Last Monday I said that prompt was the last for my month focusing on YA fiction. I forgot that July had five Mondays this year. So you get a bonus YA prompt!
I chose this picture because it’s a group and the expressions and body language sparked ideas for character building. And for some reason, when I invent characters, I often develop them in groups of four, whether they are siblings or friends. Perhaps it’s because I’m one of four sisters and understand how that kind of group dynamics works.
Who are these characters? Are these girls starting out on an adventure? Or wrapping one up? They are obviously having a good time. The one on the far left is smiling but not laughing like the two girls holding hands on the right. She could be the group introvert. The girl in the background holds her head at a sassy tilt. Maybe she’s the one who has a comeback for everyone and everything.
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?
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.
Today, fantasy YA writer Clare Campbell is here to talk about her experience writing YA fiction. Welcome, Clare!
One of the great things about YA fiction is that you can write in any genre as along as your main character is a teen. What genre do you write? Why?
Fantasy. I blame Disney for whisking me off to Serengeti sunrises, Arabian nights, and bewitched castles.
What’s great about YA fantasy is that it seems to be rooted in these early fairytales. Some of the best YA hits have all been wonderful re-twists on fairytale folklore. It’s fodder for imagination, and I believe that’s important to preserve. Young lives are so ‘plugged-in’ to social media, it’s essential that a good story transports them to other worlds, landscapes, and exciting concepts.
What I love most about YA fiction is that it explores issues important to young people. It’s their voice in the humdrum of society. If you want to know what’s bothering the youth of today, walk into a bookstore and take a gander at the YA titles. They’ll scream off the shelf in bold color. They’ll dazzle with fierce voices that dismantle worn-out kingdoms. They’ll bleed a rainbow of love. They’ll sing of acceptance and true beauty. Words for everyone regardless of age.
Which comes first when starting a story – character, plot, or setting?
For me, it’s a strong sense of character. If you know who the character is then their attitude will inform the plot, and the setting will veil around them like an outward projection of themselves.
Ever notice how a serious character creates a moodier atmosphere in a story? Or, how a kid with attitude lives in this bold, ‘in-yo-face’ world?
If I’ve a strong attachment to the nature and purpose of the main character, the setting and plot seem to flow with ease. Everything I write tends to fall into the magical or mythic, so I recommend having a constant nose for good folklore. Every chance I get I’m travelling, or reading about various cultures, mythologies, or religions. It gives me a diverse well of information to draw upon.
I love reading myths and folklore, looking for inspiration.
Most YA writers aren’t YA. How do you write authentically about characters younger than you are?
Young people are awesome! I’ve worked with all kinds of teenagers. From the homeless, to the disabled, to the exceptional, and each of them has a magnetic spark. A spark, I believe, we never lose no matter how old we get. Some of us might forget about it, or deem it too immature, or naïve. But, some of us retain that spark and hold it up as the thing that makes us see the world through a lens of hope. Or, the youthful energy that makes us believe we can achieve the impossible even against the odds. That’s all you need to connect with YA audiences.
What are some other unique challenges about writing YA?
The market! It can sound like doomsday to authors. At times I felt like there was a sign on the gate, ‘don’t bother, we’re full.’
And then I remembered something important.
If you treat something like an impossible mountain, you’ll never climb it. I started off not knowing a darn thing about writing, and made two million readers fall in love with my online, fanfiction—an oversaturated market. I made that mountain move. I think I’ve enough brazen impudence, and youthful spark in me to kick the gate down too.
Success is in the mind. May the odds be ever in your favor. Live long and prosper my fellow YA authors.
What’s been your most unusual source of inspiration for a story or character?
Dame Judi Dench did this amazing documentary on trees. Trees play a significant role in Irish mythology, and a significant role to the world. Dame Judi and I appear to share this quirky interest. At one part in the documentary she was able to prove that trees communicate. At another she held a stethoscope up to the trunk and listened to it “breathe.” This ‘consciousness of trees’ really shaped how I tackled world building. I was able to give life to those silent giants, almost making them characters in their own right.
Thanks so much for stopping by!
Clare is a successful and highly popular author of award winning Fanfiction, with thousands of online fans and over 2 million reads on her Lord of the Rings Fanfic epic. Clare has also won several writing awards. Her YA fantasy Tempest, was awarded runner-up for Serious Writer, ‘Writer of the Year’ 2019.
As well as writing, Clare is an experienced Occupational Therapist, with a passion for enabling people. Her love of storytelling, merged with her positive messages, inspires her to create meaningful narratives that represent diversity and promote unity.
As a native Irish woman, she can usually be found searching for the fair folk, exploring ancient Viking harbors, and defending the odd castle. To learn more about Clare, discover her fanfiction, and join her on her publication journey, visit; www.CJCampbellOfficial.com.
This is my last spark for YA fiction. I chose this photo because it can be used in any genre. Who is the girl and why is she hitchhiking? Is she hunting for a friend who disappeared after a murder was committed? Is she on the run from officials because she possesses special powers? Is she crossing the country to start her first year at college and her car has broken down in a remote area without cell reception?