Young adult. This is where the most reliable fanbase resides–tween girls. They have the time to market your novel for free by way of wish-fulfilment fanfiction, and will defend it fervently in trollfights to the death–after all, any attack against the main character is tantamount to a personal attack.
There are two main settings for a modern young adult novel: a bleak dystopian future, or our current reality overlaid with paranormal elements.
Dystopian settings start with powers-that-be who are in possession of highly advanced scientific knowledge. They use this to control the world by dastardly means. Don’t give them a motive for their evil acts–people in power are only ever interested in more power. To emphasise your point, throw the general population into slums or generic government housing and make them blissfully unaware or gladly accepting of the oppression. Don’t worry about how the world reached that state of affairs–your readers will come up with brilliantly implausible theories for you.
The paranormal setting is in our world, but darker and more mysterious–and therefore edgier: Alleys lined with creaking metal stairwells and shadows for deep-throated creatures to lurk. Abandoned warehouses weighed down with rusty beams and chains for thrilling fight sequences. Populate this world with handsome creatures such as vampires or demons, and dress them all in tight-fitting jeans, leather, and lots of belts. Do not use creatures such as trolls or zombies. After all, they have to look good on screen when the inevitable Hollywood deal comes along.
Either way, divide the population into different camps based on personality, so your readers can proudly proclaim their membership of Team Wolf-Jackal-Hottie or Smart-Witty-Brave House.
Your best bet is a kick-ass female heroine with a tough-as-nails exterior, but who is charmingly vulnerable once she’s allowed someone into her world. To avoid the “Mary-Sue” trap, don’t forget to add weaknesses such as a sharp (but witty!) tongue or a penchant for eating too much chocolate. Don’t let her trust anyone until she meets her love interest; it allows for a suitably dramatic scene where she lets down her guard in an intimate moment with her man.
The other popular heroine is the mousey, never-look-twice girl, who hides in a group and avoids attention. Avoid hobbies, quirky flaws or interesting traits, because they will make her stand out too much. (If you have to give her a hobby, make her a secret reader, always glued to a book.) The only reason she should be noticed is because the love interest decides that she is his one true love.
The Love Interest
Perfect people are boring, so your main man needs a dark and tortured past that the heroine can help him overcome. He should be desired by many other characters, but only have eyes for your heroine. The love interest fits best into bad-boy roles such as a rebel on the run or a dangerous killer who comes to see the error of his ways. If you place him on the long and reluctant road toward redemption, he can get away with anything, no matter how terrible–and readers will love him all the more for it.
The past must be something he can brood over, repeatedly, throughout the novel. Give him a generous serving of angst so your heroine (and your readers) have the chance to sympathise with him. This includes pushing away your heroine because he isn’t good enough for her. It will set him up to be transformed The Power Of Obsessive Love. He can then prove how the heroine has changed him by a reckless act of heroism on her behalf–the greater the wanton destruction amongst the general populace, the greater his feelings for her.
If you must have one, the most successful books have a mix of action, comedy and drama. So, have some wacky hijinks and high drama arising from easily-resolved misunderstandings between the heroine and her love interest. Avoid serious problems, or readers will start focusing on the issues and not the love interest. Don’t forget to intersperse action scenes involving some form of parkour skills to keep up the tension.
Writing a successful derivative novel is an art form, but these tips should get you off to a solid start. The key is to produce prolifically until you hit on the right variation of exotic-sounding names and population divisions. After your major book deal? Well, the next fad’s your limit!
Leanne Yong is an aspiring author who is working on–what else?–a young adult novel with a kick-ass heroine. Check out her blog at Clouded Memories for more information and random musings on writing.