My guest today is YA fantasy author Laurie Lucking. Instead of an interview, Laurie has written a post on authenticity. It has so many great points! Take it away, Laurie!
Authenticity in Writing for Teens
One of the cautions I hear most about writing for a teen audience is you have to be authentic—if you’re not genuine, they’ll spot it from a mile away. The thought makes me nervous! I’m not a teen, nor do I currently have any young adults in my family or close circle of friends. So will my teenage characters come off as inauthentic stereotypes? Will I distance myself from readers by sounding like a preachy adult?
But here’s the thing—I was a teen, back in the day. In fact, it was such a formative time in my life that I wanted to write books like the ones that shaped me in middle school and high school. As I write my teen characters, I can still tap into those memories and emotions. Even more importantly, I bring myself back to the simple but essential reminder that each teen is an individual. And I’ve found the key to avoiding stereotypes and preachiness is to focus on writing individual characters. Complex, relatable characters that read like real people. In the case of young adult fiction, these characters happen to be teenagers when the story takes place. But they’re so much more than just “teens.”
Do you see the difference? Writing how you imagine all teens think, act, and speak leads to characters who feel like stereotypes. Yes, many teenagers like certain music, watch certain television shows, or use particular slang. But not all. Some quote Shakespeare, some rap along with Jay-Z, others play classical music on their oboes or read every issue of Seventeenmagazine. A select few might do all four! So write your characters as interesting, three-dimensional, sometimes surprising individuals, not generic teens as you expect them to act based on news stories or the grumblings of older generations.
In a similar vein, refrain from using your story to illustrate how you think teens should act. As with characters who feel like stereotypes, an obvious agenda will distance readers from you and your narrative. Even inspiring characters must be written as individuals, or readers may find them preachy and impossible to relate to. Some young adults live very virtuous lives, and there’s nothing wrong with using that as a starting point for a character as long as he or she also has some faults, quirks, and temptations, with dialogue and thoughts that are realistic instead of reading like mini sermons. Or, if a character starts out in a bad situation and matures and grows during the course of the story, make those struggles tangible and multifaceted, not a straightforward climb from wrong to right. As many of us know, learning important life lessons is never easy whether you’re a child, teen, or adult!
All this isn’t to say we can lose sight of the fact that our principal characters are teenagers. They shouldn’t think and act just like adults, nor have the relative innocence of grade schoolers. The young adult phase of life is unique in its endless possibilities, intense emotions, strong but complex bonds with peers, and the excitement and angst of being so close and yet so far from being a true adult. My favorite part of writing for teens is embracing the trials and joys of that extraordinary phase of life between childhood and adulthood, and I hope that comes through in the characters and stories I write.
Now I want to hear from you! What do you find the most enjoyable or challenging about writing for teens? Do you have any tips to share? Thanks for having me today!
Only one person knows of the plot against the royal family and cares enough to try to stop it—the servant girl they banished.
Leah spends her days scrubbing floors, polishing silver, and meekly curtsying to nobility. Nothing distinguishes her from the other commoners serving at the palace, except her red hair.
And her secret friendship with Rafe, the Crown Prince of Imperia.
But Leah’s safe, ordinary world begins to splinter. Rafe’s parents announce his betrothal to a foreign princess, and she unearths a plot to overthrow the royal family. When she reports it without proof, her life shatters completely when the queen banishes her for treason.
Harbored by an unusual group of nuns, Leah must secure Rafe’s safety before it’s too late. But her quest reveals a villain far more sinister than an ambitious nobleman with his eye on the throne.
Can a common maidservant summon the courage to fight for her dearest friend?
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An avid reader practically since birth, Laurie Lucking discovered her passion for writing after leaving her career as an attorney to become a stay-at-home mom. When she gets a break from playing board games and finding lost toys, she writes young adult fantasy with a strong thread of fairy tale romance. Her debut novel, Common, won the Christian Editor Connection’s Excellence in Editing Award, placed third in the Christian Women Reader’s Club Literary Lighthouse Awards, and is a finalist in the ACFW Carol Awards. She has short stories published in Mythical Doorways, Encircled, and the upcoming Christmas Fiction off the Beaten Path. Laurie is the Secretary of her local ACFW chapter and a co-founder of Lands Uncharted, a blog for fans of clean young adult speculative fiction. A Midwestern girl through and through, she currently lives in Minnesota with her husband and three children. Find out more by visiting www.laurielucking.com.