Wednesday, May 24, 2017

LET'S TALK YA: Teens & Decision Making in YA

Okay y'all. I promised you another controversial topic in the YA series---and to those who chatted with me in the comments from last week's post: THANK YOU. I think it's the first time I've gotten to actually talk with you all! I....I may have teared up a little.

So to get you all up in arms again we're going to talk about a topic that's actually near and dear to my heart as both a writer and a reader.

Are you ready? Prepare yourselves because I'm about to give you a mic drop that's gonna hurt.


No matter how smart or dumb your teen character is, they'll be hated by at least half of all readers.

That's you, with your mind blown right now. I know.

That's right friends. You, as a writer of teen novels are screwed. Because no matter how authentically you write your teen---hell, you could be a teenage writer---you're going to have an entire army of readers who will swear up and down their high school halls, that your teen isn't how a normal teen acts. Or isn't how smart/dumb a teen is.


Writer: *writes a teen MC who has nice parents but hates them and yells at them and go against them.*  *Gets drunk at a party at Cindy-lou's house and crashes her parents car*

Teen/Adult Reader: That's so unfair! I would/have never have done that! I'm not/wasn't stupid! Teens make good decisions you know, and we don't all go to parties to get drunk!

Writer: *Writes a teen who calmly thinks things though and comes to a logical decision about their love life or friend who wasn't good for them and cuts them out of their life*

Teen/Adult Reader: This so not how a teen acts! She/he is too mature! No one that age makes mature, rational decisions like that!
Writer: *gives up and goes off to write sci-fi*

So what did we learn from this boys and girls?

That's right!

No matter what you do, a group of teens/adult readers are going to say that you're misrepresenting the teenagers of the world.

This was me after reading a review of my book

But really, if you look closely at the skit, you'll see the real reason why you can't win as a writer writing teenagers:

Every reader compares their teen experience and IQ's to your Main Character.

No matter what you do writer, your teenager is going to be too smart, or too dumb for certain groups of your target audience.

I hate hate hate when I hear people complain about a character making a poor life decision in a book. Because they always start with "I was never like that as a teen" or "I would never make that decision!" before going on into why they think the teenager in the book isn't realistic. THEY'RE TEENAGERS, NOT 30 YEAR OLDS. And honestly, I know 30, 40, and 50 year olds who make horrible life choices.

How is a teen making poor (or good) decisions NOT NORMAL? I'm the first to admit to you, here and now, that growing up I was that kid that looked at other people (including adults) making bad choices in life and saying "yeah, that looks bad, I'm not gonna do that." When I hit high school I constantly found myself shaking my head at the people around me making really shitty life decisions. (Oh yes, there was a reason I never dated in High School and stayed safely tucked away in the art room)

But the thing is, I understand that just as there are teens like me who stared at those making bad life choices and didn't make them, so were there students who MADE those bad decisions. But people--especially readers--like to put things in boxes that they can understand and relate to, especially compared to themselves or their life experiences and those around them.


After getting angry at people getting angry at teen decision making skills, I calmed down, drank tea, and thought harder about it. And here's what I've come up with:

It isn't that teen and adult readers get mad at the teenagers simply for being too smart or too immature for their age (although some do). What they get mad/frustrated at are teenage MCs who go against their personality and beliefs as was first set up by the author.


MC 1: *grew up with very bookish  mother who says to never trust men because they'll only hurt you in the end. She's very bookish and smart and levelheaded* *meets a boy* *automatically jumps into his arms and helps covers up his drug selling business.*

MC 2: *grows up in a trailer park and is surrounded by people who constantly give him bad advice on how to live life.* *starts stealing cars* *meets a love interest and automatically changes everything they were taught and is suddenly making smart, educated, well thought out decisions despite dropping out of school after 6th grade*

You're going to get mad because the characters are set up to make bad decisions/ not be stupid and tumble so fast and hard that they change everything about their morals, values, and life experiences. it's out of character for what the writer has clearly said they were as a person. That's when you start getting the screams of 'I would never do that/I wasn't like that as a teen/this isn't believable'

Writing teens in YA is a delicate, frustrating experience as a writer, because no matter what you do, you're pretty much going to get people mad at you for how you portray a teenager. Even if you're a teen writer yourself. You're going to get flack. And it's frustrating because as a writer (which means you're also a reader) you're used to being able to relate to many a character in a book regardless of decision making skills (or genre) because you can IMAGINE being that character and making those poor/good choices.

But a lot of readers (who aren't writers) can't.

They see themselves in the characters, and that's that. If it isn't something they would personally decide themselves, your character is too mature/immature.

I know....I know.


Teenagers are supposed to make mistakes. They aren't supposed to make the right decisions or stay levelheaded in dire circumstances. Human beings can't even do that most of the time, regardless of age, anyway. But teens in books are still figuring themselves and society out themselves. They have 50 million extra lbs of testosterone and estrogen coursing through their lil' bodies. Of course they're gonna make mistakes (no matter how small or big).

If every character everywhere always made the right choice there would be no books, guys. 

And if reading about young people making bad decisions, or even levelheaded decisions in stressful times, makes you angry then maybe don't read YA. Just saying.

So what about you fellow readers and writers!? What are your thoughts on teenagers making decisions in YA? Do you think teens are portrayed as immature, poor thinkers? Or do you think teenagers in YA react too maturely in dangerous situations?

When you write teens do you base their decision making skills/maturity on your own experiences growing up, or do you just let the character be as immature/mature as they need to be?

LETS DISCUSS BELOW! I can't wait to hear your thoughts! 

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