How do you write a truly epic YA novel? A dash of conflict and a sprinkle of romance – ta-da!

SJ Kincaid has built an epic world and characters you just have to root for in her brand new book, ‘The Diabolic’.

Nemesis is a Diabolic – made to protect her ward, Sidonia, the daughter of a galactic senator. When Sidonia is summoned to be a hostage, Nemesis must become her and take her place and learns that there’s more to her than violence. 


SJ gives us her top tips for a truly epic YA novel.

These are just my opinions, and these apply only to the science fiction and fantasy genres which I love to read and write. There are always exceptions, but here you go:

1) Protagonist

I’ve read there are really two types of characters: there are the relatable ones who’d be you but for different circumstances, and then the James Bond types you just want to watch from afar without having to imagine yourself in their shoes. Ideally, both qualities are combined, with some humanizing vulnerability in the strongest protagonist and some genuine, admirable strength in the weakest protagonist. Katniss Everdeen is a great example of both.


2) Villain

Since our hero or heroine is a person, a villain is ideally a person who is scarier than them. A snivelling, wimpy villain does not make the protagonist’s victory over them compelling, unless that snivelling wimpy villain has a massive apparatus of power and some far more capable underlings who can bring on the true menace.

+             Interpersonal Conflict with the Villain

Not to be confused with overarching plot conflict. This is something more personal between the hero/heroine and villain that makes their animosity interesting. The closer and more intense their natural connection, history, or other entanglement draws them to each other, the better, the more fascinating it is to read (I think this is why so many people often ship villains with heroes).

Voldemort is a great example of both of these. He is vastly more powerful than Harry Potter; they have an intense, connected past, and yet they are set fundamentally at odds. Only one can live, and one will die.

3) World-Building

All of the action needs to take place against a world that, however fantastical, feels big, fully realized, with laws of magic, science or nature that have something systematic and don’t jar people’s brains as something so weird that it would never actually happen or sustain itself unless human nature itself fundamentally changed.

‘Twilight’ had fantastic scene-setting, creating an eerie, perpetually rainy atmosphere to be the gloomy setting of the story.


4) Love Interest

All of these stories have love interests. Ideally this person is compelling in his or her own right. Sometimes you can have a villain who is not so bad and is redeemed by a hero or heroine in this role.

Four from ‘Divergent’ was a character who intrigued readers and contributed a great deal to the plot and the growth of the main character.

5) Side characters

Since characters make a story interesting, the best way to write interesting side characters is to find them interesting yourself, as a writer. Non-POV characters that play a big role in your story should be as well-imagined as the protagonist. Smaller characters than that may clog the story if too much attention is given to them. This is where some archetypes can be useful, as long as you flesh them out beyond the basics of ‘jovial sidekick’ ‘crusty old mentor’ ‘wise wizard’, etc.  Try to avoid the clichés of an archetype and readers won’t be too annoyed to see them.

J.K. Rowling is the Queen at this. Harry Potter has a huge, memorable cast of side characters.


6) Outer conflict/High Stakes

We have all the character stuff. What are they fighting over? What is going on in this world? Why do they bother? There’s got to be something major at stake.

In ‘The Maze Runner’, the kids are trapped in the maze and must find a way out – or they will face certain death.

7) Inner conflict

The protagonist can’t just be a static character going through the motions of the story in order to reach the conclusion. What’s going on inside them? An inner conflict of some sort really is ideal here. The more closely tied to the plot, or the history with the villain, the better. Inwardly, the protagonist gets from A->B character-wise in order to outwardly move from A->B plot-wise.

Alina Starkov in ‘Shadow & Bone’ has to learn to embrace her power to triumph in her battle against the Darkling, which means her self-acceptance is critical to the resolution of the plot.


10) Seriously big climax

There has to be a big climax scene. Ideally, the protagonist has overcome his or her inner conflict and somehow whatever resolution they gain from it proves ironically and unexpectedly instrumental in their defeat of the villain. Failing that, just have a big climax where giants are toppled, the underdogs prevail, and hopefully there are a few surprises.

No examples. This is pretty self-explanatory. You know it when you’ve read it.

Followed by … Ending.

Wrap it up before the adrenaline rush of the climax is entirely gone and people get bored, but not so quickly that people feel they’re dangling in the air, cut off too abruptly to process that it’s over.

Need a book that has all of these? You need ‘The Diabolic’ in your life. And you also need Hashtag Reads’ newsletter straight to your inbox.

What is the most important part of a book for you – characters? Plot? Tell us in the comments below. 

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Written by Sophie Waters

Sophie is the Head of Commercial at Maximum Pop! Having studied English Lit and Creative Writing at Bath Spa University, she came to MP! to satisfy her passion for books. Sophie is a diehard Hufflepuff and feminist. She's also a huge cat lover, and can often be found rocking her socks off at a gig.

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