Monday, July 5, 2010

WHAT TEENAGERS WANT FROM YOUR BOOKS...Writing, Publishing, and the Teenager Pt. 1

Quick Update: HA! I thought of something to write about, maybe multi-posts, too. Cue: evil laugh. And since I'm following (and being followed) by some cool new writers on Twitter, why not?

Obviously, as a pre-published author, YA reader and YA myself, I can say that my favorite genre is pretty much exploding on the market right now. See below:

Vampires and werewolves and fallen angels, oh my!

There are not many differences between YA and adult literature, if we get honest. There is still sci-fi and romance, fantasy and mainstream, issues and conflicts. The main contrast is and will always be: the audience.

So, here is the official

1. We want smart, funny dialogue. Not simplistic, short sentences that have triple spaces on page. Sarcasm may be a no-no in a lot of genres, but we can never get enough. If the narration is satirical and can generate a laugh or two, we read on.

2. We want new characters. Yes, we all know cheerleaders are evil demons living inside tanned, bleached blonde teen girls. Move onto a new monster please. (Like, Jennifer's Body...Jennifer was on the flag team, not a cheerleader). How about the chess club captain or the track star being the antagonist for once? Everyone has a just have to look deeper.

Jennifer's Body's Flag Team Villain

3. We want romance. No, this does not indicate a book chock full of declarations of love between two teenagers. This would never happen, anyways, especially in contemporary YA. "I love you" is thrown around more carelessly than ever these days. How about romance elements? Where the hero/heroine have their issues, and the boyfriend/girlfriend merely acts as a shoulder to cry on, an ally who knows how to kiss? If love is the main story at hand, then do not mirror Nicholas Sparks. Be original with your lovers and their relationship. You're a human*, so hopefully you know how humans express and feel emotion.

*If you are not a human, then you are excused.

4. We want to be shocked. We want twists at the end that make us scream "What the (insert curse word here)" and then force us to keep reading so we look for a resolve (which should also be included. If things are predictable, and I can already tell that Whatshisname will get the girl and defeat EvilVillainGuy, then you fail. However, keep the shockers to a minimum. Bringing in a demented evil twin who has yet to be mentioned at all will not shock us, it will only mean a negative review of your work. EvilVillainGuy I could find, I guess...

5. We actually kinda want cuss words and "bad" stuff. I can remember reading "Breathing Underwater", one the required books, and the three kids in my group got all giddy because someone said a swear on the first page. I was pretty shocked; I mean, back then, I just finished a Scott Westerfeld book where it was a common, REALISTIC thing. The truth is that teenagers today are just like the shows Family Guy and South Park: perverted and yet a little intelligent when it comes down to it. We watch Shane Dawson videos and listen to Lil Wayne. It's a new generation, I guess. But, the idea of of censoring YA is beginning to thin. Just be natural!

6. We want sad stuff, in the case of the girls. I'm not speaking for myself (I sold my soul for a chocolate chip cookie two years back) but my peers seem to love books that end with people dying. A popular choice is the Outsiders, which remains one of the most beloved required readings ever. You know how many people sobbed over the ending? And dogs dying in fiction is pure tradition yet legend. Old Yeller and Where the Red Fern Grows are classics. Yet, so are I Am Legend and Marley & Me. Tears are the best attraction.

This is all I can think of for the moment, but the post is sorta lengthy anyways. Any questions or suggestions? Perhaps I should make these multi-posts...

Thanks for reading! :)


  1. I figured most of them, except number six. I read tear-jerkers, but they're not really on my radar.

  2. Great stuff. I'm putting it on this week's Cool Links Friday. Woo hoo!!!!

  3. Great post. I am more for the drama.

  4. I'm with ya....except for #6. I do not like sad books/movies. I was traumatized in 5th grade when my teacher read Where the Red Fern Grows. Then we were made to read/watch Of Mice & Men in High School. I refused to watch Marley & Me when I found out what happens. And though I love the movie, I squalled for 10 minutes after The Notebook was over (in the comfort of my own home- I had already heard it was a tearjerker.)

    and cussing in YA has never bothered me (I'm a teacher, I'm also a former kid and I know how kids are) BUT I recently finished a book in a quite-popular series that tended to go overboard with the language. To the point it was almost distracting. There were times I thought the author just threw cuss words in for the sake of cussing.

  5. Hiya SSF

    Thanks for his insightful post. I just started a serial novel that is intended for the young adult audience and this information will come in handy. I am sure to keep all of this in mind when writing.

    It has been a while since I have been considered a teenager, but when I was I wanted books that didn't assume that just because I was a teen, I didn't understand the bigger issues of the world. In other words, death, pain, disappointment...
    Thanks again, and check out:

  6. I agree and disagree.
    "We want to be shocked." Personally, I dislike books that have a lot of twists at the end. For example, in the end of Incarceron, the female MC finds out something about her heritage. It's just a twist. It adds more excitement to the plot, is all.
    "We want...cursing" I like swearing to a certain extent. When a read a book with a swear in every other sentence, it gets pointless. I think of swearing as something done for emphasis. When a character who always swears says "d@** you" it doesn't mean as much as when a character who rarely swears says it.
    On the other hand, you have a point with that. I read Ingo and at one point a character said, "I hate when you go to #$%@*&! Ingo!" The author actually used asterisks, percent signs, and pounce signs. It was YA.

    Good post, though!

  7. Again, thanks everyone! Though, for a little clarification...

    The "swearing" isn't a necessity. I was just pointing out that for teen readers who only read books they're required to are amazed when a book has ONE cuss word...if they knew just how many books had a slightly more natural language, I'm sure we'd have more readers.

  8. Will try to keep all this in mind ;)

  9. Thanks, as a writer of YA fantasy this helps. I watched "The Outsiders" because my sister loved the book, so she had to make our whole family watch the movie. The she proceeded to write her own book as a teenager and it was really good.

    (BTW: Was referred here by Stina.)

  10. Hey SSF! I found your link on Stina's blog. I love your post. Great info. Reassuring because my WIP includes a handful of f bombs but alarming because there is an annoying cheerleader in it.

    Now I have to read Jennifer's Body. If you're memorizing lines from it, it's gotta be good.

  11. @ Suzanne and Amanda: Thanks for coming from Stina's blog. It was my first time being featured anywhere.

    Oh, and @Suzanne Casamento: Jennifer's Body is actually kinda a black/comedy horror movie...I'm just a huge Diablo Cody fan (Juno, United States of Tara) so that's why it's my favorite movie. But thanks for such a compliment!

  12. Great tips! Thanks for sharing!! :)

  13. As a teenager and avid YA reader - right on the money. The best books on the market today are the ones that have all of these elements. :) Very insightful, and hopefully adult readers will come to understand there is a *reason* this genre is and should be more open than any other right now, why censorship within the genre is just dumber than eating a piece of moldy bread, and what teenagers want to see in it! :D

  14. This? Is a total nitpick.

    I despise how movies misrepresent colorguard. (Colorguard. Not "Flag team.") Most of the time, colorguards have more in common with a dance team than with the cheerleaders, and most wouldn't be caught DEAD in anything resembling a cheer uniform.

    Hell, I defected from cheerleading TO colorguard.

    Hollywood fail!

    That said, it's not your fault they suck. Great post!

  15. Really interesting! Thanks for the link!

  16. We also want FUN! Don't forget that :) A good time in the book can be like a good time in real life!

    Check out my blog! :)

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