My last post on seeking out new YA works to check out the "freshness" of the genre prompted me to think about how I try to keep my own work fresh. It's a difficult thing to do; I love more of the older writers (Lewis, Adams) and even the more contemporary works that I like are more than a decade old (McKinley, Wrede). Even when dealing with the same author--like Robin McKinley or Gail Carson Levine--I like the early stuff better than the new stuff (The Hero and the Crown and Ella Enchanted were miles better than Sunshine or Fairest).
So what to do? First, I make an effort to focus on characterization. Keeping my characters fresh helps keeps the whole work fresh. For example, the Pevensie children are much different from children from this age. Not just in the obvious, like fashion and technology, but also in attitude. The Pevensie children would never curse, and the comedy (and I'll admit there is little in Narnia) is subtle, not sarcastic. So injecting my characters with modern attitudes makes the entire book more modern. This applies even to period works. My most recently finished book, The Red Thread, takes place, for most of the time, in a medieval-style alternative world. But the characters from that world don't talk with thees and thous. Instead, they talk in as modern a voice as the two characters from New York--and I don't see a fallacy in this. My characters didn't really go back in time, and even then, it's more important in YA to have the tone right than the words, if that makes sense.
In keeping my work fresh, I also make an effort to avoid the same ol', same ol'. This has led me into trouble before--Babbletongue is probably too different to be marketable at this time. But at least it's different. And The Red Thread may have a typical adventure of girl falling through portal into a world of knights in shining armor, but the overall plot is about her relationship with her drug-addicted brother. This is the sort of thing where I make a distinction. After all, Lucy may have had trouble with Edmund, but Edmund's drug was just Turkish Delight.