Writing Scary In A PG-13 World

Writing for the 12 to 13 set is not easy. There are certainly some important things to consider when crafting a compelling story for that crowd. One of course, is the point of view. If you are wanting to pull in the 13 year boys to read your adventure novel, don’t make your protagonist an adult. Kids want to read about themselves. They want a character that they can see themselves in, someone that they can jump inside of and become a part of the story. Adult characters are best as the wise old guy who gives them stuff or the villain. Definitely the villain.

I have also discovered that no matter how cool and interesting your 13-year-old female protagonist is, she’s only going to pull in the female audience. That is, unless you make her the co-protagonist alongside a male protagonist of similar age, preferably one she argues with a lot. This, along with a wonderfully crafted story, has worked wonders for Rick Riordan and his books based on mythology. If it ain’t broke, why try and fix it?

Both of these are important issues to keep in mind when crafting your YA novel. But we’ll get back to those later. What I wanted to tackle today is, how far to take the horror in YA book. You want to have exciting elements and thrilling moments, neither of which require horror exactly. But when you want to bring in the scary, I look at it like a movie.

My book is targeted at the YA crowd. So I would look at the level of violence and horror as similar to a PG-13 movie or TV-14 television show. But even that can be a fine line. For instance, would you let your 12-year-old watch Supernatural on the CW? Probably not. But you can tweak that. Maybe try keeping the violence level, but leave out the gore. You can even get away with violence that normally wouldn’t get by, as long as it is against robots or some other machine. I’ve used this to great effect and pushed this boundary as far as I think I can by having all of my protagonist’s adversaries be cyborgs.

There are industry standards that all YA must follow to fit into that category. But more important than standards, more important than whether or not you are showing too much violence, the most iimportant thing you have to do with your YA novel is…

Write a damn good book. But isn’t that what all the writing how-to stuff tell you to do? There’s a reason for that. No matter what genre you are writing, if you’re going to have any hope of your audience getting their grubby little hands on it, is to make a great product.

Until next time…

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