This post has a bit to do with a certain tweet by a certain person-on-Twitter-who-shall-remain-nameless tweeting and asking during a chat yesterday if they should ‘dumb things down’ for teen readers. I’m going to try hard not to make this post directly about that tweet, as angry as that made me. It’s more about how so many have this misconception that teenaged brains are entirely different.
We’re teenagers, folks. We are a varying small number of years away from being legal adults. Does this mean we’re entirely mature and able to make well rounded decisions? No. In fact, adults are right (for the most part) to assume that we’re unpredictable and frankly, quite hormonal. Does this mean that you have to ‘dumb things down’ for us to understand your big words and huge concepts? Absolutely not. There is a difference between changing you subject matter to something teens will like more than adults, and only using one syllable words.
We might not have gone to college yet. We might not have lived as long as you have, but that doesn’t mean we aren’t aware of the world. We are more mature than you give us credit for, really. I actually did some research on the psychology point of view of adolescence. In case you needed proof that my opinions were factual. 😉 A quick google search brought up this great article (ironically titled “Trashing Teens” )in Psycology Today, which made some good points.
The tagline of the article: ” Psychologist Robert Epstein argues in a provocative book, “The Case Against Adolescence,” that teens are far more competent than we assume, and most of their problems stem from restrictions placed on them.”
“….Imagine what it would feel like—or think back to what it felt like—when your body and mind are telling you you’re an adult while the adults around you keep insisting you’re a child.”
Well, there you go.
Every teen writer and reader I’ve talked to on the matter agrees; teenagers are really good at decifering what they read. If you ‘dumb it down’ for us, we will know. Don’t even try that. Please. Spare yourself. Great YA books are written by people of all ages, but the one thing they have in common is their grasp on how we feel. Teenagers want a good story. We usually don’t want to be taught a lesson. You really shouldn’t pretend we don’t know what happens in the world around us. We can, and will, see right through it. Thankfully, editors and agents and the like do a great job filtering these people and their books out. And for that, I can’t thank them enough. But every once in a while a book gets through that, and it stinks.
Teenagers HATE being looked down upon. As a reviewer, if I read a book with a terrible teen voice, I struggle to finish. If I wasn’t going to review it, I would quit reading. Teens love books that they connect with. We love that unbelievable moment when you find the perfect book for you, and all of a sudden you feel less hormonal and realize that you aren’t alone. Some magical adult out there actually gets it! If you get the chance to meet that author, we might babble something like :
“OMG I’M A HUGE FAN AND I JUST…. WHEN SHE— AND THEN HE….. AND THEY… GAHHHH JNCSKFLJW”
And then we’ll probably start crying. Because we are teenagers after all, and our emotions are hard to verbalize.
There is so much good that comes from books. YA can help teens get throught really, really rough times in their lives. Condescention in YA just makes teens not want to read. Seriously. Even I, loving books as much as I do, get a bit fed up with reading YA after reading one of those books.
My point is, if you have questions about if your YA is true to life, there are ways around it. I suggest Teens Can Write, Too! even if you aren’t a teen. My friend Mark also posted about this from a teen writer’s standpoint. My friend John has a great feature on his blog where you can send him a page of your MS to check for realism in teen voice. (if you’d prefer a female perspective, feel free to email me) By all means, talk to some teens! Work out something with your local library’s teen program to chat there once a week, if you have to. A great friend of the teen writing community on Twitter, Leigh Ann Kopans, is one of the few adults I feel really understands. She and a couple others have organized the #YAWritersAAT chat on Twitter every Sunday at 9PM. It’s where YA Writers can Ask A Teen about high school, friends, and pretty much every other teen issue. I’m there every week, and there are plenty of other teens to give you various opinions. The writers and adults from the chat are really, really great. And honestly, most YA authors are fabulous and really get teens. We appreciate that.
Overall: Teenagers are not another species. Get to know them, understand them, love them, and you can write YA. If you think you need to dumb it down, meet some teens. Or write adult fiction. Love your genre before you write it. Love the people you write for.
We might be a bit hormonal, but we definitely aren’t dumb.