How to Write a Successful Young Adult Novel – Rex’s High School Cafeteria Theory


Rexis here!

Hello internet peeps!

Last night I finally sat down to watch the conclusion to The Hunger Games. It took me awhile to catch up, sure, but it was worth the wait. I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there is something I just adore about the franchise. Its probably the political upheaval or the fact that I have a special place in my heart for rebellion against tyranny. It could be the lust for power in the series’ villainous dictators that harkens back to World War II, a period I am fascinated with. Perhaps I just enjoy thinking about Katniss and Peeta’s celebrity couple name.

As much as I love The Hunger Games I can’t help but notice its similarities with many other recently released movies that I’m not such a fan of. Katniss Everdeen set the world on fire and Hollywood has been trying to catch that lightning in a bottle once more. With franchises like The Mazerunner and Divergent being the better known attempts. We’ve also got The Fifth Wave, Ender’s Game, and The Giver, to name a few. We’ll even find bits and pieces of the Twilight franchise strewn throughout. All of these have one particular thing in common; they are young-adult novels that have found a place on the big screen. Of course, the commonalities don’t end there.

The books these movies are based on are no failures either. We’re talking about best sellers here. (They don’t make movies from crap books.) So assuming you were interested in writing a book with a young-adult audience in mind, a good place to start would be in the examination of what these things all have in common. I feel like this is good time to mention that I am by no means an expert on writing. Hell, I barely even read. But I do love movies. And I do follow trends. And I do see patterns. So bare with me. Also, take this with a grain of salt because its really just a commentary on some movies I like.

That said, I believe we need to start with the most important aspect of your story; the high school cafeteria. All of these movies can be broken down into a very simple idea:


Every one of these tables represents a group dedicated to killing you. Except for the guy in blue. That’s your hero.


“In a world where there are multiple different groups/factions/districts, Hero must discover the undeniable truth that they are the chosen one  by rebelling against said society, usually by just not fitting in.”

And that’s it!

A high school cafeteria will tell you everything you need to know about writing young-adult fiction, particularly if  you are targeting a female audience. Think back to your high school years. Remember the different cliques? The jocks, nerds, goths, band geeks, punks, stoners… whatever. Every particular group seemed stupid to every other group. Divergent hits the nail on the head with this idea. Enter Tris who just happens to NOT fit in anywhere. Am I the only one who has flashbacks while watching this movie? Draw your own parallels here, but every one of these movies sets up a high school cafeteria as its society, even my beloved Hunger Games.

Don’t believe it? Katniss is just a plain teenage girl forced to rebel against a hierarchy of fashion-obsessed metaphors that represent a “popular kid” clique she could never fit into (the Capitol). Sure its set in a dystopian future, but that brings me to my next point.

Your plain teenager with no discernible talent or skill (as to relate to most kids these days) is forced to rebel. You must set your cafeteria in a dystopian future of some type in order to facilitate this rebellion. And, as I said before, relate the rebellion to simply not fitting in. Katniss becomes a symbol of the rebellion because she doesn’t fit in with the capitol after winning the games. Thomas is the answer to a disease plaguing a society, thus he doesn’t fit in with Wicked and opposes them as they seek to use him and his friends. And we already talked about Tris.

The icing on the cake for this type of novel will be my last point. You need to have not one, but TWO love interests. Again, this is especially true when writing for girls. Don’t ask me why. I just call it like I see it. I don’t know if this is a leftover cliché from Twilight, but it works. The Hunger Games would have been considerably shorter and wouldn’t have required 4 movies if there had been only one love interest. Even The Fifth Wave got on board with this idea.


She spends about 5 mins of movie runtime with her brother and the other 79 hours making out with one guy while worrying about her crush on another. There’s freakin’ aliens! Stop messing around!


To recap:

  1. Design the aspects of your high school cafeteria set in a dystopian future.
  2. Make your main character who doesn’t fit in rebel against that society.
  3. Make it happen amidst a love triangle.

Nothing else you do in this novel will matter. You can use aliens, zombies, angry beavers, a giant robot…. Literally any reason for the world to be in a dystopian state is fine. It literally doesn’t matter who lives or dies. It doesn’t matter who your protagonist ends up with. It doesn’t even have to be very good. All you need to do is appeal to young girls (or boys, but I don’t think the market is as big) who don’t fit in, who feel rejected, or lack confidence. You are targeting the ones who just don’t understand why people do the things they do. And you are targeting the ones who feel oppressed by whatever chaotic state their particular school cafeteria is in. The more vague, the better. Because that’s what this type of writing is about. Despite the war-torn settings, these kids are just finding themselves while surrounded by metaphors for high school.

Now get out there and write a best-seller, you winner!