Advice for young adults (the character kind)
The other day, someone asked me for advice on young adults. “Tell them to stop saying like so much,” was my first answer. A long pause later, I got it. “Oh. Young Adult characters you mean.” After the confirmation nod, I realized I had better come up with something smart to redeem myself. Instead, I came up with these:
Writers will always tell you to read as much as you can. And it’s true. But just as important, I think, is to listen. Real dialogue (inner and outer) is not spoken the way we tend to write it. It’s staccato, incorrect, and sometimes even a little piercing. Stepping back and really listening to what kids and teens are saying is, like, so totally super important it’s not even funny.
2. Ask questions.
This has happened lately: My children have started to warn their friends about me. “Okay. My mom can pick us up, but she’s, like, going to ask you, like, a million questions on the way home. Sorry.” And I do. The first line of questioning will go something like this: What do your parents do? What do you like to do in school? Where’d you get those shoes? Yes, I’m relentless, but I’m also gathering information for my craft. A YA author’s job is to interrogate, I mean interview, younger generations. Otherwise how can we know the minds of our protagonists? This is my argument when my children start to balk. Well, this and; “If you don’t want to hoof it, like, all the way home, you better start talking.”
3. Think like a dog.
My dog stares at me all day. And when she’s not staring, she’s following. Closely. Six inches away closely. It can be dangerous when carrying a load of laundry up and down stairs. Of course I have no idea what she is thinking, but I imagine there’s something going on in there, so I try to see the world through her eyes. And it’s usually a little scary. Being twelve inches tall means that everything she sees is either gigantic or threatening. I think this is the same vantage point for most kids. Growing up is scary and to create a convincing character it’s important to incorporate a little of that fear. It doesn’t have to be a conscious over-the-top vampire-ish fear. I can come out as sassy or sarcastic, or conceited. But for me, a convincing younger character has to have at least a little apprehension about becoming an adult. Thinking like a dog reminds me to see the world from a different vantage point. I should have chosen a taller dog, now that I think about it.
This is all great advice. It's so hard to think in terms of young adults when most of the time we're thinking, "So glad that's not me!" Thanks again for stopping by, Jennifer!