Creating characters for young adult novels may not be the easiest thing to do, especially if your teenage years seem a lifetime ago—but they can definitely be the most gratifying to write. An author has to really know and understand their characters, even the antagonists, so that they can create real individuals who readers can relate to and identify with.
While a good plot is obviously very critical to the success of a book, it’s not going to carry the entire story. Sometimes authors will create complex, well-thought out settings and throw one-dimensional characters in to carry the plot forward. This is a big mistake, especially among books for young adults. Readers of this genre really care about the characters in the books they read and want to relate to their situations and see how they deal with their issues, circumstances and conflicts. Even if they’re immersed in a post apocalyptic setting or futuristic society, the reader wants to feel that they also deal with some of the same issues that they do in real life, whether it’s teen sex, drugs, peer pressure, or popularity.
When creating characters, whether for books for young adults or another audience, a good way to start is to write an in-depth bio for your important players. Interview them and ask what their beliefs are, create a back story for their childhood, learn about their parents, siblings, best friends, and pets. Find out what they like to do and what they dream of becoming when they grow up. Discover all of their strengths and weaknesses. You need to fully know who your characters are in order to make your readers understand them.
An important element to start with is the age of your protagonist. They should definitely be in the age range of your intended audience. Keep in mind that tweens, teens and young adults tend to read up but not down in age. Even if we’re talking about some of the best fantasy novels—the audience is not inclined to read about a character that’s younger than they are.
When you’re writing young adult novels, it’s important to maintain a young adult perspective—beware of the inclination to reflect on the past or your own experience. While it’s important to draw on your own coming-of-age, it’s not about looking back; it’s about using what you know and remember and making it current.
Whether you’re aiming to write the best fantasy novels or the next dystopian bestseller, the reader needs to watch your character experience an arc throughout the course of the book—meaning they want to see them learn from their mistakes and grow as a result. This gives them inspiration in their own lives and makes them like the protagonist even more than when they started reading the book.