Making YA Novels Authentic

One of the biggest challenges for YA authors is writing authentically. It’s difficult to adopt the voice of a teenager as an adult writer. In the article The 8 Habits of Highly Successful Young-Adult Fiction Authors, some of the most popular YA authors tackle the issue of how to write relatable teen characters. The beginning of the article cites a 120% growth in the number of YA titles published between 2002 and 2012. While this is great news for teen readers, it makes for more conflicting views on how books for young adults should be written. As Nolan Feeny says, there are many authors who think there is no secret to writing for teens: “Good writing is good writing; believable characters and compelling plots are crucial regardless of who’s picking up the book.” I agree with this statement, but I think there’s also something to be said for being able to write teen characters. There are just some things that teenagers would never say, and it distances the reader if they can’t believe that the character is a real teenager.

There are many great points in the article about how to effectively write for teens in a way that’s authentic. One of the most poignant is finding the “emotional truth” of the teenage experience. It’s not important to create an experience or situation that the reader finds directly relatable, but they should find a connection in the emotions and feelings that the characters experience. John Green mentions that he gets emails from readers saying that they are just like Hazel from The Fault in Our Stars, except they do not have cancer, nor are they female, white, or sixteen years old (or any combination of those things). In reality, those readers aren’t just like Hazel, but they’ve found her emotionally truthful and relate to her in that respect. Those readers can say that they feel like Hazel because they felt the same way about a different situation. In a different way, teenage readers also want to see emotional truth in the intensity of their experiences. Falling in love for the first time, questioning mortality and meaning, and trials and tribulations of friendship are all parts of being a teenager. These can be emotionally intense experiences for teens that are crucial to self-discovery and growth. An author can be authentic to YA readers “by nailing that keenness of feeling and emotion and high-stakes nature of the interactions they have with people every day,” as Kristen Pettit puts it.

Also essential to writing for teenagers is finding the “kernel of hope” in the story. There’s usually an underlying optimism in YA that is seen through a character’s development. Although the article states that it’s okay for Young Adult novels to be dark, it’s important for them to have some sense of hope. I think that it’s worth noting that this doesn’t mean that novels should be outwardly preachy to teenagers. David Levithan puts it nicely when he says, “It’s not about being preachy or pragmatic to say that most people find a way out of the maze of adolescence. It’s only being accurate.” Not every YA novel will end happily, but all of them show that being a teenager is something that everyone has to push through, one way or another. I think that is ultimately why novels for teens are so important. As adults, we know that being a teenager is difficult, but we also know that there’s life beyond adolescence. That’s why it is so valuable to have authors writing about teenage characters. Teen readers will always be able to find solace and support within the pages of a book.

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