Dragonfly Words

Writing adolescents in a non-adolescent way | December 30, 2009

When I was in 8th grade, I showed my English teacher some poetry I had written, thinking it was amazing. I was pretty heartbroken when he came back and informed me that it was “adolescent rubbish.” Those words, while hurtful at the time, stuck with me. Although I was an adolescent, I wanted to write like a grownup, like the grownups whose writing I loved and respected.

I think many YA writers miss the mark when they write for the YA audience. Just because someone is a young adult, or an adolescent, it should not be assumed that they are uninterested in reading adult constructed prose. Quite the opposite, unless teenagers are so very different now than they were when I was one. If you look at the hugely successful young adult books, there seems to be some correlation with the quality of writing and the popularity of the books.

Take, for example, the Harry Potter series. While these books began at a younger reading level, they spanned into the YA realm. One of the greatest things about these books was that they did not dumb down the writing. Even from book one the plot had twists and the characters were engaging. And most importantly, they did not yell all the time or appear to be in a constantly foul mood. Because the writing and plots were constructed in a sophisticated, though age appropriate, way, the books appealed to a much larger audience, contributing to their success.

The Twilight series had a similar appeal. Although many would argue that the writing was less than ideal, the characters were constructed more real than what you see in similar YA vampire books. Whereas many YA vampire books are full of characters who hate their parents and stay out until odd hours of the night or run away entirely, characters that my old English teacher would describe as “adolescent rubbish,” Stephanie Meyers constructed characters who grew irritated with their parents, but still loved them, who snuck out, but knew the consequences. These characters were more real and more sophisticated. Because of these, like with Harry Potter, these books were able to reach a larger audience.

To stay current with the 6-8 and YA trends, I read a lot of books in these areas, and few of them grab me. The stories that really grabbed me as a child and teenager are stories that I still read to this day, and that still capture me. It is not the nostalgia that grabs me. It is the story. It is because the writers, while writing age appropriate, did not dismiss the standards of good writing. Writing for children and YA should not be viewed as easier. The literary elements necessary for all good literature still need to be there, and the stories that will stick with a person throughout their life are going to be the ones that are well written. And after all, isn’t this what every writer strives for?


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