Teen autonomy propels YA plots

When you are writing fantasy, science fiction or historical young adult fiction, you get to delve into the norms of the world you have created, its location, culture and time. Teen characters are always trying to gain and assert autonomy. What’s fun is to determine what that means in their world. Parents in late 19th century American frontier might react one way when their teen corrects them for making a mistake, while authorities in a future world might respond entirely differently. When teens blurt out opinions, when they stand up for what they think is right or fight against what they determine is wrong, plot-moving conflict comes naturally.

When all else fails, ask the YA character

As a writer of young adult fiction, I want to create characters whose identity development is heading toward healthy, or veering off toward unhealthy, or anywhere on the spectrum in-between. In my YA plotting process, I create what-if scenarios. If my plot outline offers a particular character a choice, I write a scenario that, no matter how difficult the decision, the character takes an appropriate action and as a result is gifted with a new sense of self-trust. Then, I try the opposite, and let the character’s most immature, self-serving, base self run riot. Lastly, I ask the character what he or she intends to do, and sometimes dialogue flows or the character takes a fork in the road that appears not to adhere to my plot outline. I run with the change, at least for a while. Sometimes, the characters know exactly what they are doing. Yes, this is more work than following the outline without deviation. But who wants obedient characters?