I am in the process of editing two YA works-in-progress, which means a lot of rewriting as I take my fingers out of plot-holes in the dyke of my story and seal them up properly. At the moment, it feels like seven new leaks appear for every gap I block, but I know I will eventually find all the holes I can see. Then it will be time to turn it over to other people to check.
I write for young adults for two main reasons. Most importantly, it is the genre I read the most in, and enjoy the most. Secondly, I find it very easy to slip into the mindset of a teenaged person, because I know a lot of teens, and my tastes never really grew up. I love anime, animated movies, comics, and graphic novels, and I have no intention of putting these aside for more so-called adult interests. Just try and come between me and my Terry Pratchett books and Neil Gaiman’s the Sandman series and Diana Wynne Jones’s Howl’s Moving Castle – the book and the movie.
Most people who write for children and teens aren’t that age, but understand the passions and interests of young adults. This can’t be faked, as kids can spot a fake in under a minute. Children and teens aren’t cut-down versions of adults, and these writers know that. Is doesn’t do just to think ‘I’ll take an adult and shift them up a notch in energy’ to create the character of a teenager. Nor will it work to plaster some adult traits onto a child and hope for the best. The teen years are a period of great transitions, and puberty is just half the story. Sure, the ‘raging’ hormones contribute to mix, but teenagers are also making the transition of carefree childhood to responsible adult. That is both scary and exhilarating.
YS writers still know what it is like to be on the outside of the cool kids and enjoying the notoriety of being an outsider, and yet still longing to be accepted by the cool group. They understand that even members of the cool group have their own problems and worries. They understand the motivations of the adults, and still manage to make adults seem unfriendly and perverse (at times).
There is good and bad in everyone, even an angst-battered teen, in fact, ESPECIALLY in a teen that is swept away with strong emotions every fifteen seconds. One minute, an individual teenager is a rainbow-eyed idealist who wants to save the world, and in the next minute that same person can be a cold cynic who loathes the entire human race. Teenagers still haven’t figured the world, or who they want to be, and find it easy to believe six impossible things before breakfast. Mind you, breakfast may be at lunchtime, giving them more time to get the impossible done.
Modern teenagers are tech savvy. This doesn’t mean every single one of them has the skills of a hacker, and they are much more in touch with world news and world trends, thanks to the internet. They like to use their own jargon, but I recommend keeping jargon to a minimum because it dates very quickly and is also very location specific. Both boys and girls like to experiment with their looks and their clothing and their sexuality. They don’t ‘rebel’ against their parents so much as against society; older teens tend to stay at home rather than move out with their friends into cheap accommodation, while they save for overseas trips or education expenses or a car of their own. You get the reckless teens and the socially responsible teens in the same group of friends, and they look out for each other.
Modern teens often feel let down by society. They can’t understand why some adults can’t see the problems with racism and climate change. Many more teenagers suffer from depression than in previous generations; I don’t know whether this means society is putting too much pressure on teenagers or that modern medical practices are better at diagnosing depression.
The very best way to understand young people is to talk to them. Not as a parent or teacher, but as a friend. Never talk down to them, and they will tell you what you want to know.