Dreaming in Character

G.L. Jackson

A few thoughts on writing for a young adult audience

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These days, I’m writing for the YA audience. I’ve read a lot of young adult/new adult books of late, immersing myself in what’s out there. Some have been absolutely stellar, but a lot have been so much less than interesting.

I have a working philosophy about my intended audience (older/mature teens), and it breaks down like this:

  • Teens are smart. Sure, they tend to follow trends, but that’s a generalization and is in no way a reflection on their individual intelligence. What I’ve learned from that as a writer is never condescend. Teen readers can smell bullshit a mile away.
  • Teenage girls are every bit as hormone-driven as their male counterparts. Sometimes, even more so. Corollary: underage sex happens!
  • The late teens are a time of breaking away and of trying out adulthood in as many ways, shapes, and forms as possible.
  • In an unjust world, teens and young adults are understandably angry about and frustrated by the injustices they experience and those they see. At the same time they’re held hostage to their age and inability to act in many cases.
  • During these years, every ounce of emotion is magnified. Every setback is a disaster; every achievement is a milestone. Every success needs to be celebrated, because teens, like adults, really like being acknowledged for a job well done.
  • Teens are so close to independence. Some of them already are independent. This doesn’t mean they don’t need adult mentors to lean on. They do best with adults who let them stretch their wings and learn for themselves.
  • This is a time for testing and breaking all the rules. It’s not done because teens are uncivilized. It’s done as a way of finding out what it’s like to take that next step toward autonomy.
  • Not all teens despise their parents or authority figures. Some have wonderful and loving families. Some have terrible hateful families. There’s no way to pigeonhole the audience by assuming a common background or even a common set of goals.
  • At the same time, teens are not miniature adults. They don’t have the breadth of experience to call upon, so when they stumble, they tend to stumble spectacularly.

I like to think I treat my audience with respect. At least, I’m trying! I’m always disappointed when I see books intended for this age range that treat the protagonists like they’re idiots, or like they’re incapable of making the most basic (smart) decisions.

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Author: G.L. Jackson

Writer, reader, amateur photographer. Mostly, I just like pretending to be a different person each day of the week.

2 thoughts on “A few thoughts on writing for a young adult audience

  1. Excellent points! Especially the first one––condescending YA books are the worst. Unfortunately a lot of authors seem to underestimate what teenagers can handle/understand.

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    • I know I don’t want to read condescending books, so why would anyone else? As an author I can’t imagine writing “down” to my audience.

      Also, my 19-year-old would never let me get away with it.

      Like

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