Rick Riordan on Writing For Young People

I found this in my notes and probably didn’t get the wording exactly right but I am approximately close.  Here then, are Rick Riordan, fabulously successful author of Percy Jackson, Heroes of Olympus, and the Kane Chronicles (and many more), and his tips for writing for young people.


Tip 1 – Don’t write the parts the reader would skip anyway

(Me: Do you ever skip parts of books? Even books you think are good? I do. Riordan advises us to skip those boring parts. The long descriptions. The needless exposition. Just get on with it already)

Tip 2 – Distinguish between mystery and confusion

(Me: most good books should have some element of mystery about them. It adds tension. But don’t think that throwing in fake clues and confusing messages that you’ve created a great mystery. I remember Lee Child, author of the Jack Reacher novels, saying something about tension or suspense. He said get your reader to ask themselves a question early. A question they desperately want to know the answer to. That will get them turning the pages. And then keep getting them to ask themselves that question, or some other questions, all the way until the end of the book)

Tip 3- Get going into the action

(Me: The first line of your novel doesn’t need to begin with your MC hanging from a ledge. But don’t wait too long. Some critics will say, “hey I want to care about your character before you hang them from a cliff”. But plenty of writers will tell you, that if they write someone hanging off a cliff, the reader will care about them quickly. Point being. Everybody, and young people especially, wants something to happen quickly.)

Tip 4- Identify the moral dilemma driving the novel

(Me: Make your reader care. I wrote a story one time about a kid being obsessed with a food. All of that food was stolen. He wanted to get it back. I thought, hey young people will like this. Easy to identify problem and we know what the MC has to do, get the food back. But early readers of my Story told me the same thing. We don’t care enough about this problem. Riordan tells us writers to have a moral dilemma of some sort driving the novel. An obsession over a particular food could be enough to get a reader to care…but probably not on its own. Pair it together with a tragic fault, or a compelling moral problem. Make the reader care at a primal level)

Tip 5 – The protagonist must exert influence to solve the problem and the antagonist must exert influence to stop the solution

(Me: Couple things to watch for. First, make sure that the novel is not just fun and games. Fun and games are, well, fun. But in and of themselves, they do not constitute a story. Make sure there is a real problem the MC must solve and make sure there are real obstacles. But Riordan takes it further. Obstacles aren’t enough. In other words, a treasure hunt all by itself isn’t quite compelling enough. There needs to be the addition of the enemy (antagonist who is really trying to stop the MC in some way.)


There you have it. Rick Riordan’s top five tips for writing for young people. Before he wrote children’s novels, Riordan wrote acclaimed mystery novels for adults. The guy knows what he is doing and has become a master of the Children’s adventure/mystery novel. We would all do well to learn from him.

Happy Writing!