By Victoria Garcia
So many good stories and plots are ruined by boring and watered-down characters. I, myself, have decided not to buy books due to reviews warning me of lame characters. Readers want characters they can relate to, obsess about, and cry over.
As a YA writer, characterization is very important. But writing YA characters is a learning process. You as a writer are bound to struggle and make mistakes. You want to describe the characters naturally, but at the same time, you have so much you want the readers to know about the characters.
I have compiled a few tips and exercises that can help writers create believable YA characters. Whether you are just starting out, plan to self-publish your books for the youth, or go through the traditional route, here are three practical writing tips to help with YA characterization!
Table of Contents
Writing Tips for Better YA Characterization
You may also like: How to Create an Antagonist Youngsters Will Love
Write descriptions by degrees
The same way writers may experience issues with scene descriptions, they also tend to struggle with phrasing descriptions of their characters. Sometimes it just comes off like amateur writing on Wattpad or an overwhelming flood of information.
Here’s a tip on how to write YA characters naturally: Don’t describe everything all at once. Instead, when you introduce the character, start with a broad initial description and then add more details when your point-of-view character would notice them, or when they are relevant.
Let’s take a look at the following example…
When Olivia first walks into the room, a viewer (reader or narrating character) will notice the high-level details first, like clothing style and hair color. But it’s not until Olivia introduces herself that they will see her jewelry, makeup, and face details such as eye color, eyelashes, freckles, or moles. It’s not until she reaches over to grab a drink from behind the viewer that they smell the sickly sweet perfume, and only when she lifts her arm up to take a drink that they notice the curling iron burns or faint hickeys on her neck.
Write for a reader response
Another YA characterization block can be when a writer is trying to create a character that will be loved. A powerful way to make a YA character that readers will love is by making a character readers will hate.
To do this you must first give the character a core emotional drive, a deep-rooted need, pain, or anger that drives their actions. This will help readers to sympathize with and relate to the character. Around this core, build a fully-realized personality, with distinct traits such as strengths, flaws, and behaviors. This forces readers to have an opinion about the character. No one has the exact same taste in YA characters, and if you try to please everyone, you will just end up with bland, boring characters.
For example, if you’re an anime fan, you might know Eren Yeager from Attack on Titan by Isayama Hajime. Eren is the protagonist who is driven by anger and vengeance against the people who have caused him pain. Eren is blinded by his vengeance and is often portrayed as borderline psychotic as he imagines the pain he can bring to those who hurt him.
For some viewers, this is an admirable trait because they understand Eren’s motives, while other viewers see this as a negative trait because no sad backstory can excuse the hurt and pain he has caused his friends and other people due to his immoral actions. This is also fiction, so let’s not get too into what is right and wrong in a fictional universe.
People who like Eren find his drive praiseworthy and relatable. They feel sympathy for his hurt inner child, because despite his actions he was just a kid trying to find freedom in a world that hated him. But to the viewers who dislike Eren, they see him turn from the abused into the abuser.
The key to creating a complex character is to make them an actual person—people have good and bad traits and so should characters.
Even in this example, I believe the love is worth the hate (even the haters love Eren a little).
Employ authenticity for YA characterization of people of color
Another important element of YA characterization that good writers need to practice is writing characters of color in a way that actual people of color will want to read.
From the tips and exercises above, we have an understanding on how to go about describing a character. A broad description, plus some personality details, equals characterization. In describing a black character, our broad statement could be, “He was tall, curly-haired, with dark skin. His eyes scanned around nervously and his stance was that of a hovering hummingbird, fluttering back and forth.”
The important part of the character’s description is that he is nervous and anxious, since this is what gives clues to his personality. You, as a writer, can just say “he/she/they was/were brown or dark.” Then add relevant details on how the world interacts with them in a way that does not focus on only their skin color.
Final Thoughts on Writing Tips for YA characterization
Keep these tips in mind when you’re writing, but also practice these tips regularly to improve your characterization skills. Make up random characters by using these writing tips to help with YA characterization and exercise your creativity and writing ingenuity.
As a YA writer, the most important thing to avoid is watering down your characters! Readers need to feel the characters’ strong emotions to have their own feelings about the characters and the book in total. Bring your YA characters to life!