YA character advice

by Stacey

I am a big fan of the PNWA (Pacific Northwest Writer’s Association) and their annual conference, which I attended a few years back. Their website, newsletter, and blog are full of really informative advice for unpublished writers, as well as often inspirational stories of authors getting published. This recent piece from their website by book doctor Jason Black talks about a very important distinction in paranormal YA fiction between a character’s success in the story coming from ordinary human qualities versus some type of paranormal ability. Black claims Harry Potter worked so well on an emotional level that resonated so deeply with readers because many of his most important moments came from noble human qualities, like self-sacrifice, rather than his other wordly abilities. He poses the question if you are writing a YA novel, does your protagonist need to possess these paranormal qualities, or could he/she succeed without them? Black argues that having a character’s success come from a supernatural ability can send a discouraging message to readers because it makes it less inspiring for ordinary kids. An example he uses is James Patterson’s Maximum Ride series, where the characters would fail without their powers. This series has not had the kind of impact or success that Harry Potter has. He concludes, and I agree, that without his powers, Harry Potter would still be a hero. This is an important distinction to consider when drafting your character sketches and plot points.

It’s worth thinking about what he has to say, even if you choose not to follow his advice. Seeing your work from a different or new perspective is always a good way of gauging its success. For those of you writing paranormal YA or thinking about it, take a read and let us know what you think.

6 Responses to YA character advice

  1. Tracy says:

    I tend to agree with this and I think the same holds true for adult novels as well.

    I write paranormal, but I also read a ton of it. I think a vast majority of readers like to envision themselves as a certain character as we read…or at the very least want to feel like they're someone we'd want as a dear friend. And since we're human, ourselves, it only makes sense we'd relate on a deeper level to paranormals with highly human qualities.

  2. Karen Denise says:

    Such a good post. I had to think about all the YA paranormal/urban fantasies I have in the works and I'm happy to say that all of them have the characters working out their problems without the use of their powers.

    Now I'm going to pay attention to all the fantasy books I read from now on!

  3. Jessica Lei says:

    Thanks for sharing :) I hadn't thought much on that, but I can't help but agree now that I notice it.

  4. Laurie Starkey says:

    I completely agree – thanks for taking the time to post this. Young adults (who might still be finding out who they are in the world) seem to want to find something or someone they can identify with in the novels they're reading. I guess most of us do.

    I just finished my first YA novel and wanted to label it as paranormal, but my characters have so many normal human qualities, which is what I find myself focusing on most. Having a few supernatural elements in the story just lends for a fantastical experience.

    Great post. Thanks Stacey.

  5. DGLM says:

    Thanks for the positive feedback. I'll try to send more of this type of constructive advice. I, too, think it's really helpful.

  6. Jason Black says:

    Thanks DLGM and Stacey for linking to my article! I'm much obliged.

    If you like this kind of character development advice, you can find much more of it on my own blog:


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