So, you have your Justin Bieber posters in hand, High School Musical Four open in another tab, and a friendly neighborhood teenage kid on speed dial. You’re all geared up and ready to go write from a teenager’s perspective. Everyone has their own views on how literary teens should act.
I’m a teenager, so I decided to help by showing what not to do when writing from a teenage kid’s perspective.
Writing From a Teenage Character’s P.O.V. – Do’s and Don’ts:
- Don’t break out the dictionary. While not all teenagers go around sounding like a Twitter post with two legs, we also don’t phrase our sentences in perfect iambic pentameter. If your teenage character is educated or has a precocious vocabulary, then by all means, sprinkle some vocab words in there if it is beneficial to your plot. But, don’t try and sound like teenage Shakespeare if the novel is set in modern day and is not historical fiction.
- Close “Catcher in the Rye” right now. Salinger was a genius and got many teenage characteristics right. We often swear (in our heads, we’re not all vulgar or censor dangers) and are, at times, just angry at the world for no reason. But, if you’re looking at Holden Caulfield and using the word “phony” every other second, then you’re not in the right time period to be writing about a modern day teenager. Ask a teenager or, and this is a disclaimer of you putting yourself at your own risk, check out Urban Dictionary. (God save your soul.)
- Don’t write from some omnipresent, factual point of view. Stream of consciousness! In a teenager’s inner monologue, we tend to digress a lot. For example, I could be talking about this one topic, but then I’ll be thinking about some drama in the locker rooms, and oh my goodness, did you see what she was wearing? I’ve only ever seen pink like that when my aunt showed up for my cousin’s fifth birthday party. And my cousin was a great kid, but the hair she had was such an outrageous…
- No long speeches. Our dialogue is short and snappy. We do not deliver long monologues. Studies have been done on this before (I think). If a webpage won’t load, we click refresh in five seconds because we have the patience that’s about as long as a Twitter character limit.
- We don’t say “like” after, like, everything. Okay? Geez, like, give me a break.
- Okay, more about number five. Slang varies for a teenager depending on location, as do other things. Teenagers and their hobbies vary by geographic location. For example, a teenager in Chicago might want to hang out at Portillo’s. A teenager in the Midwest, no oceans, would not be a huge surfer. A Californian teen would usually not go skiing on a daily basis.
- More on teen slang. Teenagers from different states might carry accents or have different habits depending on where they’re from. Do some research on speech patterns in where you’re setting your novel if you’re going for authenticity. You don’t want that southern twang to sound faulty, do you?
- Don’t talk about teenagers like we all party like it’s 1999. Turn off MTV. We don’t all do the parties and the drugs and the “other stuff.” We aren’t a walking PSA for what not to do. Sometimes, teens like to just sit back and cry over “Titanic.” We don’t loot and pillage. We’re adolescents, not Vikings.
- Don’t look at Hollywood teen celebrities and expect we all act like them either. It’s the same concept as MTV. I suppose you think that every adult acts like Brad Pitt or Johnny Depp too, huh? No? Yep. TV isn’t reality! (Not even reality TV).
- Don’t base all your opinions on how teen acts from how one teen that you know specifically acts. But don’t go to your local high school and start taking notes either, this isn’t “21 Jump Street.” Try searching around YouTube videos or just Google in general to see what pop culture we kids are interested in these days. We don’t punctuate every sentence with “1D 4ever” (that’s One Direction in case you were wondering), and we don’t spend ALL our times on our phones. Teens are called teens because we are stuck somewhere in limbo between being kids and being adults. Sometimes we can act like five year olds sobbing at Disney movies. But other times, we can hold intelligent conversations on topics that just might surprise you. Writing about a teenager is all about balance.
Remembering Your Own History
Think back to your own teen days. Odds are, all teens experienced the same emotions, despite how pop culture references might have differed at the time. Isolation, angst, woe-is-me, first loves, future unknowns, and friendships are all parts of what make high school, well, high school.
Go and Write!
You got it, ya phony (Salinger reference). I’m rooting for you.
Sophia Whittemore is a multiracial author with an Indonesian mother and a Minnesotan father. She penned THE FUNNYMAN during her sophomore year of high school at Benet Academy, and published it as a senior. Her love for the English language manifested itself in eighth grade when she went to the Scripps National Spelling Bee, and has continued with other languages such as Spanish and Indonesian.
Her prior publications include “A Clock’s Work” in a Handersen Publishing magazine, “Blind Man’s Bluff” in Parallel Ink, and winning awards in the Best Midwestern Writing competition for high school writers. She currently resides in Chicago, Illinois with her family and food-loving mini schnauzer, Tiger. Drawing on inspiration from her two cultural backgrounds, Sophia lives a life playing tennis, traveling, and writing about her dual life experiences through other characters in her works or on her blog.
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