Killer Nashville–YA Mysteries and Thrillers

So after a long delay, here’s another post about a panel at Killer Nashville. There were so many great panels, it was hard to choose which to attend and then which to blog about. Anyway, since genre was my biggest stumbling block and I now know I write YA mysteries, I thought I’d give some highlights from this panel. The panel included Marlis Day, Bonnie Doerr, Earl Fisher, Linda Fisher, and Jessica Verday. The discussion leader was Joseph Terrell.

Question: What are the key elements of YA novels?

  • The main character of must be a young adult (age 10-18)
  • The parents are usually not around in the book
  • Focus on teen objectives such as: boys, school, what to wear, etc. (They don’t worry about paying the rent)
  • Protagonist usually gets no help from adults
  • Protagonist may struggle to define where they fit in and their own morals
  • Protagonist has to solve things

Q: What is the subject matter that can be covered in YA?

  • Less and less is off limits, but stay sensitive to your readers age group (tween vs. late teen)
  • Depends on publisher
  • Keep in mind that edgy books can be banned by school libraries

Q: How do you develop a character?

  • Mystery is all plot. It has to move fast to grab the YA audience too
  • Explore background and motivation in subplots
  • Characterization can also flow from plot
  • Use of senses is important in how the characters define themselves (For example, a perfumer sees a flower and thinks what can I make from it. A painter thinks can I capture it in a painting.)
  • Setting is important because characters are products of where they are from
  • Sometimes characters can make their own plot
  • You have to like characters or love to hate the characters. They must inspire emotions that keep you turning the page.

Other highlights include:

  • The importance of cliffhangers in chapters
  • Kids read to explore the things they cannot do. So show them that world–the good and the bad.
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