YA pitfalls.

| Wednesday, May 19, 2010
Today's Tune: Ghosts

Oh hai don't forget to enter my contest to win a signed copy of The Summoning!

All right, I think it's about time for me to get back to writing real entries, shyah? Shyah. But first, I'd like to direct you to Natalie Whipple's post on How to Blog Like a YA Author, because it is so very, very true. I have been known to do... well, just about everything on the list. YAWESOME 2 LEGIT 2 QUIT.

Right. So. I may have mentioned I saw Kelley Armstrong? Something like three times in a row now? Well, I did. I hadn't known much about her prior to her reading, so I didn't realize that she originally wrote adult fiction, and that this was her first YA series.

I will admit up front that this sort of thing typically makes me nervous. There's a somewhat prevalent attitude (mostly among non-writers, but occasionally even among professionals) that writing for children and teens is easy. Silly. Fun. Something to do on a lark. That you just dumb everything down, or write any old nonsense because kids make goofy stuff up all the time. WRONG.

Luckily, Ms. Armstrong is a Professional Who Does Her Research, and she did an amazing job transitioning from adult fiction to teen fiction. She mentioned during her Q&A session that she wanted to make sure she did it right, so she took it seriously. She did her research. Studied teen behavior. Really took into account the story she wanted to tell, and how she had to shift her mindset to write as a teen. She didn't want to write something that read like it was written by someone's mom. This is an awesome attitude, and I was so pleased that she felt this way.

Unfortunately, many people don't feel this way. Young adult literature is "hot" right now (bleh, I hate saying something is "hot." It reminds me of this, only less funny and more lame), so a lot of people jump on that bandwagon - celebrities, adult writers - with the presumption that they can just write some silliness in teenspeak with lots of angsty romance and call it a day. And for those of us who take writing YA seriously, that's beyond irritating.

I'm trying to avoid the whole "blah blah blah WRITING IS ART blah" thing, because not all writing IS art, and that is (sometimes) okay. However, I will stress that you have to know a genre and an audience until I'm blue in the face. I couldn't just sit down and write a hard crime novel for funsies, and I'd pretty much expect lovers of the genre to be annoyed if I did.

I'm meandering from my point. Sorry.

Writing for children and teenagers isn't something you do on a whim because you have this really cute idea about a squishy bug book. Preaching to the choir, I'm sure, but seriously. There's a mentality, a voice, a spirit to it. It's not just taking adult characters and making them younger and stupider "more innocent." Plus throwing in a bunch of LOL OMG LIKE TOTALLY THAT IS SO CRAZY ROFLCOPTER :D :D :D

When I'm reading over writing samples, it's usually pretty easy to tell who's writing YA, and who's writing What They Think YA Is. There are pitfalls to watch for:

1.) Making your characters adults reflecting on their teen years. Or adults trapped in teen bodies, literally or figuratively. Teenagers are not adults who are not adults yet. Even the most mature teenager is still a teenager. It's a different mindset.

2.) Other side of the coin: teenagers are not head-in-the-clouds "la la la the world is shiny and perfect" children. Puberty changes things, physically and mentally, whether you like it or not.

3.) Teenagers are not carefree and without "real" problems, and if you write from a place that says you think teendom is a skip through a park filled with cotton candy and pink purses, you're going to read as insincere.

4.) Alternately, filling a novel with every "issue" you can think of in order to be "real" is also - gasp! - insincere. Gratuitous swearing, sex scenes, parties, rape, eating disorders, drug use, suicide... these are all things that affect teenage lives, but can be done very, very poorly. If you do it, do it well. Do it with purpose.

5.) Being disconnected. If you know nothing about youth culture, you're going nowhere. I don't mean putting The Hills on your Netflix queue. I mean involving yourself in what teens want, what they're interested in, what they care about. And actually caring about it yourself.

6.) Understanding (remembering, even) teenage mentality. As teens, we didn't do stuff "just because." We had reasons. Reasons that may have been silly in retrospect, but were important at the time. Even if we said we did it "just cuz," we didn't mean it.

7.) Like, omigawd, please do not, like, try to use a voice that you, like, totally think sounds like a teen, but like, completely does not, dude. For seriously. Because, like, even people who totes seriously talk like this, like totally do not want to read it.

8.) Teens angst. We know. But mind the angst, because even teenagers will find too much angst whiny and boring.

Probably the most important point of all, though, is RESEARCH. PLEASE. Don't just think "oh ha ha I can write a book for teens, how hard could it be." HARD. VERY HARD. I SWEAR UNTO YOU.


{ KarenG } at: May 19, 2010 at 9:28 AM said...

That YAWSOME post was right on. Pretty sure she coined a new word there. Thanks for the link!

{ Amparo Ortiz } at: May 19, 2010 at 10:10 AM said...

I loved this post!

Agree with you on every point you made. There's a fine line between writing YA and thinking you're writing YA--sucks that the line gets crossed so easily. Keep up the great work!

{ JustineDell } at: May 19, 2010 at 12:50 PM said...

Oh, I believe you! I think YA is one of the hardest genre's to write for, no doubt about it!


{ Shelley Sly } at: May 19, 2010 at 6:10 PM said...

I absolutely agree! I'm so glad you posted this. I don't write YA (strangely, I've only written for adults and now I'm writing MG, so I seem to have skipped YA) but I see excerpts of YA manuscripts everywhere in the blog world. Some people do it right; others, you can tell they're an adult trying too hard.

{ Portia } at: May 19, 2010 at 7:06 PM said...

Great post! I was raised by a mother who wrote children's stories, and I'm always irritated by a common assumption out there that this is easy. I saw how my mom shaped and tweaked and agonized. Knowing your audience and creating something beautiful‚ whether it's a poem or a thriller or a young adult novel, is an art. Thanks for saying this.

{ Simon C. Larter } at: May 20, 2010 at 1:57 PM said...

Excellent post, good lady! I confess I don't write YA, but I have great respect for those who take writing for that market seriously. Well, I respect anyone who takes their writing seriously, from picture books to poetry. But your list of pitfalls? Perfect.

Also, I think I need to use ROFLCOPTER soon. Don't know how, yet, but I'm sure I can work it into a tweet or something.

{ prashant } at: May 22, 2010 at 11:18 AM said...

I loved this post!
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