The Writer’s Role in YA Fiction

Huffington Post article: I’m a Teenager and I Don’t Like Young Adult Novels. Here’s Why.

The 2017 article listed above swept across my newsfeed this morning and I found it to be filled with amazing insight and advice for writers of YA fiction.

The insight is useful because it comes from a teenager… the population YA fiction not only features, but markets to.

The author, Vivian Parkin DeRosa, brought up a number of points that ignited a fire within my own teenage heart that reminded me of all the reasons I passed over YA fiction (and TV, hello 90210 and One Tree Hill) when I was a teenager – it all just felt fake. Like an illusion or caricature of teenage life and reality rather than what most see, think, feel, and experience every day.

I can see the challenge, too, as an adult writer trying to capture that teenage spirit, but we tend to nuke it completely because we are being “lazy,” as DeRosa succinctly states. We are reaching for those stereotypes to do the heavy lifting for us in imagery, attitude, and world building when, in fact, those stereotypes may not really exist… and if they DO exist, they are superficial and do not come close to diving deep enough into the teenage psyche.

There is another element to this article that I want to address – one from a writer’s perspective and not necessarily DeRosa’s. We, as writers, owe it to our audience to not only be honest and reflective, but also informative. Consider the ramifications of providing characters and storylines that are unobtainable and unrealistic to the reader – are we helping? Or are we hurting?

DeRosa points out the necessity of giving our characters flaws, because teenagers are a “mess.” They don’t have life figured out. They don’t know what they are doing day-to-day…. But they want to have it figured out and they want to be in control. So they act older. That’s a fine line, isn’t it? And what a hellova challenge, too! Multi-dimensional characters that have a mask for the outer world and an inner reality balancing between hormone shifts and homework.

She further points out that beauty can be anything so why is it always the same? And, to be honest, I had to look up who Gigi Hadid was, but yeah, I get it. Although I have seen enough teenage led make-up tutorials on YouTube to get miffed over the fact that my make-up role model was Moulin Rouge era Christina Aguilera – DeRosa is right. We are writing our characters too clean-cut, middle of the road, cookie-cutter, beautiful. So much so that it’s becoming… ordinary. And not just ordinary: boring. Boring and inaccurate and borderline toxic. I’d tell you to go walk the halls of a high school to see what teenagers really look like, but I’m pretty sure you could get in trouble for that. So don’t.

Teenagers are trying everything. And that is going to come with blunders, fashion mistakes, orange eye shadow (speaking from experience), zits, hormones, boogers, and unexpected, unplanned, unwanted boners. Being a teenager is. Rough. And full of change.

DeRosa also dives into the love element of teenage-hood, but I am going to let you read her words on that. She nails it and there isn’t really anything I can add to her multiple sections dedicated to the topic.

Go read the article.

To sum it all up neatly, make sure that when you are writing your stories – regardless of their genre – that you know your subject, not think you know your subject. Create new, interesting people rather than rewriting the cliché. Do. The. Heavy. Lifting.

For this population, specifically, make sure you aren’t projecting your own needs and uncertainties as an adult onto your young audience. It is irresponsible to live vicariously through our readers in a way that fills a void we hold as an adult. By romanticizing our own bygone era, we are alienating those we are targeting and creating false worlds as if they were reality.

We are contributing to a conversation prescribed to a vulnerable population riddled with social- and self-imposed expectations, milestones, and beliefs. Let’s make sure we’re doing our part of the group project. (Read the article, you’ll get it.)

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