December 3, 2010 | By: Tracy

Timeless Teens?

My current WIP (whose rough draft I vow to have completed by the 15th even if it kills me) is my first attempt at YA. I read both adult fiction and YA, so it’s only natural my story ideas would cross between the two. 

Writing for teens and for adults are two different beasts entirely, I'm learning. It's not so much HOW you write or WHAT you write about. I think the main divider is the extent of the importance adults place on certain matters versus their teen counterparts. Since I'm a bit of a Peter Pan type myself that part isn't so hard for me to tap into.

The real problem I'm having is figuring out what cultural reference are still relevant to teens, even those they haven't necessarily lived through. Elvis Presley for instance. The man died before I was born, but I still know exactly who he is and I'm willing to bet most teens have heard of him before. But not all cultural references are quite so timeless.

For instance, In my story there's a constant bantering that takes place between two characters. He likes to pick on her because she's short. She teases him because his hair is a bit on the longish side. They do this by greeting each other with ever-changing snarky nicknames.

Even if this story were to be published four years from now, I'm pretty sure most readers would still get a Justin Bieber dig...

<---- For the record, Carter looks more like this. No offense, Beebs, but you can't compete.

(I must stop staring at the picture. Back on track)

So I know the Bieber deal is fine, but would a sixteen year old girl think to use a Beatles reference?

And the one I'm really iffy on is when he refers to her as Frodo.  Now several years back I wouldn't have questioned it, because the movies were huge, and there were plenty of teenage girls (and those of us a tad bit older) who were all kinds of googly-eyed over Orlando Bloom and Elijah Wood. But is it a reference they'd still get now? Do teen boys still tackle books like LOTR?

I guess what I'm asking of my other YA writing friends, what do you do to verify whether a particular reference makes sense to today's teens?  And/or does anyone know of a teen I can borrow for questioning?  :D

10 witty remarks:

Matthew Rush said...

My daughter is 14, and she does guest posts for the Bookanistas sometimes. She'll be getting her own blog going soon, and then you can certainly ask her.

I write YA and IMHO, it's very important to try not to date your story with too many cultural references to a certain period in time. Bieber makes perfect sense right now, but (hopefully) he will fade out of the spotlight soon and people won't know who you're talking about in a few years.

Tracy said...

Good Lord, I accidently deleted my own comment. Not a good morning!

Matt, make sure you def, let me know when your daughter gets her blog up.

And I agree about not overusing any references that might date the material. But it can be tough to write a contemporary (albeit paranormal) teenage piece without adding some of it.

Stina Lindenblatt said...

Wow, you lost me at the picture. ;)

You definitely have to be careful about dating your book (hmmm, that's sounds funny). I make a reference to Orlando Bloom in mine, but that's because the actor is going to be around for awhile, and so is his rocking bod. :)

And the thing to remember, even if your book is published, the shelf life won't be long . . . unless it becomes a classic. So it is realistic to use references like you've mentioned, just try to limit them.

(Very jealous that you're going to buy LS as soon as it comes out. I have to wait for it to be shipped. But at least then I have time to TRY to finish off my wip first.) ;)

Jodi Henry said...

I write both YA and Adult and I have heard on a few agents sites that you shouldn't date your books with referances that are constantly changing. Seriously, by the time you publish your referances may be so out of date that nothing makes sense to your reader.

Some authors still do it though. Melissa De La Cruze does it in the Blue Bloods series, like all five books. They are full of fashion trendy designer names that change every years during fashion week.

Maybe it depends on your editor/publisher. IDK. And sorry no teens here. *thank goodness*


Shannon O'Donnell said...

I have a whole day of high school students to use as verification if I need to - not to mention for spying, eavesdropping, etc... If you have questions you want me to ask them, just email them and I'll take a poll. :-)

Kimberly Franklin said...

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The winners are listed in this post! Congrats!!

Carol Riggs said...

I try to be REALLY careful about things that would date my novels. I would think that Frodo would be more timeless than Justin Bieber, but then, I'm not a teen. ;o)

I personally dislike reading novels with references to things I know nothing or only a little about. It's sorta like name-dropping for popularity. Not that YOU are doing this, but I've seen novels saturated with brand names and movie actor names and book names and band names, and it doesn't do anything for me (except grumble to myself and make me skim)!

Pk Hrezo said...

I think classic icons are fine. There's a reason why they're classics and if the teen reader doesn't know who they are, they will after they read your book.
I believe moderation is key when using current styles, however that's why there's a genre called contemporary. It's fun to go back and read a book to see what was in at the time.
IMO LOTR will never go out of style. I've used it in my YA stories too.

Guinevere said...

I'd worry about dating something with Beiber, but I think Frodo is one of those classic references that's always safe (as Pk Hrezo said).

I also switch back and forth between adult/YA (actually, most of what I write is "New Adult" but I'm not sure how far to take that particular descriptor yet as I see some agents and publishers using it but not many), and YA definitely does pose its own challenges!

Tina Toler said...

I am using a somewhat fictional band instead of an actual person in mine. With that I can get the value from an icon without dating it.

The reason I say it is somewhat fiction is the band, The Love Bomb, is real. It's sole members are my son and his friend Brandi. They have written songs but haven't done much with it and don't get to practic much so it's kind of my way of paying tribute to them.

And...I absolutely love your picture your posted. Where were guys like that when I was young?

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