The problem with young adult protagonists is that they often come across as too mature – so much so that it seems that an adult person is hiding beneath their skin. And then there is the other end of the spectrum, where the young adult protagonists come across as vapid, self-centered and seem to only care for themselves, or their love interest. What is needed is the golden middle: protagonists that are mature, and yet young, whose decisions and actions will convince the readers that they are reading a realistic story. This is where backstory comes in, especially when it comes to young adult characters. Their behavior, their worldview, and their actions need to be backed by their backstory, their upbringing and their experiences. And below, we’ve gathered some tips on how to write young adult characters that will be both extraordinary, and realistic.
1. The upbringing
Forget the absentee parents that are either dead or work overseas, unless this is necessary for the plot. Otherwise, it will only serve as a reason why your protagonist is so mature, because they have been shoved into the world without the guidance of a good, caring parent. But, young adults can be just as mature even if they come from a caring family and have parents that are constantly in the picture. This is especially true if your young adult protagonists have an open, friendly relationship with their parents, for that will make them feel grounded, and often give them the courage to face problems that seem too big to handle by themselves.
2. Their experience
We often see bookish protagonists who have almost never had many friends before suddenly coming up with the wittiest comments and showing a lot of sass. Or, they get tongue tied, and that is supposed to show they are self-conscious and don’t have a lot of self-esteem. Well, nobody begins with zero self-esteem, and no one was born confident. It is our experiences that shape us – make the same true for your characters. If they are self-conscious, explain why, but not simply because they are not outgoing and spend their time reading books. Your protagonist wasn’t born 17, they lived a life before, and your job is to ensure the experiences they had, shaped them into the person they are at the moment of the story.
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3. Their dreams
It is the protagonists’ dreams that will mark them as young adults, as well as their behaviors. Do they dream big, but are afraid to show it, because deep down they believe their dream to be impossible? Or, do they wish for small things because they are afraid of dreaming big? The answers to these questions define a certain aspect of the personality of the characters, and that, in turn, will define them as protagonists. For example, a protagonist will not back down from a dream no matter how big it is, even if they never let anybody know what they dream of. But if your character only wallows in self-pity because what they dream of will never come true, well, then, maybe they need to change that during the course of the book.
4. Their goals
Every protagonist needs to have a goal, and even small goals that define the course of the story. The goals of an adult protagonist and a young adult protagonist differ – and unless the young adult protagonist lives in a dystopian or a fantasy world, their lives will revolve around family, friends, school and their own future. You need to include this into your story, because it helps build the world your protagonist lives in, and helps deepen their personality and character.
5. Their actions and personality
The protagonist, as previously stated, also creates the story, and that means it is their actions that move the plot forward. Instead of having things happen to your protagonist, your protagonist needs to make these things happen. This means your protagonist should take actions that are suitable for their age, personality, and background; otherwise they will not be believable. However, beware of having them making too many mistakes just because it suits the plot, for that will make them come across as reckless. Additionally, their actions cannot always be the right ones, nor should they be perfect at everything they do. What is important is that they try their best, always.
Image credit: Pixabay [author] [author_image timthumb=’on’]https://writingtipsoasis.com/wp-content/uploads/2014/12/photo.jpg[/author_image] [author_info]Georgina Roy wants to live in a world filled with magic. As an art student, she’s moonlighting as a writer and is content to fill notebooks and sketchbooks with magical creatures and amazing new worlds. When she is not at school, or scribbling away in a notebook, you can usually find her curled up, reading a good urban fantasy novel, or writing on her laptop, trying to create her own.