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JK Rowling’s Tips for Writers – How to Write Young Adult Books

JK Rowling's Tips for Writers How to Write Young Adult BooksAuthor William Meikle describes how to write young adult books, based on JK Rowling’s success. HIs tips for writers are inspired by JK Rowling’s characters, plot, and themes.

“Fantasy fiction is big business, and many authors are trying hard to break in,” says Meikle, author of The Midnight Eye Files: The Amulet. “The burning question on all their lips is, ‘How did JK Rowling do it?’ And the answer to that is pretty simple. She gave the readers what they wanted.”

Giving your audience what they want is easier said than done — unless you tap into their minds and souls! To learn how to get a YA book published, read Writing Great Books for Young Adults: Everything You Need to Know, from Crafting the Idea to Landing a Publishing Deal.

And, check out Meikle’s writing tips, inspired by JK Rowling’s success…

6 Writing Tips From JK Rowling

1. Kids like chaos… but only a bit of it. The Hogwarts school set up in the Harry Potter books is perfect. Kids love the idea of being away from the comfort of home, but are also deeply attracted to a sense of stability and find too much chaos too scary to contemplate. Being in a school situation is something they can relate to, and adding the -magic- element adds the necessary frisson of excitement that takes it just far enough out of the ordinary.

The fact that the magic school is a cliche long used and abused in fantasy fiction, and lampooned succesfully by Terry Pratchett, goes straight over the heads of the bulk of HP readers. Why? Here’s a great tip for young adult writers: the target audience is too young to recognize the antecedents. JK Rowling knew this, subconsciously or consciously, and used it to write one of the most successful series of young adult books ever.

2. Kids like adults to be larger than life…but not all the time. And there’s no bigger than Hagrid! Kids like their fictional adults to be larger than life, and slightly eccentric. By populating Hogwarts with over the top personalities with many childlike characteristics, it lets kids live out fantasies of relating to adults as equals — without the stress of actually having to talk to real adults. And these child-like adults, and the father figure Dumbledore in particular, have to act responsibly when it comes to all the big decisions, just like parents in real life.

Knowing how to write young adult books involves getting into the psychology of a young adult — which JK Rowling mastered.

3. Kids like to be independent… but have friends close by. And where would Harry be without Ron and Hermione? Harry is just sufficiently independent to be cool, and close enough to his friends to be reassuringly normal. The angst of Harry’s home life with the Dursleys is nicely counterpointed with his friendships to allow kids to relate to both.

4. Kids like to be scared… but only a bit. Another tip for writers from JK Rowling is to ramp up the scares to just the right degree. She puts the friends in harms way on a regular basis, only for Harry to save the day with his bravery. And kids love the idea that they too would be just like Harry in such a situation.

5. Kids like new games… and old ones. And Quidditch is such a potent mix, of hockey, football and speed racing that, combined with the flying broomsticks, allows kids to play the game themselves in their heads, going far beyond the mere words on the page.

6. Kids like new ideas… and old ones. The whole Harry Potter series is a mixture of new and old ideas. JK Rowling has taken many fantasy tropes and mixed them with original ideas. The kids, although they might not even recognize it,  are already steeped in the basics of storytelling through fairy tales and fables. JK Rowling has built on the basics, and in doing so created the ultimate in children’s fantasies.

As writers, all we have to do to join JK Rowling’s success in writing young adult fiction is to understand the kids in the same way that she does. Simple, really!

For more on Rowling, read How JK Rowling Followed Her Heart to Fame and Fortune.

Do these tips from JK Rowling’s success make it easier for you to write young adult books? Comments welcome below…

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Willian Meikle is a Scottish writer with nine novels published in the genre press and short story credits in thirteen countries and six languages.

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6 thoughts on “JK Rowling’s Tips for Writers – How to Write Young Adult Books”

  1. Hi Rebecca,

    Great question — will JK Rowling’s subject matter get old? Yes, I think it will. I think it’s a trend, and few trends last forever (otherwise they wouldn’t be called “trends”!).

    That said, however, fantasy has always seemed to be popular. Take CS Lewis’ “The Lion, The Witch, and The Wardrobe” story — it’s fantasy, and it’s hugely popular even today. And of course J.R. Tolkien’s Hobbit series was fantasy, and very popular.

    But to counterbalance that, we have Judy Blume who is totally into “realism.” And another famous Young Adult author – I can’t remember her name, but she’s from the 70s and 80s, also very popular.

    I don’t know if anyone can say what genre will stay popular the longest! But if you’re hoping to write a bestselling YA novel, I encourage you to write what you most love to read. Don’t follow the possible trends…just follow your gut, your Muse, your creativity, and the desires of your heart.

    Thanks for bringing this up, Rebecca — I hope to hear from you again!

    .-= Laurie PK´s last blog post ..Creative Ways to Use Your Email Signature =-.

  2. This was very useful. However, I can’t help but wonder if kids will become bored with witches, vampires, spies, warlocks, magic, ninjas, or whatever else that has been written over the years. How many books can be written with the “same” types of people/situations? Will it get old? Appreciate feedback…
    .-= Rebecca´s last blog post ..How Would You Rate Your Writing Skills =-.

  3. Laurie Pawlik-Kienlen

    This is great – thanks, William! What I really see in your article is the importance of achieving balance.

    As writers, we need to be “edgy and quirky” — but not TOO bizarre or controversial. We need to surprise and titillate, but not gross readers out 🙂

    Speaking of grossing readers out, I just read a book review in Time magazine — a “thumbs down” review. The book was about all the poop in the world, all the toilets in different countries, and I guess the review found it too disgusting to recommend…….see? We need balance!