1. Good stories are full of adventure. What’s more adventurous than your first date, or your first time driving on the freeway? Or standing on the stage in the auditorium in front of the entire school at an assembly? What can make your heart pound harder than running onto the basketball court for your first big game, or bumping shoulders with a secret crush? High school is one adventure story after another.
2. Good stories involve emotion. Everything is bigger in high school. That girl looks at you funny and it ruins your entire day. That guy smiles and you swear your heart might explode. You have a zit and you’re pretty sure the world is going to end (especially if that zit appears right before your first date).
3. Good stories have good backstories. High school is like a small town—everyone knows everyone else’s business (it’s probably even worse if you really do live in a small town, I imagine). Yet, even though you’re stuck with the same people for three or four years, maybe even twelve years, there are secrets. Sometimes even big ones. The jock who hates sports, the picked on geek who plans on becoming president someday, the cheerleader who is abused at home. You think you know everything about everyone, yet there are all those hidden fears, hopes, and dreams.
4. Good stories are full of relationships. Although I (thankfully) will never have to go back to high school (unless I get sucked into some weird worm hole in space and end up in an alternate universe, or maybe go back in time…), I remember all of the friendships and loneliness, the first loves and broken hearts, the thrills and fears. Trust me. I remember. I kept a detailed journal.
5. Good stories show the main character growing in some way. When you’re in high school, all you do is grow. Sometimes in good ways, sometimes not so good. Teenagers experience it all: discrimination. Social rejection. Harsh regulations. Public recognition. They see it happening around them every day.
My grandma once asked why people offered her a senior discount everywhere she went—she still felt like an 18 year old, underneath all those wrinkles. Now I understand her sentiment a little better. I still feel like the same girl I was in high school. But now I have added experiences that have changed my perspective on life, love, and friendship. I hope some of those life lessons will find their way into my stories. I know where teenagers are coming from. We’re not so different.
I still get nervous in front of people I don’t know.
I still feel happy when someone compliments something I worked hard on.
And sometimes the world still feels like it’s going to end when I get a zit.
That’s what I love about YA and middle grade novels.