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Writing Non-Formulaic Young Adult Novels, by Belinda Dorio

Writing novels shouldn’t be like doing math. I believe there is no magic formula for writing, no matter what people say. And even if certain books do follow a pre-defined plot pathway and get published, most readers aren’t fooled. Take the teen market for example; there’s a lot of – ordinary Girl meets extraordinary Boy. Great, then what? Boy is an ass to Girl but Girl loves him anyway. Then, low and behold, it’s revealed Boy is being an ass for Girls own good to protect her from, (insert supernatural element here). And in fact, he really does love her too.

Sound familiar?

I know, sometimes us readers of Young Adult novels want exactly this formula. We want to read the happy ending and be able to anticipate it. But what reader can deny the utter refreshment that a YA novel written without such a formula provides? Writers like Cassandra Clare and Suzanne Collins have figured it out – just to name a few.

I’m not denying that many successful YA novels have the same key elements; compelling characters, believable action and a killer love story. But the way these elements are presented need subtlety, and not a plot so obvious I could tell you what’s going to happen after the first chapter.

Is your YA manuscript suffering from a case of the ‘way too obvious’? Here’s my checklist to provide some warning:

– Is your heroine brunette, plain, but undeniably pretty?

– Does said heroine have conveniently absent parents? (or is one dead?)

– Does your love interest have perfect hair, skin and teeth?

– Do we (the readers) know anything about the love interest other than how hot he is?

You get the idea. How about making the heroine the badass? How about chucking in some flaws? How about exploring a genuine relationship dynamic between the parents and teen? How about a love story that isn’t a happy ever after, or has some major complications?

I have to admit, my first manuscript tended to lend itself to the aforementioned list. But I’m making up for that with my second manuscript; Flesh, with a zombie hunter who has a bad attitude and a recently turned boyfriend.

Following the formula could get you published. But don’t you want to write something your readers will love? If I ever get Flesh published and into some readers’ hands, I don’t want them to anticipate the ending. I want them to read it in one sitting because they want to know what happens next.

Be original, be daring.

The other YA readers and I will love you for it.


Belinda Dorio’s author website:

Belinda Dorio’s bio page


     All This Could EndWhen Courage Came to CallThe Hunger Games (Hunger Games Trilogy)City of Lost Souls (Mortal Instruments)

Writing Novels in Australia

7 Comments Post a comment
  1. Originality is so important. The more I hear about ‘genre’ and the expectations of a particular genre, the more that I think that the entire concept of genres should be relegated to the rubbish bin where it belongs. Broad definitions maybe – thriller, romance, etc, but nothing more and certainly the plot should lead where it leads and not follow any sort of trite and predictable formula.
    An excellent post, Belinda.

    January 26, 2013
    • Belinda Dorio #

      Thanks, Marj. Yes I think we should write with a much broader concept of genre!

      February 25, 2013
  2. Great post, Belinda. I sure am glad writing is not like math coz I really sucked at math when I was at school a million years ago 😉

    January 27, 2013
    • Belinda Dorio #

      Thanks, haha me too! *phew*

      February 25, 2013
  3. very excited that the novel tumbling in my head ticks none of the formula 😀

    January 28, 2013
  4. Belinda Dorio #

    Fantasic! Keep it up 🙂

    February 25, 2013

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