up in Branson, Missouri, where she learned to love fiction. She then married into a family of published novelists and quickly learned writing was her heart’s desire. When she’s not working on her latest book, Heather can be found watching a sunset at a beach near her home in Southern Florida, along with her sons Jake and Isaac, and husband, John---who is her hero in every way.