I started a YA novel awhile ago, but haven’t gone too far into it. I have a few other projects ahead of it, but it was something that just came to mind one day that I had to jot down while I played around with my distraction free writing tool.
In thinking about YA, I find it is a challenging thing to write.
It’s challenging because there needs to be a balance between recognizing what this group of people lives with regularly and a want to plant the seeds for growing a better world through our youth.
When teens are engaging in activities like The Blue Whale Game, and their friends are experiencing their loss, it can be unhelpful to read a story about a character that has little to no serious problems. It can feel like an author has no clue about being a teen when your friends are overdosing on opiods despite having seemingly perfect lives and bright futures. If you’ve never been to a party where the cops showed up, you might write teen parties that only ever get out of control rather than The Perks of Being a Wallflower.
There was a suicide pact running through my hometown when I was in grade nine. My brother lost a friend to it. There were assemblies for addressing the general student body. Close friends of those lost were sent to talk to social workers whether they were ready to talk about it or not. They weren’t really given time to grieve. Those weren’t the only kids that didn’t live through high school while I went there. Those weren’t the only bad things that happened.
The survivors need to feel authenticity in literature and film, but they also need to see that ray of sunshine just beyond the dark clouds, so they can find the courage to make it to adulthood preferably without a criminal record.
So writing good YA is a balancing act between the dark full truth of reality and a happy magic place with rainbow unicorn poop that tastes like caramel. It’s like half monty.
Speaking of monty, sex scenes in YA typically shouldn’t be graphic. Things can be inferred like a PG-13 trist where clothes come off, the lights go out, and the scene fades to black. Easier done in a script than a novel. One can even address rape without being overly graphic using this example.
If I write teens that don’t do anything but eat pizza and watch movies, I’m not going to connect with the target audience.
The teen years are about figuring out who you are. To do this, teens experiment with risky behaviours. They try drugs and alcohol. They have sex. They do bonehead things like fire a potato bazooka at a politician’s office or get stuck in a football field in winter while trying to do donuts with a boat-like Oldsmobile. Yeah, I did a lot of dumbass things as a youth.
YA is rather new. I spent high school reading Anne Rice, Agatha Christie, and Stephen King. Before that, I lived on Nancy Drew. I also loved reading Magic Kingdom for Sale as a teen. It was my first experience of fantasy. I loved watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I grew up with the first Degrassi and vividly recall an episode addressing AIDS. I also grew up with 90210 and Saved by the Bell. Both of them had their moments, but didn’t really feel authentic in terms of what high school was actually like. Buffy addressed a lot of things through metaphor like Angel turning into Angellus after they have sex. Degrassi was much more direct about issues without being preachy.
The Harry Potter books contain adult content that is subtle.
… Harry heard Fleur and Roger fall out of their rose bush.
Gee, I wonder what those two sneaked off into the rose bushes for during the Yule Ball…
There’s also Myrtle, the glum yet naughty ghost that spies on the prefects as they take baths. She’s forever in the hormone-induced haze that is part of being a teen.
So there are a lot of ways to reach teens in authentic ways and I hope I’ll be able to write something that does in the future whether it be a movie or a novel.