Writing for Young Audiences / Kathryn Berla

Writing for Young Audiences 

by Kathryn Berla

In my mind, the most difficult thing to write is a young adult because the writer must always keep her focus on the adolescent voice while conveying emotions that many adolescents aren’t fully equipped to put into words. And yet, these emotions will likely be the most intensely felt of our lives, setting the stage for how we move forward in our jobs, our marriages, our parenting. Everything. The profundity of this time of self-discovery is exactly what led me to write in the young adult genre.

GOING PLACES was my first foray into the world of mystery writing. Although it’s a young adult book, the mystery involves a much older man and his interaction with the protagonist. Once I got a taste for writing a bit of mystery, I was anxious to write another, this time allowing myself more freedom to explore it in an adult way. However, with one foot firmly planted in the young adult world, I didn’t want to stray too far. I simply wanted to allow myself more leeway.


I’m more of a psychologically-oriented person and writer. What goes on inside a person’s head is always far more interesting to me than external events. What causes a person to be cruel or commit a crime? Why do others go along with it? What are the long-term consequences beyond just the immediate action and how can these consequences change a life?

Two books that I read in my younger years had a profound effect on me, raising questions about the burdens we carry forward from childhood into adulthood. One was Margaret Atwood’s CAT’S EYE and the other was John Knowles’ A SEPARATE PEACE. Combine that with my decades-long interest in sociopaths, and I had a theme I was anxious to explore. Sociopaths are different from you and me, and yet they live amongst us in more numbers than we might imagine.  Often, they’re productive and successful people, a fact that I’ve learned through my research. We tend to think of them as monsters but that’s often not the case. In THE PSYCHOPATH INSIDE, neuroscientist, James Fallon, discovers during his own study about psychopathic tendencies that his personal brain scan showed all the physical markers that placed him firmly in that category.

Reading the relatively new young adult thriller, MY SISTER ROSA, led me back to the old classic, THE BAD SEED, and a new way of looking at the disorder. Perhaps in ancient history, more of us, if not all of us, were sociopaths. How could empathy, morality, and guilt be productive when the human species was in survival mode? Once we had advanced to the point of forming civilized societies, those same traits became critical. But does evolution simply erase unwanted traits in the blink of an eye? My dentist tells me that more and more people are born without the wisdom teeth we no longer have the use (or space) for.

So, what happens to the “normal” person who gets caught in the web of a sociopath when it’s leading nowhere good? Sociopaths can be keen observers of people. They can learn to fake the emotions they know are important to others but don’t recognize in themselves. Perhaps they do this on a subconscious level, perhaps it’s conscious. But if you spend a lot of your time observing others and how they react to different situations, you’re bound to gain insights that are helpful when it comes to manipulation.

In THE KITTY COMMITTEE, I explore this concept as well as the concept of survivor’s guilt of those who get sucked into the vortex of a sociopath. Because the events take place during the intense and uncertain period of adolescence, I felt more freedom to dig deeper by looking back through the eyes of an adult. And like all of my books, forgiveness, and redemption are at the forefront as the most powerful motivators in the human heart.

Kathryn Berla enjoys writing in a variety of genres including light fantasy, contemporary literary fiction, and even horror. She writes for all ages: children, middle grade, young adult, and adult. She’s the author of the young adult novels: 12 HOURS IN PARADISE, DREAM ME, THE HOUSE AT 758, and GOING PLACES, which received VOYA Magazine’s Perfect Ten rating. You can follow her on Twitter @BerlaKathryn Instagram @AuthorKathrynB and Facebook @KathrynBerlaBooks