Every writer should attend conferences or classes to improve their craft. I attended the 34th Annual Western Reserve Writer’s Conference Sept. 23 at the South Euclid-Lyndhurst branch of the Cuyahoga County Public Library. The event was free and had a variety of workshops and speakers.
What you need to know about the Young Adult market by J T Dutton, assistant professor of English and creative writing at Hiram College and author to two teen novels.
Know the voice of a teen – the want to make their own decisions and stakes are high
- Love is first love, crushing love, eternal love
- Story about loss – first loss, excruciating loss
- Adventure – fate of world hangs in balance
Don’t teach a lesson; celebrate a complex, deeply felt phase of life.
See the world at the teen’s level who has to work out problems herself.
Teens like complicated stories with social problems – characters can be good and bad at the same time.
The protagonist discovers right and wrong for herself.
Use reasoning, humor, and emotion to express teen.
Teens push against the moral code and want to figure right and wrong out for themselves.
They want to take on complex ideas and reason out complex problems.
Maintain playful goofiness of young years mixed with adult philosophy.
The importance of I – The POV should be first person or close third person perspective – the protagoinist speaks to a personal friend or confidant and lays the soul bare.
Create and show inside jokes and language (create slang that only the teens in your story use – don’t copy any real slang because it is outdated quickly.)
When writing as a teen, speak in a distinct language – create private language for them. Language should be consistent and character derived.
Give them a chance to see things differently than the people around them.
Describe an event with teen commentary to show their perspective.
Use present tense or past tense without the long lens of reflection to keep story in now. It should be a recent perspective.
Validate a teen reader’s experience of time and place even when using a historical setting – address present day social concerns or illuminate generational similarities. Ex. “Catcher in the Rye”
Historical novels for young adults – they look at the past in new ways and how to relate to the present. Capture stories not told in history books.
Teens want to see themselves in the book. “Anne Frank” showed her teen experience.
Foreshorten the adult world, minimizing the interference of authority (many protagonist are orphaned in some way) so they are facing problems alone.
Adult character should speak differently from teens. In the televisions show, 90210, the parents were nerds. The kids were cool.
Use verbs that pop – listen to the sounds of language and focus on cadence.
Honor ethnicity and personal origins. Expand ideas about identity using background and roots so that story belongs to everyone.
Use cynicism and snarkiness but understand the ways in which language protects or hides deeper feelings.
Use the honesty of a teen narrator to cut through hypocrisy in their setting, not to diminish or reduce.
The acceptance as closure to a story – narrator understands that life isn’t perfect
The story works through the problem, accepts understanding of self and the world is not perfect.
The view the world as adult in a more complicated way.