Writing For Young Adults: Something I Learned the Hard Way, Part 2

In part 1, I talked about how writing for a young-adult audience can be challenging, especially given that I graduated high school thirty years ago. This week, I continue that advice with part 2.  So without further ado, here’s more of what I learned the hard way when I decided I wanted to write for young adults.

Replacing adult phrases with teenage speak (“That’s wonderful!” versus “That’s so freaking cool!”) wasn’t the way to go. Of course, that’s part of it, but swapping out adult phrases for teen phrases is one piece in a much larger pie. I had to immerse myself in the head of a teenager. I had to feel things the way a teenager would feel them. But how to do that? Me, who hadn’t been a teenager in a very long time and whose son is still a tween?

I discovered that the best way to immerse myself in a teen’s world was to read young-adult fiction—a lot of it. Two books that broke something open in me were Crank, by Ellen Hopkins and Hatchet, by Gary Paulsen. There are others, but these two books in particular transported me into the heads of much younger people and I found myself studying how the authors did it. And I guess that’s another lesson. Read, read, read—and study what you read. Try to pinpoint how the author pulled it off.

I’m thick into the writing of my second young-adult novel, and I have to say, it’s much easier to be in the head of a young adult this time around. Years ago, when I started trying to write for young adults, I felt like I was merely dummying down the language. But now, through experience and study, I view a teenager’s vocabulary more like a dialect. Just as a person from the South would say things differently than a New Englander, a teenage girl would tell a story differently than a forty-some-year-old mother (Yep, that’s me.) The vocabulary isn’t dummied down; it’s true to life. And that’s, to me, the essence of good writing.

Do you have tips and tricks for writing for a different audience than your own demographic? I’d love to hear them.

Melody Maysonet

Melody Maysonet has been an English teacher, editor, columnist, and ghostwriter. A self-proclaimed geek, she loves reading fantasy, but prefers writing edgy, real-world fiction—as evidenced by her first novel, A WORK OF ART (Simon Pulse), which received a Starred Review from Kirkus, won the 2016 Hoffer Award for best fiction, and was named a Best Book of 2015 by YA Books Central.

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