By Karen Rock
So you just received a rejection that said your narrative voice wasn’t authentic or engaging… translation- you didn’t sound sixteen-years-old. How to fix it? Sure. I know what you’re thinking…time travel … only you’d be going back to your teenage years, your teenage experience, and not how teens are acting, thinking, and feeling today (not to mention the itty bitty problem that we can’t actually time travel). So what’s a passionate YA writer to do? Perhaps take this advice from cinematic legend Bill Murray in his breakout gopher-wrangler role in Caddyshack, “…I need to think like an animal and whenever possible look like one. I gotta get inside their pelts and crawl around…”
Now no one is suggesting you buy off-the-shoulder, belly-baring shirts, add pink hair streaks, or pierce your eyebrow (been there done that in the ‘80s). But Murray makes a point. To know our audience, we need to learn about them and here’s how. If you don’t currently work with teens, find ways to spend time with them through volunteering at community events, schools, leading clubs, or coaching. Most of all, listen and observe- but save the note taking for later- it just looks creepy otherwise. Also, ask teens to recommend shows they watch, video games they play, YouTube channels they follow, songs to add to your iPod, and what they’re reading. MTV and Ray William Johnson are for the 21-plus crowd too! Try shows like Awkward, The Inbetweeners, My Life as Liz, and for a raw, grittier look at teen life, the amazing show Skins. The UK version is on Netflix’s Instant Playlist.
Get enthusiastic, passionate, and interested in the things teens care about. What matters to them should matter to you. That’s the definition of a universal experience. kk?