BWS 14.11.18 report: “Writing for Younger Readers: Three Essential Strategies,” with Anne Laurel Carter


Anne Laurel Carter grew up in Don Mills. She’s been a librarian and ESL/ FSL teacher. Her 19 books were inspired by her experiences or interviews of interesting people or by the dreamscape of her imagination. She lives in Toronto and Nova Scotia.

At our event last week, Anne stopped by to share her what strategies she uses to engage  young adult and middle grade audiences.


When I used to do manuscript evaluations it was obvious to me that adults writing for Middle Grade or Young Adult readers had the distinct advantage of maturity and experience compared to young students trying to do the same thing (students I taught in the school system). If the adult writers read YA avidly, studied the literature carefully, and attended writing workshops, they could acquire a good set of craft tools. They knew how to hook a reader quickly. Their 11, 14 or 17 year-old characters sounded their age and were focused on issues that concerned their peers.

However, adult writers had the disadvantage of being parents and feeling ‘wise’. Too often they tried to slip a moral lesson into their story. Subtle or from a soap box, it always weakened, if not ruined, a story. In addition, whenever benevolent adults were given secondary roles they inevitably gave ‘important advice to save the day’ or worse, stepped into a crisis scene and solved it.

The more I write MG or YA the more I remind myself that I’m not writing for a younger reader. I’m writing as a young person. I cut or minimize the benevolent adults. I evoke the emotional landscape of my character’s age by observing and remembering, vividly, the events that happened to me growing up. I recall vividly being that age.

So here are three key strategies to help you write a story that will win the interest of MG and YA readers:


Nail this one. Be the character. Stay true to her age. Readers love a clear voice at a particular age. It’s compelling. When you’re totally immersed in the viewpoint of your character her voice – when it rings true – can carry the story.

For example, when I was 13 I knew I would never get married (by the way: I’ve been married twice). My mother was a frustrated, often-angry housewife. I had never heard of sexism or depression – terms I would study much later. Looking back, with the advantage of an education and some therapy, I know I transferred something about my mother onto my rejection of marriage. All of which I ignored to write a novel, Last Chance Bay, in the voice of a 13 year-old girl living in Canada during the 1940’s when most girls had limited career choices. It was easy to nail Meg’s voice in the first line: “For the longest time, right up until my fourteenth birthday I wanted to wake up as a boy.”


Tell a good story. Do you have a strong premise? Younger readers demand a good story, while some appreciate literary writing they never do at the expense of story. If your writing is dense or slow or boring they won’t read on. So take your character to the edge of the cliff in your plot and push them over the edge. Don’t be nice. Crank up the stakes.

Let the young protagonist drive the action and solve the problem

MG and YA writers used to love orphan stories for good reason. No parents were around to supervise. Unexpected adventures happened. Danger. The kids had to find their way out of the climax without adult help.

Find a creative way to achieve the same thing without killing off your characters’ parents (a cliche at this point). Readers will enjoy the kids’ solutions. The less “adult” the better.


Stay tuned for information about our next event and features on our upcoming writers! 

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