On June 7, 2015, Arnyoung wrote, I was wondering if anyone has had any problems with thinking about the audience when you write. I have kind of the opposite problem from many of the others who have commented here. I really like writing about characters who are different from me. I have mostly written about adults in historical fiction, but I am a teenager and my family thinks that I should write about angsty teens and depression and things because that’s what some writing contests in my age group are about. It’s not like I can’t write teenagers, but I would prefer to use my own ideas rather than the ones my mom gives me. Any suggestions?
There seem to be several questions here:
∙ Is there a problem thinking (or not thinking) about audience when we write?
∙ Should we write for contests?
∙ Should we generate our own ideas rather than work on ideas supplied by others?
∙ Is there anything wrong with writing adult characters when we are teenagers?
∙ Not positive about this one: Is historical fiction a fit subject for a teen?
Just saying for starters, the posts and prompts on this blog are rarely angst-ridden or depressive, and people read the blog, fool around with my prompts, and discuss their own work, which isn’t usually (although sometimes) full of teen misery. There are many audiences, and lots of readers adore historical fiction. Count me among them.
However, nothing is simple. I’d say yes and no to each of these questions.
Let’s start with the third one. I don’t think we should put aside our own ideas, ideas that are tugging at us, that please us, that make us enthusiastic about writing. That’s what we should write, because writing is hard enough without it feeling like medicine we have to choke down.
But I confess that sometimes I get sick of myself, of the way I word things, of the themes I tackle habitually. When we’re not full of an idea, or when we suspect that we, too, are covering familiar territory repeatedly, an outside idea can broaden us. If the idea seems too alien, we can free write about it and see what associations it calls up. We can make lists of possible directions we can take the story.
Second question. I see nothing wrong with writing for contests. You might win! I’m ignorant about this: Do contests really specify that characters have to be troubled teens? If they do, and you’re in the mood for something outside your usual genre, sure, go for it. If they don’t, why not submit something in your usual vein anyway, in the hope that good writing will win the day?
Now let’s imagine that the almost unimaginable best happens: You write an edgy story about a disturbed and disturbing teen and win the contest, which is not what’s almost unimaginable. Of course you can win! What follows, however, is that the story gets national attention, is anthologized in a collection of best short stories by emerging writers in 2015. Suddenly, you are urged to keep writing in this new vein.
Well, if you were delighted with this new genre and have lots more ideas, pursue what interests you. But if you still love your old genre, go back to it. Your new readers may follow you. Some certainly will. And even if no one does, the most important thing is to be the voice you want to be.
Fourth question. There is nothing wrong with writing adult characters when you’re a teenager. Some people only catch up to their emotional, mental age when they reach their forties. And anyway, it’s hard to avoid writing adult secondary characters, so young writers have experience.
But if you’re writing from in the first person of an adult, you may want to ask an adult if you’re getting it right, if the voice rings authentically adult. It’s not so different from writing in a voice of the opposite sex. We want to be sure we’re hitting the right note.
Here is one tip that may be helpful for some: Sarcasm tends to fade in adulthood. Just saying.
I’ve been an adult for a long time as we all know since my recent birthday. My interior life was very different when I was in my twenties than in my forties and again in my sixties. It was different, aside from age, when I was working for someone else from what it is now, working myself and living a writing life. If I live to be very old, I suspect it will change again. So there’s all that to consider. Still, go for it if that’s what appeals to you.
The fifth question is easy. Of course historical fiction is a fit topic for a teen. A great topic! As has come up recently, we want to do our research and get the details and the big historical events right.
Now for the first question. The only audience I like to think about when I write is an admiring one. Sometimes I have my editor in mind if I think she’ll love what I’m doing. If I’m not sure, I’m best off banishing her. But my most constant audience when I write is me, because I hope to write what I would enjoy reading. I rarely wonder if what I’m doing is right for a young audience. Occasionally, I think about that when it comes to word choice, and usually if I want to use a ten dollar word, I decide to go for it. The kids can look it up or figure out the meaning from context or grow up having the wrong idea about a particular word, which could cause a little embarrassment of the sort I’ve survived more than once. Most of the age appropriateness comes naturally to me, and I think it will to you, too. I put material into my poems for adults that don’t occur to me in my fiction for young people.
Here are three prompts:
∙ Write about a teen in the Middle Ages whose family is unsympathetic even dysfunctional in whatever way you pick. Let’s make them neither impoverished peasants nor nobility; the father is a member of the bakers’ guild (or any guild you choose), and everybody has to work in the family business. Think of something your MC wants or a problem the family faces. Write the story.
∙ Move the teen and the family into the twenty-first century. The family business is a fast food franchise. Everybody has to help. If you can, use a version of the same problem that motivated your medieval story. If you can’t, create a new one.
∙ Go back to an earlier blog post or dig into Writing Magic or Writer to Writer for a prompt that feels way outside your comfort zone. Give it a least a half hour’s worth of a whirl.
Have fun, and save what you write!