Friday, June 19, 2009

Writing for Teenagers

One of the sessions that I attended at the Cape Town Book Fair was on writing for teenagers. UK writer Kevin Brooks was on the panel as well as my new friend and very accomplished writer Helen Brain, among others. There were a few things that stood out for me in that session.

First, Kevin Brooks said he never set out to write for teens. He felt teens won't read books that are designated as 'teen fiction'. As a writer he just set out to write books, it was only that his books tended to be about teenagers so for that reason teens were drawn to them. Someone on the panel said that the best way to get teens to read your book was to either censor it or write 'for adults only' on the cover.

The other interesting thing that Kevin Brooks said, though it might have been at the other session I attended with him, was that he felt it made more sense to write his teen books in first person. He said that for teens so much of their lives is happening in their heads. Compared to perhaps any other time in our lives, teenagers are frantic in their heads so first person allows the writer to get inside there, at least for one of his characters.

There was also a discussion about the validity of adults writing for kids and again Kevin Brooks made an interesting remark- all adults have been kids. And too- adults get the added perspective of looking back on what happened. Someone in the audience and on the panel felt adults didn't know teenagers and what was important to them now. But Brooks said that was irrelevant and in actual fact if you include current lingo and music etc. by the time the book is out it will be dated. Stories are timeless.

I think I agree with Brooks. I recently finished my humorous (I hope) book, Aunt Lulu, about a teenage girl who gets roped into running the agony aunt column in her school newspaper and it all goes very wrong. Though I normally write in third person, I never considered that for a moment. It had to be first person, too much of the fun was happening in my protagonist's head.

I think sometimes as writers we make our work more difficult than it needs to be. Yes, we should do our research to make things authentic but we are writers- fiction writers no less. We are like spies, we can go everywhere but the lovely thing we can do it right at our desks and we get to take our readers along with us, we get to show them a new place, a new way to see things. Don't be afraid to write for teenagers- just don't tell them that's what you're doing.


Unknown said...

I also attended both of Kevin's sessions and managed to get a proof copy of his forthcoming book, Killing God, and have a long chat with him after one of the events. He is a remarkable writer, an artist, quite honestly, and his take on writing for teens is spot on. I'll be blogging about things he had to say in the next week of so.

Good luck with your writing!

karen said...

Too true..I recently lent a copy of "My Family and Other Animals" to a very streetwise, worldly-wise 19 year old friend,visiting from the UK. She has absolutely loved it, much to my surprise, as I had thought it may have been way too old fashioned for her!

Maxine Clarke said...

I'd love to try writing a young adult novel one day. I recently cut out all the first person sections in my novel, in favour of omniscient narrating. I felt I was too close to the narrator. In a way, I think the further I am from the character (the leass like them I am), the easier it becomes to write in first person.

Lauri said...

Absolute Vanilla- Gosh that was lucky- how'd you manage to get that?

Karen- I've found it is almost impossible to knwo what books teenagers will like. You must just give them books, all types.

Maxine- I do think it is easy to slip into yourself in first person. You might be right that you'd rather have a narrator in first person who is very different than yourself so that doesn't happen.

Anonymous said...

I really like Kevin's points about writing teenage fiction. My son is a big reader and at 13 is finding some of the books out there to be very formulaic. However,he really likes Robert Muchamore who writes the cherub series about kids in MI5; there is also another good series about the young James Bond. I am impressed how well written both of those series are!

Lauri said...

Selma I really enjoyed Kevin Brooks talks and bought one of his books- Black Rabbit Summer. You might look out for them for your son.

Unknown said...

LOL - his publicist just handed me her copy when I whinged that Penguin only had two of his books on their stand and Exclusives didn't have any!

Lauri said...

That's funny. It was oddly very difficult to find his books. We bought our at a small shop deep in the corner at the back. I thought British Council might have organised that a bit better.