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Posts tagged ‘relationships in teen novels’

Some Themes For Teen Novels, by Elizabeth Wein

I sat down to write these blog posts armed with some thoughts about writing, reviewing, themes I deal with, and literary tips that I think help make the story vivid.  And then I found myself stuck because I realized that none of these ideas were specifically connected to writing for teens.  So, I am going to start my entries with a disclaimer.  I don’t write teen novels.  Most of my novels are about teens, but I have never once in my life set out to write a ‘teen novel’.  As a teen – and into adulthood – I never set out to read a ‘teen novel’.  I just read!  So, as a novelist I can probably give some good advice about how to write a book, but I haven’t thought much about writing a ‘teen’ book.  These posts are going to make me think about it!

My first ‘teen’ novel, The Winter Prince, has a narrator who is pushing thirty.  In my third and fourth ‘teen’ novels, The Sunbird and The Lion Hunter, the hero is 11 and then 12.  In Code Name Verity the heroines start at 18.  I don’t consciously sit there thinking, ‘Ah, this time I’m writing for teens, so I’m going to have to do things differently.’  I just write the book that I am writing.

However, my books, despite my protests and the wide age range of their protagonists, are very solidly Young Adult.  So maybe I need to think about why.  I think it has to do with the themes I deal with in my novels.

1) The age of the protagonists.  Okay, so the narrator in The Winter Prince is 27 or whatever.  In fact, it’s the teenagers in the book that the reader really cares about—the narrator’s 14-16 year old siblings and his relationship with them.  In The Sunbird, where the hero is a little younger than a teen, and in Code Name Verity, where the heroines are a little older than teens, their age doesn’t get mentioned.  The implication is that they are teens, or close to it—and also, that teens reading the books will relate to these characters in spite of the slight difference in age.  This is not only an authorial decision but an editorial one.  In crafting the book, we are consciously aiming it at teen readers—giving them characters they can relate to because of their age.

2) The emotional maturity of the protagonists.  There are a couple of themes that resonate throughout my books and, I think, throughout all YA fiction, and one of these is that the heroes or heroines have to mature in some way.  The events of the book help them or force them into growing up.  In a true YA novel, the main characters will be changed forever by the end of the book.  This isn’t necessarily true of ‘adult’ fiction.  To my mind, the change ought to be for the better in teen fiction—even in fiction where the ending is bleak, the protagonist should have had the opportunity to grow somewhere along the way.

3) The acquisition of skill.  This is also key, I think, to teen fiction: the characters are thinking about What They’re Going To Be When They Grow Up.  In an adult novel, that’s no longer necessary, and in a book for younger readers, they’re not yet worrying about this.  So figuring out who you are and what you’re best at, and how you’re going to use that in later life, is critical to teen fiction.

4) Figuring out your body.  I don’t really want to say ‘sex’ is a driving force in teen novels, because it isn’t always, but certainly there has got to be some aspect of the protagonist facing and dealing with his or her changing body.  In The Lion Hunter and The Empty Kingdom I took this on both metaphorically and brutally by making the hero have to deal with losing an arm.  In Code Name Verity the two heroines are physically mature, but they are pretty sexually innocent, and though that’s not the focus of the book, their growing awareness of their own attractiveness and desires does affect the plot.

5) Building relationships.  Moving from the limited relationship of family life into the broad and complex relationships of society, including friendship, conflict, and romance, is another key theme that characterizes teen fiction.

These five points probably aren’t the only defining themes in teen fiction, but they are the ones that leap out at me.

For further reading on this topic, Jo Wyton has an interesting discussion on her blog about what makes teen fiction, using my book Code Name Verity as an example.

***Write with New York Times bestselling novelist Elizabeth Wein in Hobart, Australia in November 2014

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Writing Teen Novels


Writing Sex in Young Adult Fiction: How Much Is Too Much? by Sarah Alderson

What’s too much when it comes to sex in young adult fiction?

My editor would say anything beyond kissing.

I’m known for writing steamy, smokin’ hot romances, and yet none of my characters has done anything beyond kiss. (They can’t, because every time they try to, it gets left on the cutting room floor). What I’ve discovered though, writing thriller romance novels for teens, is that it is possible to create jaw-dropping romance and steaminess that leave your readers gagging for more, through nothing more than the locking of lips.

You don’t need to get graphic in order to satisfy…just look at Twilight…there’s not a whiff of sex, not much even in the way of sexual tension. It’s not until book four, when safely within the boundaries of marriage no less, that the reader is rewarded with a euphemistic consummation of the vampire mortal sex conundrum (I’m not sure that’s scientifically possible but hey, it’s fiction…)

A lot of books these days for teens though include sex scenes (or maybe I’m just reading a lot of books for teens with sex scenes in them) and it seems to me that the approaches taken by authors are incredibly varied. One of my favourite authors – Simone Elkeles – is much more graphic than Meyer. I love the Perfect Chemistry series (for Alex Fuentes alone). Simone writes sex well, sensitively – a little graphically – but not too graphic to offend the teen market (except perhaps those of an evangelical Jonas Brothers persuasion). Back in my day we had to rely on Judy Blume for our sex ed…that or sneak Jackie Collins books from our parents’ top shelves (for me it was The Joy of Sex which I found in a box in the attic). I wish I’d had Simone Elkeles’s books instead. They’re strong on the swoon but also on the love angle. Sure, the scenes are heavily romanticised but the message is clear: make sure it’s with someone you love.

And Use A Condom.

Can’t argue with that.

In the middle ground, I love this from John Green’s The Fault in our Stars (currently my fave read of 2012): ‘The whole affair was the precise opposite of what I figured it would be: slow and patient and quiet and neither particularly painful nor particularly ecstatic….No headboards were broken. No screaming.’

It’s realistic. It’s not graphic. It fits perfectly within the story…(I also like to think the headboard part was a jibe at Twilight).

Yet, as they say in Spiderman, with great power comes great responsibility. Authors need to be responsible in how they depict sex, especially in this era, where the pressure on young people to have sex and to get it over with, is so enormous. There’s no need to shoehorn it into a book for kicks, or to be on trend, or because everybody else is doing it. Personally I think my editor is right. Hunting Lila and Fated work much better for not going there. They keep my readers hanging, daydreaming, longing. Just like the characters in the book. And the lack of physical intimacy does nothing to undermine the tension, rather it charges the atmosphere. The one kissing scene in Fated, towards the end of the book has received more comments than any other scene I’ve ever written…all along the lines of ‘I had to take a cold shower after.’ (If you’re interested it’s P.245 in the paper copy.)

So advice for those of you wondering how or if to write a sex scene into your book:

  • Don’t feel pressured!
  • Ask yourself: Is it absolutely necessary to make the story work?
  • If the answer to the above is a definite yes, make sure you emphasise how important it is to be honest, to be sober and to be in a committed respectful and loving relationship before you take the leap. Why? Because that’s the way it should be. Am I a hopeless romantic? Yes. Of course. But I want girls to read my books and decide that they are in control of their bodies and of their decision-making.
  • If you can’t write a sex scene without giggling, cringing or resorting to copying large tracts from your parents’ copy of the Joy of Sex, then quit while you’re ahead.
  • Always use condoms.

FatedHunting LilaPerfect ChemistryTwilightThe Fault in Our StarsOn Writing Romance: How to Craft a Novel That SellsWriting the Romantic Comedy

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