Following our Rules of Genre in YA post, I wanted to give you a primer for plots. If you have a story you want to write, consider taking one of these formats and plugging in your variables. Works every time!
Applicable across genre, whether it's a roadtrip to California to memorialize your dead best friend, to the East Coast to chase after the one that got away, or across a barren wasteland that used to be the United States to avoid being devoured by flesh-eating zombies, it's pretty much the same--the physical journey mirrors the emotional one. Hijinks. Running out of gas/money. Dashboard confessionals (of the non-emo-band variety). The necessity of chainsaws and flamethrowers. Classic, flexible, and when in doubt with plotting, pop a tire in the middle of nowhere. Preferably with hillbilly cannibals.
The Big Dance
Nothing says drama like bad music, uncomfortable and unflattering formal wear, and strapping dying flowers to your wrist. If Big Dances are the pinnacle of teen experience, no wonder we're all so eager to get the bleep into our twenties. I mean, umm: Romance! Drama! A Night That Changes Everything! (You can also substitute Graduation, The Big Party, or The Last Night Before The Dystopian Government Kills Us All. All you need is a sense that this is a last chance of some sort + hope mixed with desperation + a boy who looks good in a tux.) (We should give the boy in the tux a flamethrower. Just, you know, to liven things up.) (Because really: Prom is boring.) (I mean, PROM IS AWESOME WE SHOULD WRITE MORE BOOKS ABOUT IT.) (Sorry, Evie.)
The Best Friend Romance
He's always been around. She's never noticed. But suddenly, something happens--whether a plague that wipes out the rest of their town, or an alien invasion that forces all of the teenagers to set out on their own (now we are roadtripping again, dangit, and they forgot the chainsaws), or the removal of braces and the restyling of the hair--and he is all she wants. But now he's taken. Or maybe she is. You know they'll get together in the end; it's the getting there that's fun. Or at least it would be, if that horrible girl who's been making fun of our heroine since second grade weren't sticking her tongue down the best friend's throat! Too bad this isn't a Best Friend Romance/Murder Mystery, otherwise someone could take a lead pipe to Horrible Girl. Just hope it isn't a dystopian. You can't win in a dystopian. Otherwise they'd have to change it to Blisstopian.
The World Is Ending and I Will Probably Die, BUT WE MUST MAKE OUT
He's a fallen angel/government rebel/wrong side of towner/half-android half-zombie. She's a girl who just can't resist his broodingly dark angsty muscles even if it kills her. If they get together, THE WORLD WILL END. But if they don't, THE WORLD WILL END. What is a girl to do? Why, stare a lot, and muse on the nature of his musculature, and bemoan the details of the plot obstacles thrown in their way. And then, of course, make out. Because if the world is ending anyway, there should at least be some kissing to buffer the devastation. Also, getting together will probably magically solve whatever impossible barriers were stopping them. Because kissing? SOLVES EVERYTHING. Especially when Bunsen Burners are involved.
(Unless you are a young teenager reading this, in which case doing all of your homework, getting enough sleep, having good friends, and eating balanced meals solves everything.)
The Fish Out of Water
Recently popularized by the influx of mermaid tales. Every teenager feels like a misfit, whether it's because of secret family shame, or because he or she spouts tentacles and suckers when splashed with water. Fish out of water tales capitalize on this universal feeling by saying, "Yes! You ARE different! And if you can survive the government assassins hunting you down/the anti-kraken movement/the zombie plague/high school, you'll realize that being different is what makes you strong. Or, you know, being a werewolf is what makes you strong, but being different is what makes you you. And you are awesome." Also, kissing. Because really.
The Horrible Things Happen and Everything Ends In Bittersweet Loss
Congratulations! Printz Award Winner.
So, those are just the basic plot lines you can work with. There are, of course, infinite combinations and varieties of these. And if you ever get stuck writing within one of these plot lines, just remember: Add kissing, or add explosions.
Or blow people up while they are kissing. Everybody wins!