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Shadow and Bone – Leigh Bardugo

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IT WAS A COMPLETE DISASTER.

Whelp…that was horribly disappointing…

I cannot begin to explain how utterly…blah this one was.

SO many people recommended it, and I honestly feel a bit awful with the low rating – but ehhh, what’s the point of goodreads if I can’t rant? 

How to Write a Hit YA Novel 101 

(In 5 easy steps!)

1. Make your main character ugly

“She’s an ugly little thing. No child should look like that.”

Like realllllllly ugly.

Pale and sour, like a glass of milk that’s turned.

And she must be skinny, but in the malnourished-and-kinda-hot sort of way.

AND REMEMBER 
– she can never be so ugly that the Generic Love Interest(s) aren’t attracted to her!

I’m sorry it took me so long to see you, Alina. But I see you now.

Your Main Character must be ugly enough so that all the little children reading your novels can relate, but not so ugly that Hollywood casts a troll to play her in the movie adaption.

2. Make her humble

“Well, I don’t want to be high above all others.”

Your Main Character has to come from the sticks, she has to have survived poverty and hardship. 

We really want that sympathy coming. She’s ugly, alone in the world and she sucks at everything. Make her clumsy, naive and outright stupid.

So humble that when she’s given clean clothes that her eyes well up in tears. At one point, your are legally obligated to give her an Oscar-worthy gown for some made up and utterly unimportant reason.

No matter how successful your Main Character is, you MUST make sure she is ABSOLUTELY MISERABLE with her success.

Tears are acceptable, outright bawling every two pages is preferred.

“A thousand girls would sell their own mothers to be in your shoes, and yet here you are, miserable and sulking like a child. So tell me, girl. What is your sad little heart pining for?”

It’s probably best to off one of her parents – scratch that – make her an orphan. 

An unlovable orphan.

Perfect. 

Now bring in the two hot guys. Let’s make a love triangle.

3. The Love Triangle

Thanks for being my best friend and making my life bearable. Oh, and sorry I fell in love with you for a while there.

So. Now that she’s an ugly, unlovable orphan, what does she need in her life?

Option A. The boy-next-door love interest

Option B. The super-hot-supernatural love interest

A few notes here:

While it is completely okay and acceptable for your Main Character to be ugly-skinny, both males MUST be strapping fine specimens of their species. Ripped and buff. No skinny-minnies allowed.

Option A (our homespun hero) has to be tall, broad shouldered, tanned and have an easy-going nature.

While Option A is allowed to pine for Main Character, the two of them must NEVER EVER mutually like each other at the same time. If they do, there will be consequences.

Option B (our tall-dark-and-handsome) has to fit the description. He may be pale, but in a luminous way (NEVER in a spends-too-much-time-behind-a-computer sort of way).

In addition, Option B MUST display at least four of the following traits: Sullen, Argumentative, Controlling, Dominating, Sexually Aggressive, Outright Abusive, and Murderous (but in a hot way).

(As you can see, we are setting sweet and stable Option A up for failure. The key is to always steer your vulnerable orphan towards the “spicier” Option B.)

NOTE: If the supernatural love interest isn’t older than your Main Character by at least 100 years, it is creepy.

“I’ve been waiting for you a long time, Alina,” he said. “You and I are going to change the world.”

4. Good VS Evil 

Now, remember, your audience is around 12-17 so it’s best to make the plot fresh, engaging and exciting.

I’d recommend with Generic Good Vs Generic Evil. 

And, to add just a pinch of spice, let’s make everyone good: White and everyone evil: Black.

And, to make it even spicier (and less racist), let’s go with Light Vs Shadows. Fabulous. Much more PC.

Now, where in the world would your Main Character be without a super-cool secret weapon. 

Since she can directly control light, let’s go with the obvious.

With a flick of the wrist, I could slide a mirror between my fingers and… I practiced bouncing flashes of light off them and into my opponent’s eyes.

Mirrored gloves – after all, you want the element of surprise, and there’s no way someone beaming you in the eyes with light stronger than the sun will surprise anyone. Hence the gloves.

You may have a few “twists” and “turns” scattered about, especially when it comes to love interests:

“Why would you care what I think?”
He looked genuinely baffled. “I don’t know,” he said…And then he kissed me.

The key is to keep the audience on the tips of their toes. 

Is Option B trying to kill her? Or does he just love her so much that it hurts? (Only the fifth book of your ten-part series will begin to unravel that little secret).

5. Vaguely Inspirational Sentences 

An oft overlooked and essential aspect to writing a YA novel is the inspirational factor. 

Before you get too intimidated – don’t worry! 

None of these actually have to mean something, they just have to sound like they could mean something, maybe.

Your young and impressionable target audience won’t get it either way!

He had seen a woman, barefoot and unflinching in her doorway, face down a row of bayonets. He knew the look of a man defending his home with nothing but a rock in his hand.

Female empowerment is SUPER in right now. Your humbly ugly and clumsily skinny Main Character NEEDS to be spunky, strong and a real “go-getter.”

Make sure she has derisive thoughts towards being girly and waiting for a man to save her.

Put on your pretty clothes and wait for the next kiss, the next kind word. Wait for the stag. Wait for the collar. Wait to be made into a murderer and a slave.

She ain’t no damsel in distress! (expect, of course, if either Option A OR Option B are inclined to save her from a cute-but-clumsy moment!Teehee! )

Don’t forget to throw in the self-doubt and self-loathing! You can never let your audience forget how naive and childlike your Main Character is!

She must NEVER be happy in ANY situation. She must HATE herself and EVERYTHING she stands for!!

Maybe I would wake tomorrow and find that it had all been a dream,

But, most importantly, you MUST (and I repeat MUST) show that the Main Character is willing to kill herself over the vaguely worded Light Vs Shadow plot point.

Think of the target audience! Impressionable twelve to seventeen-year-olds love it when their heroes are willing to kill sacrifice themselves for the greater good – suicide with a purpose, that’s our motto.

It was time to let go. That day on the Shadow Fold, Mal had saved my life, and I had saved his. Maybe that was meant to be the end of us.

If she’s not willing to suicide over some slight, is your book even worth reading? 

Concluding Remarks 

Thank you so much for joining us on How to Write a Hit YA Novel 101 .

We hope your bumbling-fool-ugly-humble-orphan (but in a hot way) Main Character is ready to journey out into the wilderness – where she spends months at a time camping in the woods without ever peeing, farting or having her period in front of the hot guy.

She does not have bodily functions, she is too busy weeping unshed tears over her dead parents and/or the poverty-stricken horrors she has witnessed.

And remember – don’t forget to cuddle for warmth!

Interested in this one from Leigh Bardugo? Buy it here:  Amazon

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