Thursday, March 3, 2011

Write'n for Young’ns

I write teen books. “Why?” you ask. That’s a good question, one that I’ve been asking myself a lot lately. I guess it’s due to the fond memories I had about being a teen. Back then, I was ignorant of the real world, that dark realm where rent and expectations are too damn high. True, every stage of life has its complications, but the ones during adolescence tend to stick with us longer and echo throughout our adult lives. I wanted to capture a few snapshots of my wonder years, not only to share with others, but to remind myself of when things were simple, when this song and dance was still new. But the teens of today are not the teens I grew up with.

To quote My Chemical Romance (and this is the only time I ever will) “Teenagers Scare the Living Shit out of Me.” And to be honest, I think it scares the literary world as well. This isn’t Sweet Valley High and Saved by the Bell. This is a new generation where oral sex is the new handshake, and sexting in class is the new love note. In my day—God, I sound old—teen pregnancy was still considered shameful, but now it’s revered and glorified on MTV. Teens swear and the vocabulary grows larger by the day, and the cruelty among peers has gone to criminal extremes.

This is what teens have to deal with now, yet parents rage at the thought of these issues leaking into literature. This is an accurate account of what is going on in young lives. Literature shouldn’t be censored for some archaic notion of modesty, but reflect the ails of the human condition, provide life lessons, and capture the essence of its time for posterity. And the truer it is to life, the better the reader can relate to it.

Now if you are writing for an impressionable audience, you DO have to show a bit of discretion and decorum. Curse words don’t have to be in every single piece of dialogue. There doesn’t have to be a graphic sex scene in every chapter, or even at all. But kids do it, they talk about it—in great detail—and they are prone to experiment. Kids can’t be protected from these elements, not when they’re exposed to it in school and other medium.

I may cuss like a drunken sailor at “last call”, but I own a great deal of tact and leave plenty to the imagination in my writing, which in most cases is better than spelling it out to the reader. As tasteful and PG-13 as I strive to be, I don’t feel that I should have to baby-sit someone else’s kids. I’m an author; therefore, I’m only responsible for the actions of my characters, who happen to be kids. I make sure that every dumb decision they make comes with consequences that the reader can see and hopefully learn from.

Writers shouldn’t glorify bad behavior, but use racy subject matter as examples. Present positive alternatives and role models in characters to help young readers make the right decisions in life. As screwed up as they can be, we underestimate our youths’ tolerance and intellect. If they can figure out how to hack into a database, they can grasp the concepts of right and wrong. We can’t hold their hands forever, and we can’t grow up for them; they have to do that all on their own. All we can do is steer them in the right direction and hope for the best.


  1. Great blog post. Some parents are probably going to be against the few YA books I write and not for sex or swearing but because the main characters are gay. But I have spent time with gay teens and know they need books with characters they can relate to and I hope that I can deliver that.

    I remember my years as a teen. Sure we swore, well most. One of my friends refused to cuss until I saw her during college. Man had she changed. Then again, in my class we only had two who were pregnant during graduation. None before that while my cousin had a baby a year late at the beginning of her senior year.

    There is a difference between showing something realistic and glorifying the actions, which is what some people fail to see. Then again, those that are blindfolded by their closed nature aren't willing to consider there might be light on the other side. (Or something like that.)

  2. Oral sex is the new handshake? What? I need to watch my daughter a little closer. lol

    I undersand what you are saying. I hope to present a better role model in my writing, but will the teens of today relate?

  3. J.L. Jackson. I believe they can. just as long as we speak their language and DON'T preach to them. They get enough of that from their parents, and that's a sure way to get them to do the exact oposite.

    -- Dawn, I do wish there were more books about gays, but The pickings are slim. I hate the token gay. Hate, Hate, HATE. It's still a sore subject, and if people would get out of other people's crotches, they would see that love/life stories are all the same--as in they happen to everyone.

  4. Great post! You really summed it up nicely. I feel like I was a teenager just a few years ago, but I know that's not true (Ach! I'm old.) Still, I remember, we cursed like sailors (still do), talked constantly about sex whether or not we were having it (still do), did really stupid things in the name of fun (don't do that so much anymore). Yeah, we didn't have cell phones and social media, but I honestly don't think we were all that different in terms of what we wanted/dreamed of/talked about/thought about.... And I do remember one thing from being that age--I always always always wanted honesty from adults, not preaching or hypocrisy. As a writer, I want to give that to teens.

    Thanks for the great post.

    - Liz

  5. A much needed post, but I fear you are preaching to the writers.


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On My Emo Days...
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