Someone asked me recently why I write teen-fiction and why I like to read it. I could have said that most teen-fiction is written by adults and if you want to write it, you need to read it, but it’s more than that.
As an adult reader and writer of teen-fiction, I can tell you it will have you re-connecting with the teenager you once were. I can also tell you that re-engaging with some of those emotions, some of those firsts, can be a heady thing.
But does that make it worth reading? Does that make it good writing?
If, as an adult you get to recognise some fragment of your teenage self, be it the angst, the elation, the wonder of a first love, a first kiss, that first fall, isn’t that a good thing? It doesn’t matter if that first is set amidst a dystopian future-scape, the line between organised chaos and anarchy beautifully blurred, or an inner-city school where adults are fallible and bullies win. If it makes you feel something, it’s good fiction.
The trick with teen-fiction is to get inside that teenage head and stay there. It needs to be emotionally credible. Your character has to think and feel with the experience and skill-set of a teenager, not an adult. The subject matter is almost irrelevant, what matters is the emotional response and the character’s emotional arc, the learning. That is what is at the heart of the best teen-fiction.
I strive for that in my writing, but all too often the adult voice creeps in. If you think writing teen-fiction is easy, think again. It’s not. Capturing a teenage response to any given situation requires really getting inside your character, and getting it wrong will cost you that emotional truth. It won’t ring true.
Luckily, there is a small part of me which remains firmly rooted in those teenage years. Mine were remarkable (I’ll explain another time.) I had great freedom, but also great anguish, with family tragedy striking during some very key years. That pain, that learned experience is something I draw on when I write and I’m not ashamed of it. It’s mine. I earned it. It’s perhaps is why I return to those years in my writing now.
Teen fiction shouldn’t shy away from difficult subjects, they need exploration. The benefits of reading about a situation before having to tackle it for real, are obvious. For some teenagers though, it will be something they are already dealing with, and to find it on the page will be cathartic, perhaps liberating. It might just lift them out of isolation and empower them to change something, and therein lies another characteristic of teen-fiction –
No matter how dark it gets, there is typically a ray of hope. There’s always a reason to carry on, the belief that no-matter what happens, the sun will rise and tomorrow is another day. I don’t mean that flippantly; I’m not talking about a Disney ending. I’m talking more about a way out, a solution that the protagonist can steer. A future.
That is why.