Thursday, January 13, 2011

Can they see right through you?

 So YA is hot. The publishing industry is abuzz with the next big YA novel that teens (and adults) will be raving over. And you say to yourself, you know what, I can do that. 
Me (right) on my last day of high school with
a friend. I can use the emotion of the day, but
not the lingo if I want an authentic teen voice.

So you think really hard and remember back to when you were a teenager, how you spoke, what you did for fun and you start writing like crazy. And your dialogue goes something like this:

     "Bud, I was so stoked when I dipped in on Bobby and Joe smoke a doobie and heard that this primo party is on this weekend."
      "No way!"
      "I kid you not."
      "Most triumphant."

Congratulations, to today's teens you've just written a historical fiction. Fail!

Or maybe you've come up with this great and intricate storyline. It has so many twists and turns that it's bound to be a best seller. You decide to make the MC 17, never mind the fact you've got her behaving like someone in their late 20s.

Congratulations, you've written a novel for adults that you're passing off as YA. Epic Fail!

Or maybe you've written a story about a small town girl who moves to the city, takes on the corporate world and wins, is confident and sassy (even though she was the outcast in her home town) and has the same interests as my middle-age mother. There is no coming of age rights because she magically turns into a mature woman just by stepping off the plane.

Congratulations you've just written a YA novel without an authentic YA character. Severe lack of YA writer ninja status.

Make your teen voice authentic and make it pop!
 Okay, yes, YA is popular. Kids gotten bitten by the reading bug thanks to Harry Potter, Deltora Quest and Goosebumps. Now they've grown up and they still really want to read. Not only that, but "grown-ups" are devouring YA as well. I admit to being a YA junkie, and I got my mother hooked too.

But does that mean every writer should jump ship and write YA? Hell no!

Your story should be YA because it's YA. The characters should be teenagers because it's what's required for the plot. If your story isn't about a teenager, dealing with teenage issues, then don't force it.
One of my biggest concerns with some of the latest YAs is authenticity. I've read some fantastic books that I enjoyed immensely, but I had trouble believing that the MC was a teen and it detracted from the story.  Don't kid yourself, teens are very savvy. If you're intent on writing YA and you don't make the effort to make your character sound like a teen from the 80s or 90s, the reader will see right through you.

My Closet

I'm a collector, or a hoarder if you ask my hubby. So I'm going to share some things each post that I've collected for stashed in my virtual closet.
Beaut Book (this one supports the victims of the flood in the video above - more than just cars got beaten up):
Awesome agent: Denise Little -
TopTweeter : @MarieSuzetteYA


From Chanelle's and my week 1 competition the winners are:
Lexie!! - Stolen or Forgiven
Cass (Words on paper)!! - The Blood Countess


  1. Excellent and very true! So easy to "think" like the teenager we once were, even still are- still mightn't make for gripping reading though! ;) tis a hard skill to perfect- hats off to those that can! (gosh that sounded very Irish... "top of the mornin to yah")

  2. "Congratulations! To today's teens you've just written historical fiction!"<-----Bahahaha!!!! I love all the examples given!!

    And wow, Sharon--aren't you the heart breaker??? What a babe!!!

  3. Nice post. Great points you brought up. It was informative, funny and so very true!

    For the contest, do I have to email you somehow? Very excited to see how I feel about this one.

  4. Word, Sharon. True that. <--chiming in with my own historical fiction. (But don't worry, I'm not wearing my old hammer pants.)

  5. Great post, Sharon. It's so true. Of course every teen is different, but you can really tell when a character is written 'too old' for their years. Certain maturity comes with age and experience, you know?

    Congrats to the winners, too! I think we contact you :D

  6. Great post, Sharon. I totally agree. My biggest pet peeve when reading YA is characters that don't sound like teens. GRRRR.

  7. It's not just YA--we've had to gently tell a crit partner that her MG book was decades out of date with its names, language, pacing, etc. It would fit right in with beloved films like Mary Poppins and the Rescuers, but we couldn't find any contemporary examples to compare it to.

  8. Groovy, oops too 70's
    Cool, oops too 80's
    Excellent, oops too 90's
    Awesome... too naughties...maybe. Anyone what to help me out here?

  9. Language is always changing, especially the way teens speak. One minute something is fine and authentic, and the next it's outdated, haha. Great post and hopefully none of my stories become historical fiction! :-D

  10. All I can say is that this post is very true! :)
    I'm a teen writer myself, so I can't say I have much of a problem with good teen dialogue (dialogue's always been my strong point) but I do have to remind myself not to write in "fad" words that will be gone by the time my book is done. Like "epic," -- not too long ago it was the word on the tip of every teen's tongue, and now, it really doesn't pop up at all anymore.

  11. That's true, Lithia. I'm even wary about putting technology in my stories, like "iPod", because who knows if they'll be calling them that in 5-10 years?

  12. Epic Leigh! That's the twenteens (as in 20teens - I don't know if there's an official name yet, but that's what I'm calling it until there is)

  13. Great post! While it's really, really difficult to get right, I wouldn't overthink it either. Words like cool, awesome, epic, totally, etc. are still used, so we don't need to go breaking our backs over worrying about specific words (unless they are really era-exclusive like "groovy"). I think ultimately, it's about consistency in personality. To get it right, your character has to seem consistently teen-like throughout. By that, I mean they have to make decisions and be involved in situations that a teen living in today's world would.

  14. Oh man, SO true! I hate when people assume that writing for teens will be easier 'because they're just kids.' It's so much more complex than than that.

  15. Very true and "...historic fiction." had me laughing like a crazy person.

  16. I've often thought that A LOT of YA literature reflects the teen years of the authors writing it. Fortunately, these writers were teens with me in the 90s, so it's not that big of a difference and actually makes me love it all the more, but I still think that it's not necessarily what teens are like today.