It’s unbelievable how often I encounter books written for teenagers where the author misses the mark about how a teen thinks or just rides off of teen clichés when crafting their stories. Don’t get me wrong, there is some good teen fiction out there, they just are hard to find, given how poorly many of them are written. It has become a common occurrence that while I’m reading these books I ask myself: “Is this how adults believe all teens think?”
The words “shallow” and “cliché” come to mind when this question arrises and then I wonder if I’ll even be able to finish the book without rolling my eyes every chapter. To help authors of teen fiction stay out of this trap, I’ve listed some things to avoid when writing stories in this genre.
The Loner Protagonist. This is usually the “misunderstood” girl who endured some kind of trauma and then (almost inevitably) falls for the “bad boy”. As a teen once myself, I went through a “nobody understands me” stage (as all teens do), but it’s been done in books SO many times it’s practically predictable.
Adults (“…Who Don’t Understand Me!”). Why are adults always portrayed as either stupid or completely disconnected from their kids in teen books and movies? This has become more common lately, fore-fronting teens as the ones who know everything and the adults in their lives as the ones who can’t help them. What a crock.
Excessive Teen Slang. Don’t write how teens talk, write how they think. As a teacher (and a teen once myself), I can guarantee you that teens rarely think in slang (as evident in their writing) and are more mature than we give them credit for. Treat your heroes like people and don’t degrade them with excessive language that makes them look and sound too juvenile.
Cussing/Dirty Jokes. This leads us to the be all, end all in teen fiction: swearing. Just because some teens swear excessively in real life, it gets VERY distracting in print-form, at least for me. If a character is going to swear, have them swear, just don’t make them say it every time they speak. It gets old and loses the impact it is meant to leave on the reader. Use your intelligent words you’ve learned as a writer to fill their mouths with actual language.
The Shallow Protagonist. I love reading a story about a girl who falls in love with a “beautiful” man–with the straight teeth and the chiseled jawline–as much as the next reader, but this has to be the most used theme in teen fiction to date. This expectation endangers teenage readers of believing that finding the perfectly handsome man should be their goal in life when in reality, they should be making friends of ALL kinds and developing their own talents. I would enjoy reading a story about a protagonist who has a special skill in something and who forms a strong friendship with another who may not look perfect, but who is still a likable character. It’d also be nice if the author leaves most of the appearance of the friend or love-interest up to the imagination of the reader.
Authors of teen fiction, please remember that although the teens you write about may be immature, as in real life, they are still people who should not be portrayed so stupidly that the reader can’t tell if they should hate them or not. As an adult, I am probably biased in this opinion, but I was a teen once. Try to remember how it felt when you were one too and it may help your writing develop in this specific genre.