Advice from an Editor: Combining Rich Relationships in Your Novel

Nov 9, 2023 | Novels

The importance of relationships in the lives of children and teens (and adults, for that matter) cannot be understated.  Familial, friend, romantic, and other bonds have huge influence on how kids process and move through their worlds.  In real life, relationships can help and/or hurt, clarify and/or complicate, soothe and/or distress, and everything in between.  In books, they can do the same.  They can also help readers understand nuance, absorb multiple dimensions of a character, and relate to a story.  In other words, relationships are an important tool writers can use to bring their stories to “life.”

Editor Kat Brzozowski has been faculty for us on several courses about relationships in MG and YA Novels. She visits the blog today to share some thoughts on the subject:

When we think of “relationships” in books, our thoughts might first turn to romantic relationships. While these are the bedrock of many books for young people – especially young adult fiction – relationships go far beyond those involving romantic love. Some of my favorite relationships in kid lit fit into other categories, particularly family and friendship relationships. And my favorite children’s books of all? They combine all different types of relationships.

I recently read Meg Medina’s Merci Suarez Changes Gears, an award-winning middle grade novel that’s packed with rich relationships. There’s the relationship between Merci and her grandfather, which serves as the foundation for the book. There’s the relationship between Merci and the girls in her class, each one varied in a nuanced way that feels real and important. And there’s the relationship between Merci and her parents, her aunts, and her cousins. What makes all of the relationships so compelling is that none of them are static. Over the course of the book, they grow and change, morph and become something new, while still reflecting the essence of the characters involved.

Book cover: Merci Suarez Changes Gears by Meg Medina

In the YA space, I’m also drawn to books that have a mix of complex friend, family, and romantic relationships. One of the first young adult books I edited after moving into the children’s group is Aminah Mae Safi’s Not the Girls You’re Looking For. What I love about this book is that it’s 60% about friends, 20% about family, and 20% about romance, and within these groups, all of the dynamics that Safi explores are messy, complicated, and ever-changing. Having a mix of different types of relationships not only allows Safi to build realistic and layered side characters, but also expands and deepens our knowledge of our main character – one of the greatest assets of having strong relationships in your books.

Book cover of Not the Girls You're Looking For, by Aminah Mae Safi
Whether you’re writing for kids or teens, consider varying the types of relationships you have. It’ll make your book so much better – I promise.

Thank you to our faculty for this Guest Post!

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