Wednesday, March 10, 2010

Why I Love Writing About 17 Year Olds

Writing for and about teens is a neverending source of joy for me. I have two of them in my house and while living with them isn't the easiest thing in the world, I can honestly say I am never, EVER, bored by them. There's a long laundry list of why I love writing about teens - but most especially ones on the cusp of adulthood. Most of my books feature 17 or 18 year olds. I don't know why I picked that particular age group but that is the age I gravitate towards. I've thought about it and here are some of my reasons why.

They are on the cusp of adulthood - about to step away from a life ruled by parents or other authority figures and enter the treacherous waters of life navigating - for the most part - on their own. That makes for great character growth potential. So many ways to grow and learn!

They have all the joy and optimism of youth with only some of the cynicism that adulthood brings. I say 'some' because by 17 or 18 they know enough of life to be realistic about the dark side of living. Their optimisim, however, usually triumphs over the cynicism. They haven't been completely beaten down by life's curve balls. With all the difficulties a good story should throw at a main character they better have optimism to survive it!

They are resilient. One week something might happen and it's the end of the world. Next week they barely remember how miserable they were. Again, a character who never lets events beat him/her down is someone you can root for.

They feel deeply and passionately. Everything is still fairly new to them - love, death, failure, success. And because it is new it is more vibrant, more exciting than when an adult experiences something. Depth of emotion means a character is less likely to be flat and boring. In fact, as a writer, you have to make sure your teen characters don't become too over the top and risk alienating a reader by being turned off over how emotional they can be.

They don't have preconceived notions - for the most part. At this age, they haven't been totally jaded by seeing something a hundred times over.

They are mostly independent. They can drive, hold down jobs, care for younger siblings or older relatives. Independence allows for greater flexibility when creating a story where your main character has to solve their own problems. I've heard it's tougher to write younger characters and not have the parent or some other adult caregiver come in and help fix the problem.

They are living through a constantly changing landscape. By 17 or 18, the relationships they've had for most of their lives with their friends or their family are about to or in the midst of changing. They are finishing high school, they are either entering the world of work or college, or maybe not knowing where they're going at all. Life is not yet prescribed by jobs, mortgages, children, elderly parents etc. but they can see it will all change in a few years. So their time now is an endless horizon of possibilities. As writers we are always aware of starting a story when the moment of change occurs. A 17 year old life is an endless possibility of change - what a banquet for a writer!

They challenge everything. Parental authority, societal norms. They see they are close to freedom and it makes them yearn to break free of all expectations. Again, a character trait that can lead to great conflict - exactly what you need in a good story.

And, despite everything I just listed, sometimes, they are still little children. Scared, needing love, needing reassurance and completely unsure of what to do next. Emotional vulnerability is key to making a character sympathetic.

So, that's why I love writing about this age group. They are everything that is fascinating, frustrating, determined, vulnerable, unpredictable, passionate, uncertain and, like I said before, not at all boring. Everything I love in characters. As a writer, who could ask for anything more?

What are some of the things that you love when writing about teens or tweens or younger?


  1. I love writing the tween age (mg) because I remember it as being such a hard time.So much going on inside, trying to figure out who you are and how the rules are changing from elementary school. But I think teens would be fun too. Just haven't meadandered that way yet.

  2. What I love about writing for teens is how most things are new to them, so it's fun to write about "first" things--first job, first major crush, first kiss, etc. It's refreshing to step outside of my adult self and put myself in the mind of a teenager who's exploring untraveled paths.

  3. I think you're good at this because you're such a good mom -- crossing my fingers that I can be that sort of mother -- still mom but with a coolness factor -- when my Kiddo hits the teen years. Can't wait for your book!

  4. You summed it all up so well! My characters tend to be around 17 as well (well, my YA characters anyhow). I think it makes me feel less guilty about what I'm going to put them through. The older they are, the better prepared to deal with things. But still young enough that (like you said) it's all fresh and new and intense.

  5. Hi Laura: Tweens are a whole nuther universe. Sometimes I think they're tougher than teens!

    Hey, Medeia! I know - the firsts are the best things to write about!

    Aw, Cynthia - you are too sweet. But I don't think my kids think I'm all that cool. Which is fine - I'd rather be their mom. Dorky and kind of a pain sometimes. But it's all about the love which I know you have in buckets for your own kiddo.

    Thanks, Lisa. I know what you mean about putting them through some awful stuff - especially if its paranormal!