Tuesday, February 08, 2011

Writing YA—with an Attitude

Today I welcome writer Ana Kenley to Terry's Place. Ana is writing her first young adult novel. Learning the ins-and-outs wasn't easy, and in her article, Writing YA--with an Attitude, she shares how she went about discovering the key to writing for a teen audience.

This last November, when I participated in the National Novel Writing Month (NaNo), I decided to try my hand at a young adult novel.

I thought it would be easy, after all, I went to high school, I was a teenager, I remember what it was like. What more could I need?

Well, as it turned out, I needed a lot more. I didn’t even make it one page—nope, not one page, before I realized I needed serious help.

Not because I didn’t remember the high drama or emotional roller coaster, or what it was like to want to be popular, or experiencing things like a first date or first love, but…knowing exactly how to take all of the things I did know and make it work so someone would actually want to read it.

I guess I shouldn’t say someone, I mean teens. My audience. They know all these feelings first hand and, while they look for that emotional connection, it’s not everything. Okay, maybe it’s most of it, but there’s one more piece that is needed to make a young adult real.

And that one thing is attitude.

Think about it, if your teenage character is terrified of speaking in front of large crowds, well, that is exactly where you’re going to put them. Force them to run for class president or something that will put them smack in the spotlight, having to speak in front of large, public groups. There are plenty of teens (and adults) who can relate to this fear. So you have the emotion, but what is the attitude behind this emotion? Does the fear cause them to strike out and be totally mean to everyone around them, or go running for the nearest bathroom to puke?

So, here I was, looking at a blank page and wondering: What do I do now? I remembered what it was like to be a young adult, but that was years ago. It might not be brain surgery, but getting into the head of a teenager wasn’t as simple as keeping up with the latest slang and text-talk, either.

Thinking of it as a science experiment, I looked to my children. (If you don’t have any, just borrow one from a family member, friend, or neighbor.) Watch their body language when they interact with adults, friends, and, if you can, someone they might be crushing on. Just watching them in different situations will give a whole slew of attitude. It’s really quite interesting to watch.

Another avenue for studying teen attitude is to watch TV. Turn on any show geared toward a tween or teen, reality-based or fictional. Most of them have little parental involvement and are loaded with attitude. Strong, independent, young adults that get themselves into messes and scrapes and get themselves out—with very few adults being the wiser.

Some other areas that give insight are social networks. If you know any kids you can friend on Facebook, check out their wall. The way they talk to and about others will be a real eye-opener. Reading magazines is also a great avenue because the articles and tips give insight as to things that are important to young adults.

Last, but not least, consider their education, their environment, technology, and the freedoms they have because of all of the above.

There are many resources and helpful articles on writing for teens, but for me, what mattered more was what went on inside their mind. My experiment of watching and interacting with young adults gave me more than enough research material to last my entire career—and if not, I’ll just have to find more kids.

If you’re interested in learning more about Ana or her writing, please visit her website at www.killerromance.weebly.com.


Kim Bowman Author said...

So true! I think you'll have followers for a long time. My fellow astraea press author Rebekah Purdy writes YA paranormal and it is so rephreshing.

Keep it up!

Ana Kenley said...

Thanks Kim. It's amazing some of the things you learn when studying your audience.