Thursday, March 24, 2011

Write the Next Bestselling Youth Fiction

I just finished reading The Hunger Games this week.  And I wanted to let you know that there is a formula to writing these bestselling novels aimed at youth.  Tell you what, I’ll share it with you and if you happen to get rich off it…make sure you donate a lot to charity.

Let’s use the following book series for examples:Harry Potter (HP), Percy Jackson (PJ), Twilight (T), and Hunger Games (HG).  There are three fairly distinct characters and a couple plot lines necessary for this formula.

First you need a main character that is attractive but not beautiful or jaw-droppingly handsome.  That character can’t know that they are attractive to others which results in humorous foot-in-mouth moments when they think someone is insulting them but they are really getting a compliment.  The biggest reason the character has to have less than stellar looks is that they have to invisible enough for the reader to put themselves in the main character’s place.  This main character is witty in their own mind but usually says the right thing out loud only by accident.  They require at least one exaggerated character flaw; Bella (T) is clumsy, Harry (HP) is socially unprepared to live in the wizard world, Percy (PJ) has dyslexia and ADHD, Katniss (HG) is socially clueless and distant.  The main character must have a tragic childhood that inadvertently prepares them to handle the present task, but at the same time they were “born to…” whatever it is that needs solved.  They must also be emotionally tough, prematurely mature, and a bit distant from the people around them.  No one understands what it is like to be them.  They are all unnaturally talented at something: Bella can block with her mind, Harry calls up great Patronus, Percy has a combination of brains and brawn, and Katniss excels at hunting (especially with a bow and arrow).  Lastly, these main characters seem to attract danger like a light attracts moths.

Next, you have the main character’s love interest.  I should say the main character’s main love interest because a love triangle is another necessary component.  This love interest is desired by others (usually because of looks and manners) but only has eyes for the main character: Edward (T) is handsome, rich, a gentleman, etc.; Ginny (HP) is beautiful and loyal;  Annabeth (PJ) is super smart and pretty; Peeta (HG) is strong, good-looking, and a gentleman (start to see the pattern?).  Of course your main character can’t believe it right off the bat.  It takes time for the main character to come around to the idea that they are desirable.  The love interest either trusts the main character or comes to learn that they should because the main character is right so often.  The male love interests are very protective of the main character and the female love interests are generally smart in addition to pretty.  The love interest also has to willingly sacrifice them self for the main character at least once in the story; not that they have to die, but they do go out of their way to put them self in danger to protect the main character.

The last of the three characters is the best friends forever (BFF) with a generous helping of quirky side-kick.  The BFF is funny out loud and extremely loyal to the main character; though they have to have one big fight where you despair that the main character has lost their best ally.  The BFF is not quite as talented as the main character and is therefore more of a shadow that helps out and tries not to get in the way.  Bella has Jacob (oh, love triangle twist).  Harry has Ron.  Percy has Grover.  Katniss has Gale, then Rue, then Peeta (another love triangle twist). 

Two main plot lines that must be present: you can’t trust adults and an environment that can’t or doesn’t exist today.  The only adults that can be trusted in the books are the ones who rely on the main character to save them (and the world) from the present situation: Carlise (T) is really old but not very authoritative, Professor Dumbledore (HP) bends all the rules for Harry, Chiron (PJ) defers to Percy, and Cinna (HG) is a traitor to his own government to help Katniss.  The parents are all dead or incapable of helping their children.

All the books expect Hunger Games, have a supernatural element to them; vampire, werewolves, wizard, trolls, Greek gods, and centaurs.  The Hunger Games does have extreme violence instead of magic to raise it out of the common ordinary every day environment.

Now you can go out and write the next youth novel that will be flying off the shelves!  Just don’t forget to donate to charity. ;)

1 comment:

  1. Great look at the "formula." Writers' magazines similarly will sell numerous books with a similar method for writing in many genres, then tell you not to chase the market. Just a digression, though.

    Interestingly, though, Writer's Digest ran an article in its February issue on writing for kids and young adults. The first point it made was that killing off the parents (or at least making them as invisible as possible) was a great way to advance the plot. Apparently you cracked the code in your readings, so you just need to expand this, publish it, and sell it.