Writing YA: How Old Is Too Old?
Today’s Brew: Is there really enough coffee in the universe to jump start this day? I’m thinking no, but I’m going to have fun finding out.
I should probably start this post out with a disclaimer. I write New Adult. I’m an adult overdue for factory scheduled maintenance at this stage in the game, but I identify with this age group a lot. I spent a good portion of my life working at malls across America, with real live new adults making piss poor life choices. It fascinated me. Any time we start on a new path, we’re dealing with the issues that are central to what New Adult is: Finding our way. And anyways, who the hell wants to get old? Not this girl.
Choosing to write about this age group comes with concerns. Nineteen year olds now like different things than I did when I was that age, speak differently, have different concerns from what I did then and certainly than I do now. Sometimes it can be hard to keep up and not be considered creepy and weird.
Recently, I read a book called Wintertown. Julie and I chose the book because it looked cool as hell. Intertwined with the text is an accompanying comic strip, so it’s half graphic novel, half novel. I was pumped about reading this book. Until I started reading it. Not only does the comic not have much plot to carry the book forward, the book was just plain awful.
Here is the big conflict: One of the main characters comes home for Christmas with dyed hair and a nose ring. Egads!
This is still an issue? Really? With thirteen year olds with belly button piercings and elementary schoolers with pink hair running rampant in the world? Furthermore, the offending character is perceived as “bad” and “dangerous” because of her body modifications. Come on. As a semi successful business woman with a nose piercing and on and off purple streaks in her hair, this is not only ridiculous, it’s offensive. If you’ve met me in person, I dare you to describe me as bad or dangerous. Usually I get bubbly and sweet.
Maybe they didn’t notice my uber offensive nose ring. But I’ll tell you, they sure liked my purple hair.
How detached from teenagers did this author have to be to think this was an issue? I’ve seen agents on Twitter lament that they receive queries for young adult manuscripts set in the mid 1990’s for no other reason than the author wants to avoid dealing with technology. I don’t even know if I’d be able to write a book without the gifts technology has given us in the last 20 years. If you have to avoid real teenage issues, you shouldn’t be writing YA. Could you imagine your hero having to go home and get her phone messages from her mother before making plans for world domination? I can, because I did it. And still managed small scale domination. Armed with today’s technology as a teenager, I would have been unstoppable. That’s the book I want to read.
If you’re writing YA just because it’s a hot category and you want to sell books, stop. Some of these great ideas would better be served with adult characters. Unless you know teenagers inside and out, you’re going to make a fool out of yourself. Writing teenagers as an adult presents a unique set of challenges.
Would you want to read a book about fifty year olds written by a teenager? I am thinking no. Why? Because not only would it not be a realistic portrayal, what interest would a teenager have in writing that?
Of course, if you are writing kick ass YA, by all means, CONTINUE. Please and thank you.
I get it that we’re all looking for the fountain of youth. To quote my Memere, it’s hell getting old. We all have that age we wish we could be forever. But it doesn’t mean that we can realistically write about being that age forever.