I may not know what it’s like to live with teens, but I know what it’s like to write for them. And, I’ll tell you what every parent does—it’s not easy.
While we all live in a time where instant gratification is king, teens take it to a whole new level. They want their stories to be faster paced. That’s not to say they need non-stop action, but I’ve found that it’s important to keep a chapter moving.
Teens seem to love stories with plenty of emotion. Sadness, snarkitude, anger. They’re going through a pivotal time. They’re coming to grips with who they are—no longer as children, but not fully adult, either. Of course life is more emotional! They’re experiencing the same things we all went through, but they’re also seeing the bigger things in life where as children often remain oblivious. Teens see through fresh eyes instead of our preconceived ones. If there’s a scene that calls for genuine emotion, a writer can’t skimp here. No matter how painful, no matter how raw the observation, teens will easily root out any attempt to gloss over the character’s feelings as a sham. If you don’t get them, they won’t get you or your story. Tell it straight up. If you remember what it was like to have a loved one die, suffer extreme embarrassment, fall in love for the first time, or endure rejection, you’ve got to lay it on the line.
Which brings me to keeping it real. Without this crucial element, the story will fail. You’ll lose your connection and your audience. Teens often feel isolated, unsure. You’ve got to portray that in your main character, too. Then give that character the strength to accept or overcome whatever obstacles you’ve set before them. In the end, the story has to change the character forever, good or bad.
I’ve also found that in young adult fiction, it’s all about the character and how they react to what you, the writer, throw at them. Just keep the story heavily focused on the character, give teens someone they can connect to, and you’ll do just fine.
The fact that most young adult fiction is so strongly character driven is probably the reason why most young adult novels are written in first person. But, third person can be equally effective: think Harry Potter, the Wicked Lovely series, and Graceling to name a few. The Book of Lost Souls is written in third person.
Some adults might say that teen fiction is too self-absorbing. But, think about it—in order to figure out those around you—the world around you, you have to know yourself first. Your characters are just getting to know themselves, too.
So why do I choose to write young adult? It’s because of that freshness, the ability to see things as I imagine they could be rather than what they’ve often become. It doesn’t mean that I don’t love my life. It’s just that teens still have a lifetime ahead of them. And, when they’re not learning to deal with the latest personal crisis, they often see their future as something that has the potential to give more than it takes. For me, that’s magical.
Now, if I could only convince my teen characters in the new work-in-progress that they’re worrying about the wrong things… Kids. What can you do, right? Fortunately for the story, my fictional teens are very much like their real life counterparts and are figuring it all out for themselves. And soon, the second manuscript will go off to college. Err, I mean, find her way into the indie world. She’s a tough kid and I suspect she’ll do just fine. Of course, that doesn’t stop a parent from worrying.