The greatest difficulty in writing for teens is making the characters sound authentic. Because a few of my writer friends also write young adult lit, I thought it’d be fun to interview my 15-year-old sister, Sarah, to give us insight into the mind of a teenager. Some questions are silly, and some are serious. Enjoy!
What makes a good story? I like what you like. A lot of comedy and romance stuff. I feel like the characters’ personalities [are most important.]
Do you have a favorite catchphrase? Wack. It means that things are weird.
Would you say deer are cute or beautiful? I’d say more cute. Yeah, they’re beautiful, but you think of them more like a cute way like Bambi.
What advice would you give to an adult trying to write a book for teenagers? Just spend a week with teenagers. Have some teenagers be rude and some be lonely, and then there are lazy people and all these athletic people.
What is your opinion on vases? I use them. I mean—they’re something that’s just there when you need your flowers not to die. I mean—I’d rather plant flowers in a pot, but if somebody buys you flowers in a package, you can’t plant them. So, vases are all right.
Yanny or Laurel? Laurel. I mostly heard Laurel, but I sometimes heard Yanny when I was far away.
What is it like to be a teenager in today’s world? I like the clothes. The people are rude. All you hear about at school are the people who vape and drink. 15-year-olds and 13-year-olds.
Any idea why you’re so snarky? I like to have fun and laugh a lot. And being snarky is the only thing I’m good at.
What are your favorite smells? I like a lot of fall scents, so like pumpkin… I like cranberry scents. I like vanilla cupcake a lot. And beach scents like the ocean. I like the smell of Pensacola beach. I do not like lilac. Blah. It’s my least favorite. And I like the smell of pizza.
- Don’t overuse slang. Sometimes authors try to pump up the slang in their books to make them more relevant to teens, but Sarah honestly doesn’t use much slang. Plus, it dates your book. Although Sarah said it is her catchphrase, I wouldn’t use the word “wack” in my novel. Even if all the kids are using it now, likely no one will know what it means in five years.
- Teens aren’t dumb. Some people think writing like a teenager means dumbing down your writing. That’s not true. I didn’t include this in my interview because I don’t want to get political on my blog, but Sarah and I had a good discussion about current political/social issues. A word of caution, though. Make sure that the teens in your book don’t sound overly formal/precocious. While The Fault in Our Stars is my favorite young adult book (ALL THE FEELS!!!), my one complaint is that many of the teenagers sound so overly sophisticated/eloquent that it negatively affects the believability of the store world.
- Add some sass/sarcasm. Both my little sister and I tend to be sarcastic, but I would say she’s more sarcastic than me. So, I jokingly asked her a question about why she is so snarky. While too much sarcasm is bad both in fiction and real life, including a consistently sarcastic character in your book is a surefire way to please teens. I am currently listening to a young adult audiobook, The Distance Between Us by Kasie West. I read it a few years ago and liked it and thought I would listen to it again while I’m working on my own YA novel for inspiration. I wanted to know what teens liked about the book, and so I read the reviews on Amazon. By far, the most-mentioned element out of all the reviews was the readers’ love of the protagonist’s sarcastic voice. I knew teens like sarcasm, but I was surprised by how much. In my opinion, here’s why Kasie West’s sarcasm worked well for her book:
- The sarcasm is non-disparaging – Sarcasm isn’t cool when it makes fun of a people group.
- The sarcasm is incredibly witty – If you’re going to use a lot of sarcasm, make it funny; otherwise, it’s annoying.
- The sarcasm has a purpose – The protagonist uses sarcasm to avoid talking about her real feelings and realizes this as the story progresses.
Writing for teens isn’t easy. But writing for people just on the cusp of adulthood—when they’re deciding the values and beliefs by which they will live the rest of their lives—is worthwhile.