(This unpublished gem has been sitting in my drafts since April 16, 2012.)
Okay, I have figured out the magical formula for making a hit Young Adult book. It’s really quite easy.
The story elements in The Hunger Games:
A smart and tough, but emotionally vulnerable hero.
A love triangle with a bunch of confused feelings.
A personal vendetta against a villain.
A villain that singles out the hero for humiliation.
A powerful government regime oppressing the rights of the people.
An underdog rebel force fighting for freedom.
A last-man-standing fight to the death that the hero must survive.
A series of deadly tricks and traps for the hero(s) to overcome.
A caricature or exaggeration of modern American society.
The writing style in The Hunger Games:
First person, present tense.
Very concise, easy-to-read prose.
Cliffhanger chapter endings.
Very few adverbs.
Taboos in The Hunger Games:
I don’t know if this is true of all Young Adult books, and now I’m pretty curious to find out, but I found it amusing to note that, apparently, the subject matter of a Young Adult novel is very specific about what must be censored. What I mean is this: You can put kids into an arena and have them kill each other with swords and spears and bows, in extremely gory detail. You can drop bombs on groups of kids, then have people rush in to help them, then drop more bombs on the helpers. You can burn people, you can decapitate people, you can dismember people.
But you cannot swear, ever. And you absolutely positively MUST NOT mention anything more sexual than a kiss.