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Crafting the YA Novel


Instructor: Nova Ren Suma


Audience: Writers working on the first draft of a YA novel, or those coming with a fresh YA idea to explore


Level: Intermediate to Advanced


Pre-requisites: Some experience writing fiction (it doesn’t have to be YA)


Description: This workshop is for those writing the first draft of a YA novel of any genre who are seeking ways to craft an engaging story and bring a teenage protagonist to authentic, memorable life. During the three Creative Lab sessions, we will make use of interactive exercises and prompts that focus on coming-of-age experiences inherent in YA stories and we will generate pages that enhance your teenage character’s inner and outer journeys. Craft talks will offer insight into creating a YA voice that shines on the page and on fulfilling your promises through to the end. Come to this workshop ready to write new passages and scenes on the spot, connect with other YA writers, and possibly volunteer to share your work aloud when the opportunity arises. The goal is to give you some engaging tools and revelations to bring back home to help you explore, deepen, and ultimately finish a YA novel that is uniquely your own.


Be prepared to create brand-new writing during each session; laptops and/or notebooks to write in are essential. There will be a bonus Slack created for the duration of the workshop to have online conversations with your peers and share links to the writing you create—joining is optional. An invitation and community guidelines will be sent in the days before the conference.


Attendees in this Creative Lab will learn:

  • Techniques for embodying and refining a teenage narrator’s voice
  • Exercises and questions to help flesh out YA characters
  • Strategies for creating compelling coming-of-age stories
  • Tools for keeping your story promises and following your arc through to the end
  • Ways to deepen your YA concepts to make them specific and unique to you


Attendees in this Creative Lab will leave with:

  • New writing for your YA novel-in-progress


Session One – Saturday, February 11
9:30am – 12pm

  • Craft talk: YA Voice
  • Fascinations exercise and ice-breaker
  • Writing prompt #1: Openings (volunteers share aloud)
  • Writing prompt #2: Memory Exchange (small groups)


Session Two – Saturday, February 11
2:30pm– 5pm

  • Writing prompt #3: Firsts (volunteers share aloud)
  • Core questions exercise and discussion
  • Writing prompt #4: Emotional Wounds (small groups)


Session Three – Sunday, February 12
9:45am – 12:15pm

  • Writing prompt #5: The End of the World
  • Craft talk: Fulfilling Promises (The endings of the novels The Walls Around Us and Imaginary Girls will be discussed, so be warned of spoilers! )
  • Writing prompt #6: Closings (volunteers share aloud)
  • Q&A
  • Promises exercise and final words


Please note: This syllabus is a guiding document and is subject to change.



About Your instructor:

Nova Ren Suma is a New York Times bestselling author of young adult novels and a committed teacher of creative writing. Her latest YA novel A Room Away from the Wolves was an Edgar Award finalist and called “shiver-inducingly delicious” by the New York Times. Her other novels include the #1 New York Times bestselling, #1 Indie Next Pick, and Edgar Award finalist The Walls Around Us as well as Imaginary Girls and 17 & Gone, and she was co-editor of the story and writing craft anthology Foreshadow: Stories to Celebrate the Magic of Reading & Writing YA. She is a MacDowell fellow and a Yaddo fellow and has an MFA in fiction from Columbia University. She has taught creative writing at the University of Pennsylvania and in the Writing for Children and Young Adults MFA program at Vermont College of Fine Arts, as well as YA novel workshops elsewhere, including at the Djerassi Resident Artists Program, the Tin House YA Fiction Workshop, the Highlights Foundation, and in the Fine Arts Work Center’s online program 24PearlStreet. Her next YA novel is forthcoming from Algonquin YR. Visit her online at and find her on Twitter and Instagram at @novaren.