Writing for Teens, Part Two

Hello there!

Before we dive into the main part of this blog, I have a confession to make: I steal candy out of our Halloween stash. Yes, I hang my head in shame, but sometimes a girl needs some Twizzlers. I can’t be the only one…am I right? So I say, my dear Halloween candy thieves, only a few more days of temptation left!

Oh, who am I kidding. I’m going to steal it out of my kids’ trick or treat bags starting next weekend. Sigh. I have no scruples.

Okay, so onto the main point of this post. Last time, we talked about structure and being “real.” Today I thought we’d talk about emotions.

Le gasp–she said the “E” word.

Maya QuoteYes, yes I did. See, the “feels” are the most important part of a YA story. The teen years are a time of discovery and big, big, roller coaster emotions. Most everything is a “first time.” Holding hands in YA might be as poignant as any love scene in an adult novel. Pinpointing the emotions–without getting sappy or overblown–is what makes great YA sublime. The fluttering heart, the shaking hands, the ache to try something new…that’s what you’re going for. If you really want to write a story about teens that digs deep, tap into your own memory and remember what it was all like. The feeling that everything was possible right that single minute. That you were the ONLY person to ever feel this way. Remember that? Yeah? Now you’re cooking with gas.

Want some examples of people who do this very well? Rainbow Rowell immediately comes to mind. Eleanor and Park slayed me. The feelings, the raw look inside two misfits who weren’t going to fit in but fell in love anyway? It’s a beautiful work of emotional art. Warning: bring tissues.

And how about Judy Blume? Most of her work is coming of age middle grade/young YA, but everything she writes is honest, frank and spot on. That’s why her work holds up 40 years later.

Finally, try Laurie Halse Anderson. While Speak is a masterwork in finding your voice after a traumatic event, I was just as moved by Twisted. This book is one of those amazing examples of the male voice as a main character in older contemporary YA. Something, sadly, that is pretty rare.

YA is the beating heart of literature right now, at least in my humble opinion. If you want to take an emotional journey (and not all of them will make you weep in your car, trust me), this is where you want to turn. If you want to write YA, this is the second big thing to work hard to get right. First is voice. Second is emotion. Third?

Well, that’s a later post, but I’ll give you a hint: your main character isn’t the only focus…

Any other books we should add to the list that capture those teen emotions in a poignant, eloquent way?  Share ’em! I’m always on the lookout for new reads.

One thought on “Writing for Teens, Part Two

  1. Kelly

    So I’ve had Twisted sitting on my shelf for about two years, from when I was obsessed with Laurie Halse Anderson. I haven’t even thought about the book for that long. I kept telling myself I’d find time to read it and I never did. Thanks for the reminder, I’m definitely going to read it now. And as for these writing blogs as a whole, I really love reading them and learning more about writing. I’ve wanted to be a writer for a long time, and this is some great advise.


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