Because it depends on who's watching...
Teenagers are curious creatures. So eager to be viewed as adults, and yet not ready to let go of childhood. I think they are bold and afraid and naive enough not to know they should sometimes be afraid, which gives them a tenacious boldness at times, and sometimes not bold when they should be bold, and not cautious when they should be cautious, and cruel when they should be kind, and kind when you expect them to be cruel, and fragile, and crazily endearing, and maddeningly frustrating, and all sorts of confusing all wrapped up in hormonal packages of strange awesomeness.
When they are around their peers, they tend to act like their peers. But when they are around adults, they tend to act older, more mature, more like adults. They have the capacity to be both children and adults, and to be viewed as both, either singularly or at the same time, and it is only at their stage in life that this can be said to be true, and that it can be acceptable. Nobody would tolerate someone my age acting like a child, nor an actual child acting like an adult. But a sixteen year old? A sixteen year old can get away with much on both ends of the spectrum, and for a writer, this age presents unique opportunities and challenges both to write about and to write for. My husband and I recently went to see Captain America: Civil War, and I was thrilled to see a new Spiderman take the screen - a true teenage Spiderman! But you know what really thrilled me about him? He precisely embodied this aspect of what and why I enjoy writing YA characters. He was a kid, but he got to fight alongside the "big boys," and he acquitted himself with style. His skills were on par with the rest, but his dialogue was quirky and juvenile. At one point, while kicking Cap's butt, he said something like, "Sorry Cap, nothing personal. I'm just here to impress Mr. Stark." You see? Teenage Peter Parker is both an adult and a child - both able to contend with the Avengers, but desiring their adult approval as well. It just depends on who's watching.
To write YA characters effectively, then, is to remember this dichotomy that exists in each and every one of them. And to remember how unique it makes them and the stage of life they are in. What an amazing treasure it is to handle such fragile souls, to send them on great adventures and see what they will do, and to invite them to remind us that we once traveled through that liminal space between childhood and adulthood, too.
Last night, in the wee hours of the morning (as is usually the case with me), I completed my 9th novel. I would love to say I feel accomplished, but right now I'm simply too tired. Too many long sleepless nights have gone into this one for that sense of accomplishment and completion to have hit me just yet, but I'm sure it will come after I get a solid night's sleep in me. I don't even really feel ready to blog about the experience, but I think, looking back, I will be sorry if I don't, so I'm pushing through the exhaustion to take down a few thoughts.
This novel was a unique experience for me. In the midst of writing my dystopian trilogy (The Breeder Cycle) this winter, the idea for a retelling of Hans Christian Andersen's The Little Mermaid came to me as if down from above. I think it was largely because I had recently watched Kenneth Branagh's Cinderella, and because I'm acting as advisor to a thesis student who is writing his thesis on fairy tales, and a bunch of other scattered reasons, but when the idea struck, the entire story came together so fast, I knew I could forego my usual 2-3-year planning period and put together a working outline in just a few weeks. I wrote the most complete ring composition outline I've ever put together in about three weeks flat, put together an entire cast of characters, and started writing The Girl in the Sea on February 29th.
It's amazing what a good outline will do for you, because here I am, on May 11th, with a 101,000-word novel that, back in February only existed in my head and is now completed on paper. And not only that, but I've begun the process of outlining the next novel in this series, which will go on to be my Fairy Tale Collection - each book of which will stand alone, but exist in the same universe.
I will tell you more about the story in the months to come, but for now let me just say that it will be both familiar and unfamiliar. The beauty of a retelling of a classic tale is that the reader can come to it with expectations - and hopefully have those expectations fulfilled - but also come to it to find something new. The Hans Christian Andersen story on which my novel is based is very, very short, so that gave me a lot of room to add my own take and create my own mythology surrounding the various creatures populating the world of The Little Mermaid. I also had so much fun telling a story for once that is unabashedly romantic, rather than romance playing second-fiddle, and I enjoyed the complexity that writing romance - and forbidden romance, at that! - allowed me to explore in the nuances between the characters. It was a fun, fun book to write!
But now I'm waxing on because I'm so, soooo tired, and if there's one thing I can do when I'm tired, it's write! But one more thing before I go: What next? Well, I'm letting the manuscript rest for at least one more day before I go back to it, and then I am going to start a full revision. There are a lot of rocky patches I know need to be smoothed over, and probably a couple of scenes that need complete overhauls, but the hard work of getting the story down on paper is done, and that's the hardest part. After that, I will send it off for editing and explore my publication options. I will keep you all posted! And as usual, the best way to keep up to date with my publishing news is to subscribe to my newsletter!
Now off to get some sleep...
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