I may write epic fantasy, but I am also a reader and I am still a teenager (nineteen, so I guess not for too much longer, but there are still a few months until I’m twenty). And something that’s come to my attention while reading some Young Adult fiction is the lack of realistic teenage characters. Don’t get me wrong, there are many authors who are so close to perfecting their teenage characters, but there will always be room for improvement because teenagers are tricky.
When it comes to writing YA, there are three ways to go when constructing how your teenagers talk and think: Trying too hard, trying too little, or getting it just right. It’s a careful balance that takes a lot of work, especially when coming from someone who may have been a teenager several years ago. Times have changed, and one of the things I—and my sisters, and my friends, and most likely anyone else in their teenage years—hate hearing from adults is, “Well, when I was your age…” Because when you were my age, chances are, things were a LOT different.
I could go on about this forever, but I won’t. There are other things to talk about, especially when it comes to how teenagers are not all the same. We’re not cardboard cutouts, we don’t fit into molds, and even we’re not sure who we are yet. But there is one thing I know to be true: We’re all different.
Take a friend of mine, for example. She has a very different personality than I do, especially when it comes to swearing. She drops F-bombs like nobody’s business, whereas I only ever blurt them when I’m driving and some jackass hops in front of me. My sixteen-year-old sister is in the same boat: Her best friend has a thing for swear words and only cleans up when around adults.
On the other side of the spectrum, though, is my fourteen-year-old sister. She hates and refuses to say words like “crap” or “hell,” yet there are other eighth graders who have a wider vocabulary of swear words than I did when I was their age. I have a friend who hates swear words so much she slaps people who say them.
One thing I think writers of YA fiction should do is take a day or two or twenty to listen to how teenagers talk and observe how they behave. But don’t just stop with one group of teenagers; they are only one sample. Spend time with the nerds, the cheerleaders, the brainiacs, the so-called “populars,” the girls and guys who sit in the library at lunch but aren’t really losers. (Believe me, there are people my age who sit in the library at lunch and AREN’T losers or loners. Sometimes, it’s nice to just get away from everyone else with a good book.) More likely than not, you’ll be surprised by the variety you discover.
Examples of YA authors who have teenagers down pat (and of course there are more, but I only included a few): Miranda Kenneally, Ally Carter, and Stephanie Perkins.
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