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Posts tagged ‘teenage characters in fiction’

Comparing Teen Fiction And Adult Fiction, by Sam Hawksmoor

I don’t think there is any conscious process for differentiating between a teen novel and adult.  Clearly in one the young adult must be forefront and in the other, adults.  Obviously adults can figure in both, but as my editor and the writer Beverley Birch says, one must give prominence to the young adult – never lose sight that it is about them.

I know from my own teaching I had one particular student who insisted upon populating her children’s novels with many, many adults.  I used to say constantly who is the story focused on?  Whose story is this?  The kid or the adults?  Never allow that confusion to arise.

I learned this the hard way.  I have a novel out there called Mean Tide, written under a pseudonym, which concerns a child who has had chemo and is sent to live with his psychic grandma by the river in Greenwich.  He meets another kid there, who is silent because of various traumas. The book is populated with adults, all with incredibly rich lives and opinions. To be honest this book straddles adult/children’s fiction and falls between two stools.  I couldn’t see it when I was writing it, as logic would dictate that when a kid goes to live with adults you have to show the adults and bring them to life.  Perhaps I added too much colour.  If your main protagonist is only twelve – there is only so much you can do with a young kid before it becomes unbelievable. Nevertheless as a writer you learn. (One hopes)

Writing for teens you can concentrate on their lives and reduce the impact adults have on their day-to-day existence.  Adults usually act as a restraint on the excesses of teens so the less they are around, the more that can happen.  S F Hinton’s The Outsiders featured this.  This was about teens getting into mischief without constraint and led by a semi-adult teen who did not have anyone’s best interests at heart.  Stephen King’s Stand By Me totally had this focus.  Not just about the kids but also about their perspective on life, the world around them and the risks they take.  It’s important to remember that these novels are written for teens and not adults (even though adults will and can enjoy them).  Kids know by the time they’re 12 that there is no justice in this world. Bullies get away with murder,, people lie, you lie, you haven’t yet formed your own opinions about things and you have doubts about everything.  Somehow you get up and carry on.  The whole world is a critic. You most likely suck at sport or math, and no one but Alice likes you and you don’t like Alice.  This is the teen world.

My approach to adult fiction is to have the plot or situation down first.  If based on a true-life story then it’s about fleshing out the characters, thinking not just about who they are but about their weaknesses and strengths. I like it when a readers connects enough with the character that they start to consider what they wear, eat or say on their own (until that starts to happen organically for me as a reader, I’m not truly in the zone).

With teen fiction, it’s the same process but with the added spice of knowing that kids won’t always take the logical step that may seem more obvious to an adult.  A boy or girl won’t instinctively know that the one they love is bad for them – even if others are saying so.  They have no experience to go on.  This is fresh to them.  All their mistakes are first time mistakes.  As a teacher I used to see girls suffering heartbreak, yet it was clear to me their affections were misplaced.  Now I see break-ups dealt with by text or on Facebook and how cold and heartless all that seems.  You are left to cry on your own I guess without the confrontation.  It can go the other way – irrational hysterical behaviour in the classroom when one girl discovers another is seeing her bloke and all three are in the class before you seething…

Adults generally don’t seethe. They might want to get revenge but the older you are the more numb you usually feel about things.  Kids are NEVER numb.  They can be unfeeling however.

Take Natalie Portman’s character in the movie  Leon.  She is entranced by the slightly simple hitman who protects her from Gary Oldman’s evil cop.  She is excited by the idea of becoming a hitwoman.  She isn’t thinking about moral considerations here.  She’s thinking about revenge, and Leon is simply showing her his one and only skill.  It’s not a kid’s movie but has a kid very much at the forefront.  She is what I remember.  Her pain and heartache and her loyalty.  This would be teen fiction now I think. Capture that intensity and bottle it.

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Sam Hawksmoor’s author website: www.samhawksmoor.com

Sam Hawksmoor’s bio page

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The RepossessionThe Hunting     Code Name VerityAngel DustBoys without NamesThe Traitor's Kiss

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Coarse Language in Teen Novels, by Paul Volponi

Probably the first rule of being a novelist is to be truthful and honest in everything you produce. That means putting the right words into your characters’ mouths. For me, part of that truthfulness is occasionally having my characters use profanities. Now let me make this 100% clear. I never have my characters cursing to simply look cool or grab the reader’s attention. I only have them do so when the scene dictates a tense or angry mood in which real people might use these very emotional words.

Black and White, which centers on racial prejudice, has a fair number of racial slurs. So does Response, which is a about NYC hate crime, and Rooftop, which is about the shooting of an unarmed black teen by the police. The language is there because these are the real words I have heard people use in the real-life situations mirrored in these novels. The books just wouldn’t ring true if the language wasn’t correct. People committing a hate crime don’t say “please” and “thank you” when they’re beating some one over the head with an aluminum baseball bat.

Rikers High is about teens going to school while awaiting trial in the world’s largest jail. As you can imagine, the daily conversation of these teens, even in some less-than-dramatic situations, was froth with what some would deem offensive language. But that’s real. Should the writer change this reality and omit this language? If so, what would be the rational?

I have never had a publisher ask me to remove a curse word because they thought it would hurt sales. Many of my books are taught in high schools and even middle schools. It is true that I have encountered several teachers, from very conservative US states, who tell me that they are afraid some parents might complain about the language if they used my novels. But I’m very content to lose a few schools here and there, when so many reluctant readers gravitate to the novels, feeling the work relates to the lives they actually live.

Recently, I received a letter from a parent who was upset that a character of mine uttered a curse word as he was being robbed at gunpoint. The parent said that I was a bad influence on teens today because of the profanity. Sadly enough, the complaint did not reflect any concern over the fact that a gun was being pointed at someone in the scene. Most of the teens with whom I work pick up on that parent’s inconsistency almost immediately. As a writer, you will have to decide for yourself what language your characters will use during tense moments. My standing rule is: If it doesn’t feel and sound real, it probably won’t ring true to smart and street-wise teenage readers.

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Paul Volponi’s author website: www.paulvolponibooks.com

Paul Volponi’s bio page

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Black and WhiteRooftopRikers HighResponse     Girl, StolenAugustThe Last of the Warrior Kings

Writing Teen Novels
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