Wednesday, July 6, 2011

Me on Writing In a Teen Frame of Mind

Yes, it's been a while since I blogged here, but who's really been waiting for me to post something new??

This is just something I was thinking about the other day and figured I'd post it here since it doesn't quite belong on my review blog.

I write YA. I've been writing YA for a few years now. My main and supporting characters are often teenagers, ranging from 13 to 19. I'll be 25 at the end of 2011.

As E. Kristin Anderson said one day on Twitter, "YA is not a genre. It's a point of view."

It's strange sometimes, trying to stay in the same head space I was in 10 years ago when I was a teenager. My memories of high school quite often consist of sitting in the library before the bell rang, sitting quietly in a classroom taking notes while others talked and shared ideas, math homework, French homework, sitting around in the gym's weight room when it was raining, and sitting with my friends in a hallway during lunch because there was never enough room in the cafeteria.

It's an interesting frame of mind, one that wants to be treated with more and more respect as years pass, one that takes on more and more responsibility, one that's no longer a little girl that needs her hand held as she walks across the street but one who isn't ready for a job and paying rent and living on her own.

I remember a lot of what's now quite often called 'teen angst.' There was a lot of 'I know I'm going to be an adult in the future but I'm not right now and I'm trying to figure out how the world works because it looks like it's one big mess of people who don't know what they want.' University was a lot like that, too. I knew what I liked, what I didn't, who I liked, who I didn't, and what I hoped I wanted to do with my life.

Whenever I work on my current WIP, a tweak on a Greek myth (feel free to guess which one), I have to remind myself to think in that teen frame of mind, of knowing what my MC wants and doesn't want, knowing who she likes and doesn't like, figuring out what she wants her future to be when it's really cloudy and possibly dangerous. She's an MC who's spent all her life in fear and half of it separated from her mother and running around the world to keep from being caught (I once described this book as a teenage girl running from a group who want to kill her for her blood).

Her frame of mind is not mine, and so I have to think back to how high school sucked, how I didn't know some of what I know now about life and responsibility, how homework was my life for 5 years. It doesn't always work, though, which really sucks. There are so many days when I'm tempted to go back to the high school I went to so I could see what it's like now, see what teenagers these days dress like, what they listen to, what they talk to their friends about, where they hang out after school, how they style their hair, what they watch on TV, what they do online, what they read (if they do read outside of a school context), if they like high school or if they hate it.

Odds are teenagers are different than they were when I was in high school. My high school years were 1999 to 2004. MP3 players were average, cell phones picked up in the last few years, no one had a laptop unless your parents had a lot of money and it wasn't one they got from their workplace. The internet was so slow in those days. Social media was non-existent (mostly, I was never really interested in Facebook).

The more I think about it, the more I want to visit a high school in the fall and wander around and talk to teenagers. There are times when I think my teenage frame of mind is outdated and slow, like the computer we used to have. Big and plastic with dial-up Internet. ;)

It's possible I drifted off topic, but my point is the same. In my opinion, to write in a teenager's frame of mind you have to think back to when you were a teen, find that same head space, and use those same emotions and confusion and youthful sass and snark and sarcasm. And it needs to be refreshed every so often so your teen voice doesn't sound outdated, so it doesn't sound like an 'adult' (cause I still don't think I am one) is trying to appropriate a teen's voice and is failing miserably.

So, remember the angst and the confusion from your teenage years, even though you want to forget it because that time in your life was the confusing being forced to grow up and prepare for college stage. I think it helps that I still don't know what I want to do with my life (besides writing). I'm still in that lost and confused about the future stage, even at almost 25.

Good thing there's a lot about the town my MC is in that confuses her, like why she's there and what's coming her way. And this one guy in a fedora that's easy-going and slick but annoys the hell out of her. ;)