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Chris Stevenson

The Mysterious Teenage Hominid

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Writing For Teens:

There was no question why I wrote YA fiction in the first place. When I got into it, it was a thrilling, lucrative and expressive category. Harry Potter was dominating the charts. The Hunger Games appeared, along with Divergent and Twilight. Writing young adult fiction then was like being on s speeding freight train which had no breaks and a throttle that only went forward.

There are no estimates of how many writers jumped on that band wagon.

I remember my first real YA book, The Girl They Sold to the Moon. That tiny tome sold six times and took the first place grand prize in a YA novel writing contest, which was sponsored by a small publisher. That wasn’t the reason I wrote it. I wrote it because I loved the characters, not the atmosphere, world or environment. Yet again, something clicked inside me. I had a handle on something. I could talk teen. Not spectacularly, but well enough to pull the wool.

Let me get something out of the way before I continue: I have a non de plume for my young adult stories–Christy J. Breedlove. There’s no mystery in changing a name for a genre. But I changed my gender. J.K. Rowling’s agent told her to give herself a neutral author name because “boys are less likely to read books written by girls.” Hence, the J.K. initials. I just took it a step further.

I believe women can be trusted by other women to write with more emotional impact and feeling. Women don’t really have any problems reading the several male authors out there who excel in writing romance. However, women are less likely to read a romance crafted by a guy because it can’t quite reach inside them like one of their own. I hoped and prayed that if spontaneous buyers of my young adult books believed they were crafted by a gal (at first), it might go easier for me. Even men believe that gals can lay down a young adult story with more connection and honesty. I know I do. So, no gender bias meant at all. Only respect. (And no, I don’t think I’m fooling anyone

Back on track: The teenage years are restless and oft times reckless years. They are an era in life that explores change, hopes, failures, experimentation, rebellion and growth. Especially growth. Most fundamental truisms are picked up during these formative years–rules or guidelines for life. What appeals to me so much about this time of life is that it can be so unstable. It’s a time when tragic mistakes are made–emotional upheaval is magnified. To me, this gives me a sense of freedom in exploring some deep-felt topics. Unlike an adult that might be more prone to decorum and subtly, a teen might very well blunder into a situation, causing higher consequences and repercussions.

The exploration of the teen mind can offer a ton of latitude in subject matter–life, death, love, hatred, bullying, lawlessness, substance abuse, incest, pregnancy and even murder. The young, let’s face it, are resilient, forceful and courageous with their own convictions. They can take a hell of a lot of punishment, rebound and get their life’s compass back on direction in record time. Sometimes they fail, but the harder they fail, the harder they strive to crush the demons.

My guilty pleasure in writing for, or about teens, is my utter fascination with their nonconformity. Looking back upon my own kid-hood, I can glimpse my errors and snippets of absolute stupidity. This stupidity allows me cartloads of humor and irony in my writing. There is nothing quite like a couple of teens going at it verbally or physically, and in many cases, only to drive a point home. There’s nothing quite like a teen hitting you smack between the eyes with blunt-force honesty. They regularly deal with each other in absolute truth. No words minced. Compared to adults, teens act; there’s no lolly gagging. We do have the quiet, shy and retiring types, but those are exceptions, to what I think is the overall demeanor.

In an action/adventure tale, or a post-apocalyptic story, I can bring teens to the edge of death several times and have them ultimately survive. Physiologically, younger adults are more fit than adults. Have you ever seen a walking antibiotic? They can suffer and endure much more abuse than an older person. I have been known to take advantage of this fact time and time again. Youth–strength–indestructibility.

I think teen fiction offers higher stakes, loftier emotions and grander outcomes. Nowhere is YA fiction better told than in the hands of the teenagers themselves. The young set has a finger directly on the pulse of their own lifestyles. They don’t have to guess or research what they would do in any given circumstances–they know exactly the ways in which they would handle it, along with their own cultural oddities that so confuse the adults. Teens have a language all their own. You need a decoder ring to understand it. Look at their text messages–you need a cypher to crack them! Trust me, teens are not of this Earth!

As a person in my sixties, I cannot understand why I feel I was chosen to write young adult tales. Those years were some of the fondest times of my life. I don’t look back upon them with disdain. Albeit, there were many cringe-worth times. There were stage plays and scenes of stark terror. But I remember them with an awestruck gusto, a bewildering time of adventure and exploration. My over-the-top emotional writing style seems to fit right into the plots and characters. I’m always learning, because there are so many writers out there, both young and old, who are masters at expressing the teen world.

I’m only along for the ride.

I have a lot of reviews that are about to come in for this latest book. The trickle has started. So far everything seems beyond expectations. Yet, all of these reviewers seem to be teen or twenty-something women. I can just about guarantee that if I’ve got something wrong in the text, it’s apt to be flagged. And I welcome that. It just means that I get to learn more secrets.

Christy/Chris–red-shifting outta here.

(BTW, blue shift means to come toward you. Red-shift means leaving or going away from you).

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Comments

  1. Stygian's Avatar
    What is the distinction between young adult and regular adult books. Is it the writing prose, or is it specifically the characters in the novel being kids/teens/adults? I was thinking of just writing a story and trying to classify it afterwords, but it seems it would make more sense to do the reverse.
  2. Chris Stevenson's Avatar
    Hi, Stygian. Generally speaking, the reading audience for YA stories and books is from 12 to 18 year-olds, and it is written in a voice or style befitting the way teenagers communicate. Not to say that it is stereotypical, but that the language, or narrative and dialogue, is not so highbrow or complicated. You can Google YA voice/style and get a good perception of it, or better yet, read a lot of YA books, both spec fiction and contemporary to get a more accurate fix on it.
  3. Stygian's Avatar
    Thanks, I'll do some more googling on the matter. I feel that if I write a story with a sufficiently high body count, or some serious psychological element, it would be better for an adult audience. Then again, the hunger games is based off of Battle Royal (Translated Japanese novel), which had a massive body count. I never read the former, but the latter was pretty messed up for a teen to read. Mind you I was glued to the book when I read it in my 20's
  4. Chris Stevenson's Avatar
    Pardon, but that darn Happy face blew up to that size and I can't figure out why! Ha! That looks foolish.
  5. Plasticweld's Avatar
    Chris, you ad an interesting perspective to YA writing. You are in reality, a stranger in a strange land. I have never been able to relate to the genre, I grew up fast, knowing my faith, religion and values were at a young age. People have always said that they changed a lot from the teen years to adulthood. I am the same boring person now, as I was then. The real benefit is that some of those opinions and thoughts that I voiced as a teenager and were never well received, yet those same views from a cranky old guy seem just fine.

    Thanks for sharing a little slice of your world...Bob
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