7 Ways to Make Teenage Characters in YA Fiction Relatable to Teenage Readers | UK Book Editor Tells!
Professional book editor in the UK lists the top 8 ways to create relatable teenage characters in young adult fiction!
One of the most significant issues aspiring authors have today is writing relatable characters.
When you have a story the reader struggles to relate to, you'll find that your novel ends up in a pile that the reader has chosen not to finish. However, avoiding one major issue can ensure that this doesn't happen to you: make your characters relatable and engaging so your audience actually wants to understand what they're going through.
Thanks to the relatively modern category – young adult literature – in the literary market, teenagers now form a large part of the audience who are on the lookout for their next read. Consequently, by failing to accommodate them, you would be cutting yourself off from a generation that could benefit from your words and ideas.
As such, please consider this post that gives you 7 ways to create YA characters who are relatable to teenage readers.
1. Don’t forget that teenagers can be vulnerable
Inevitably, teenagers are at a highly emotional stage in their life, so having a character with no vulnerabilities or issues isn't going to be relatable to them… because it's not real. For instance, would you believe a character who always had perfect hair, had never tripped up in public, or who always attracted every single crush they ever had?
Chances are you wouldn’t.
Everyone has vulnerabilities and weaknesses, so showing your teenage character’s limitations will speak to the YA audience. For example, let's think about A Walk to Remember. The main character, Jamie, has leukaemia and comes from a single-parent home. Her personality resonated with so many young people because she kept trying to live her life the best she could while working through her illness and only having one parent to look after her.
Thus, teenage readers ended up feeling as if they could look up to her because she taught others that it was okay to be vulnerable & weak and display compassion towards others while struggling every day herself.
There are many scenes where she's crying and feeling hopeless, but she finds the courage to keep going despite her leukaemia. Subsequently, many young readers who also have leukaemia, or cancer in general, can easily relate to Jamie and aspire to be like her. However, readers who don’t have cancer but have their own individual struggles may feel that if Jamie can be strong and get on with things, so can they.
2. Failure is Important
No one is perfect, so chasing after perfection will only drive you insane. As a result, you shouldn’t model your teenage characters after perfection, either.
As you know, people fail and mess up from time to time, sometimes more often than others, but either way, failure can be the powerful tool you need for creating relatable characters as it allows readers to highly empathise with the character’s situation and hope to see them in a better place.
For instance, picture a teenage character who wants more than anything to become a football player. She loves the sport and is trying her best but loses one of their games, which means her team has to win the championship.
After reading her story and witnessing her struggles, you'd be cheering her on and hoping that she wins the championship with her team, which is how you want your readers to feel about your teenage characters.
3. Let Them Have Fears
Everyone experiences fear at some point in their lives – it makes us human – so a teenage character who never gets scared will only come across as unrealistic and unrelatable to your audience. As a result, your readers will likely tune out instead of having complete focus on your book.
Consider it like this: if you're writing a horror novel and you want your group of characters to be relatable to teens, how likely is it that a young reader will believe that your teenage protagonist isn't afraid of a chainsaw-wielding maniac?
Writing a teenage character who walks into a dangerous situation unafraid will do nothing but make readers roll their eyes and want to stop reading. So, instead of writing a character like this, show the audience that they can be brave despite their crippling terror, giving them a believable personality.
If you went into a haunted house, you'd feel frightened of the dark, you’d get jumpy at every noise, and you’d be worried that someone would hurt you. Well, it’s the same with your teenage characters, even if they’re drunk or acting tough. No teen is fearless, and a young adult audience like characters with real emotions, too.
4. Give Them a Personality
Everyone has a personality, and each one is unique. For example, some people are loud and brash, always speaking their minds. Others, however, are introverted and quiet. Either way, these characteristics can create a great protagonist and sidekick for your novel.
You’ll typically find generosity and kindness in a 'good' character; these personality traits are relatable because everyone has something they want to achieve for themselves, and most of us actively strive to be better people.
However, ‘good’ qualities aren't just for your teenage heroes, they can make villains more relatable as well. As you know, no one is completely good or bad, it’s never as black and white as that, so showcasing a villain’s positive areas can help your readers to feel as if they are a real person.
For instance, your villain could love animals or support different charities, or they could be amazing with children or dearly love their own family. Usually, villains care about things that have an intricate link to their past or what they've been through, so going back to the example above about supporting different charities - a villain could donate to a children's hospital because their child died of a rare illness in the past, and they now strive to protect other children from the same fate.
5. Let Them be Funny
When you think of comedy, there are so many different types of humour: dark, dry & sarcastic, observational, physical, satirical, self-deprecating, silly, smutty, toilet-related, witty, and so on, but as a result, this means that most of your teenage characters will find opposing things funny and come out with different quips and comments.
We all love characters who make us laugh; most of the time, their humour makes readers love their personality more, but quite often, there’s only one funny character who acts as the comedic relief throughout the story - for example, Ron Weasley from Harry Potter.
However, as almost everyone has a sense of humour, especially teenagers who are often full of laughter, you might want to think about how you can incorporate their funny sides into your novel without just relying on one character to crack a joke.
For instance, one character may make a joke about their surroundings (observational), another character may imitate someone they dislike (physical), and a different character may jest about themselves (self-deprecation).
6. People Like Others to be Self-Aware
Self-awareness is something for which we all strive, and there’s nothing more irritating for a reader than discovering that the teenage protagonist never acknowledges that they did something wrong.
I’m sure you know someone like this in real life. Nothing is ever that person's fault; it's always someone else's, so being around that person for long periods physically and mentally drains you.
In light of this, it would help if you had a teenage character who readily acknowledges their wrongdoings, unless they’re the villain, which is a great way to counter any of their negative characteristics.
7. Give Each Character a Set of Values
We all have a set of standards and values that we live by, which help us define who we are and how we want to shape our lives. As such, your teenage characters should act on what they believe, even if they’re facing difficulties or new opportunities.
For example, if someone values animals and is therefore a vegetarian in the story, suddenly having them eat meat will completely go against what they believe.
Characters who stick to their values are more resonant and conscious, and as a result, they make conscious choices instead of flying by the seat of their pants.
However, it’s important to remember that people acting on their values doesn't always produce a positive result, especially concerning a ‘chaotic good’ character or a 'chaotic' villain. These people will believe so strongly in what they do that they focus solely on that. From this point, they get so caught up in right or wrong that they can't see that they could be making things worse.
However, this makes for a stronger character and someone who teens could resonate with, but either way, you will have grabbed the reader’s attention, therefore engaging them in the character's development.
So, if you want to write a memorable character, who's also a teenager, you first need to ensure that they are relatable to your audience.
If you're appealing to teens and are writing a young adult novel, you need to realise that something they find relatable could be different from other age groups. They like seeing people they could know in real life, look up to, or be friends with. They want to feel like your characters are real.
So, avoid the common mistakes people make when writing these types of characters, and instead, take some of the advice here to end up with a well-rounded character that genuinely resonates with your reader.
I hope you've found elements of this post useful - I always strive to provide the best advice to my readers and the best book editing services for my clients!
Hey! I'm Chelsea and I'm a professional book editor at Stand Corrected Editing, my independent editorial business in the UK. If you would like to have your manuscript thoroughly edited by myself, please get in touch!
With my book editing and proofreading services, I hope to spread my knowledge and expertise on how to make your novel a success, and be a mentor to others who desperately want to pursue a fruitful career as an author!