Writing for Teens, Part One

Hey!

How’s everyone doing? I have to say, I cannot believe that not only is it October–but MID-October. How did that happen?  My mother used to say they older you got, the quicker time passed.

She was a wise lady.

Anyhoo, I was invited to participate on the Self Publishing Roundtable last night (it was tons of fun), to talk about YA and DIY publishing. There were some great questions, and I thought I’d carry some of them over here, to broaden the discussion. I’ll pick up this blog thread every few weeks, so if writing for teens–and self-publishing–interest you, I’ll be here to chat. : )

For this post, I’d like to focus on the craft aspect. Writing for teens is different than writing for adults. I talked about that a little bit on the podcast last night and thought I’d expand it here. I’ve written about voice before (gotta be real, can’t be forced), but now I want to talk about world-view and structure a little bit.

A teen’s world view is going to be completely different than an adult’s. Expecting them to just “know” something, or use adult reasoning is, well, unreasonable. They don’t have the breadth of experience that an adult has. They think with their hearts more often. Peer pressure makes a HUGE difference in how they react to situations. To write realistic YA fiction, you have to take that mindset into account. A sixteen-year-old reasoning something out the same way a thirty-five-year-old isn’t realistic. A teen reading that 35/16-year-old is going to roll his or her eyes, and close the book. Do they want characters that are more mature? Yes, but not unrealistically so. They do like to “read up” in age, but they still need to see something of themselves there, especially in contemporary YA.

So what about structure? Harry Potter proved that tweens and teens will read a long book as long as it interests them. However, there are some things to keep in mind. First, The Sorcerer’s Stone was the shortest of the lot–the hook. Rowling then had leeway to write longer books because she’d grabbed her audience. Second, at least in my experience, shorter chapters work great. Unless it interrupts a long action sequence, I keep my chapters at less than 3000 words (typically to 2500). This allows the reader to find more frequent break points. For a developing reader (especially if you write for tweens or younger teens), this is a godsend. It gives them a sense of accomplishment, and more gratification because it feels like they are reading faster. According to a learning and development manager I work with, that’s why teens are reading on their phones more. Not just because they have a phone and not an eReader–but also because they get to turn the pages faster.

Taking the reader’s stage into account matters in all children’s fiction, including YA. Long passes of exposition might work in certain fantasies, but it’s not usually a winning strategy for new writers or a new series in YA. Figure out how to work it in during interior monologue, dialogue, or action. I’m not saying to always show and never tell–that’s not the greatest writing advice, either. Sometimes you have to tell to avoid bogging the story down with a contrived conversation. What I’m suggesting is that you do it as quickly–and as entertaining–as possible. The key is to keep it moving. Drag them into the story and make sure they stay there.

Hopefully some of this is helpful to you. Still, I don’t claim to be the expert in writing for teens for sure, so if you have suggestions or advice, I’d love to hear it! Let’s start a conversation–that’s how we all learn more about our craft.

Until next time, happy writing!!

One comment

  • Amen on shorter chapters and the sense of accomplishment kids need while reading. My 10-year-old daughter (who loves to read and often refers to it as a “movie in her head”) will frequently announce to us when she has completed a chapter. Reading isn’t drudgery to her, she’s reading for fun by her own choice, but she clearly takes pride in each chapter completed. And yes, shorter chapters keep the story moving. I employ that strategy in my adult fiction, too. 😉

    Great post. Keep ’em coming!

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