What with the latest influx of vampire novellas and the resounding success of authors such as Jacqueline Wilson everyone wants to know how to write books for a teenage audience. If you’re one of the many wannabes then read on as this article is just about to change your life.
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Like all good ‘how to’ advisors those who can do, and those who can’t teach, so make of this what you will. However, after ploughing my own miniscule furrow in the world of teen literature I do feel able to pass on a few tips that will hopefully get you started in the right direction.
As with the process of writing any novel there are numerous things to take into consideration before you put pen to paper. For instance, why are you writing a book? Is it for money, for pleasure or just to give it a go?
It may seem quite a random question but it’s important to put things into perspective. For example, if you’re writing for your niece or nephew they might be slightly more forgiving than a publisher so you can drop in a few more personal touches rather than trying to appeal to a mass market.
Which brings me rather neatly to my first tip: know your audience
Yes, you’re writing for teenagers but the interests of a 13 year old boy and an 18 year old girl can be polar opposites so it’s best to have an age and reading level in mind before you get started. Read the competition to find out what style suits you. Most teen lit is written in the first person, which presents an exciting and energetic style – perfect to grab hold of short attention spans. If you know a teenager or even better if you can remember the days when you were one then use this to your advantage and draw on every experience, character trait and socially awkward moment possible.
I was always told you needed a beginning, middle and an end but I’m guessing this school of thought is somewhat removed from today’s demanding readership. Although, let’s not dismiss the old adage quite so quickly as you can have plenty of mini-stories and sub-plots within your storyline to keep your readers enthralled. I find it a good idea to work on chapter content first and even work out how you’re going to end the book so you have something to aim for.
With this in mind, it’s a good idea to know how long you intend your book to be and how many chapters you’re thinking of including. Again, visit your local library and check out the page count of books aimed at an audience similar to yours.
Strong characters that we can relate to or despise are what hold our interest, and if you’re a teenage reader you’re probably going to want to read about someone similar to yourself. Of course, this is not always the case and I can remember devouring the novels of Ian Fleming and Agatha Christie much more readily than anything specifically designed for a teenager readership.
Yes, teens like to read about themselves but don’t feel that you can’t include plenty of adults too. Also, once you find your chief protagonist’s tone of voice then you can slowly start to develop their character and begin to consider what they would or wouldn’t do in certain situations.
Classic teen lit often occurs where there are other teens around e.g. a summer camp or high school and once you decide where to set your novel then you can begin to work out what situations would typically arise. Are you going to include romance, drama or suspense?
Playing sports or writing a junior newspaper? Again, depending on the age of your audience, different strokes suit different folks so make sure you bear this in mind when considering the location of your novel.
From falling in love to breaking the law to having fun on summer programs, teenagers have been there and done that for generations and once you decide on your genre, setting, characters and reading level then it’s time to think about what’s suitable and what’s not. Of course, if you’re writing under no obligation to a publisher or employer you’re free to change your mind as you go and I think the best advice I can possibly give is to be flexible and write without fear.
You may start off writing for a 13 year old however, your own style may then dictate that you’re better suited to write about more adult subject matter which would be more appropriate for a 15 or 16 year old audience. Don’t worry, that’s what it’s all about, getting to know what suits you and what you enjoy writing.
So in summary, forget all of the above and just lose yourself in your writing. After all, if you’re the only one who’s going to read it then you might as well write something that you’re going to enjoy!
Biog: Chris is a published children’s book author and is currently writing a novel about teenagers at summer camp.