As I do the various bits of prewriting necessary before I start writing Iron Mountain, I’m spending a lot of time noodling over my characters. My story is science fiction but I want me characters to seem real to my young readers. Here are some tips on how I plan to accomplish this.
Abandon Being Mom. Most of us who write for teens are not teens ourselves. I’m actually the Mom of a teen. Ours is the house where anywhere from 3 to 13 kids may gather on a Saturday. Suffice it to say that because I’m the Mom on duty, I get in a lot of Mom hours. “Don’t do that, do this and seriously? When did that seem like a good idea?” When I write for teens, I cannot be even a cool mom. If I can’t put that aside, I’ll sound like a mom. According to my son, we moms have a distinctive voice. Hey, he’s the son of a writer. He also comments on my motive and on subtext. For my characters to sound like real teens, I have to give them free rein.
Listen In. I also have to listen to how real teens talk. Teens today sound different from teens sounded even ten years ago. They use different phrases. Not that I want to load my dialogue down with authentic jargon, but I want them to sound real. The teens in my living room use terms that originated in texts. I may know what they mean when I see them but hearing them sometimes throws me.
Know How They Differ. Some things are very different from when I was a teen. Where we worried about AIDS, that’s a non-issue today. Yes, it still exists but it isn’t the death sentence it was way back when. They grew up with high levels of technology. A microwave oven and VCR were a huge deal when I was a teen. I helped my father program our first computer. Now everyone carries their own phones which are essentially mini-computers. There are sports leagues that don’t involve any kind of ball but instead center on online gaming.
These are some of the things that I have to keep in mind as I create my teen characters. I’m sure I’ll discover more, but this is where I am today.