The long-awaited sequel to AFF 2019 panelist Sofia Alvarez’s To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before hits Netflix today, and we can’t wait to see where this story goes next. Alvarez captivated audiences of all ages with the modern teen rom com adapted from a popular YA novel of the same name, and her sequel P.S. I Still Love You will follow what’s next for characters Lara Jean and Peter.
So, what does it take to tell a good YA story and how do you capture the spirit of a generation without leaning on the tropes of the stereotypical “teenager”? This week, we’re looking back on our conversations with past AFF panelists who have written for the YA genre for their advice on telling compelling stories that resonate with the young adult audience.
Here are five tips for telling young adult stories from past AFF panelists who have found success writing for the YA genre:
1. TELL A STORY THAT’S ENGAGING FOR ALL AGES
If you as the adult writer are not emotionally connected to the story that’s being told and the things people are saying, then your audience isn’t going to be either, no matter what age they are. So, I think the biggest mistake a writer can make when writing for YA audiences is to write down to them. I think audiences of all ages are smarter than we give them credit for, and they will be right there with you if you are being truthful to the scenario at hand.
-Sofia Alvarez (writer To All the Boys I’ve Loved Before) at AFF 2019
2. GIVE YOUR CHARACTERS DEPTH
We never think of our characters as teenagers first. We think of them as fully dimensional characters, and fully dimensional people…it’s always about theme and character first. It’s not necessarily what would teenagers do. It’s putting them in a morally challenging environment and saying “Let’s explore this as people—not necessarily as teenagers.
-Charmaine DeGrate (writer/producer The 100) at AFF 2018
3. DON’T LIMIT YOUR AUDIENCE
It’s not about, “Is it for teens? Is it for adults? Is it for teens? Is it for adults?” …It was just for the kind of people that were going to like it, and those people were going to like it so much that they were going to have to watch it obsessively.
-Winnie Holzman (writer/producer My So-Called Life) at AFF 2014
4. FOCUS ON YOUR CHARACTER’S JOURNEY
It’s always about character and what their journey is and exploring the human condition. That’s really the root of it.
-Melissa Rosenberg (writer Twilight franchise) at AFF 2008
5. WRITE ABOUT EXPERIENCES WE CAN ALL RELATE TO
It’s the emotions of what the characters are going through…it doesn’t matter if you are a teen now, you were a teen just a few years ago, or you were a teen fifty years ago—that stuff has to be the stuff that all of us went through coming of age. So, as long as the emotions are legitimate and come from a real place, that to me is the most important thing when doing YA.
-Michael Weber (co-writer The Spectacular Now, The Fault in Our Stars) at AFF 2018
Visit onstory.tv for a closer look inside the creative process from today’s leading writers and filmmakers and catch P.S. I Still Love You streaming on Netflix today!
Want to hear these tips firsthand? Join us at this year’s Writers Conference (Oct. 22 – 29, 2020) for a weekend of insider tips and writing advice from the leading voices of film and television. For more information on how to attend, click here.