Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Writing 101: What Are Your Responsibilities as a YA Author?

Every writer wrestles with themselves. Does that sentence make sense? Is this character relatable? Should I add that cliffhanger? Authors struggle with questions. Now, I'm going to dissect the one that's always on my mind.

Wait...Can I Write That?

I write YA books that feature teenage main characters. As such, I often ask myself what sort of responsibilities I have to my audience.
  • Sex: Personally, I'm extremely uncomfortable writing about it. But the reality is, teens do have sex. If you write about it in your YA books, I encourage you to write about safe sex.
  • Drugs: Teens also do drugs, sometimes. Many fine books look at this frankly, and there's nothing wrong with that. However, you do a disservice to your readers if you don't show the real consequences of drug abuse. It can be life-threatening. Do not make light of it.
  • School: I read this great YA blog, and lately they've been running an ongoing feature about the many cliches in YA books. One of them is teens who don't ever go to school, or even think about it. Your teen characters should be going to school. If they ditch, if they do poorly, they should face repercussions. Don't you when you shirk your responsibilities? 
  • Underage drinking: It happens. There are entire movies about teenagers buying alcohol to have parties. But drinking to excess at any age can be dangerous and it can lead to problems (like hangovers, and fatal car accidents). So if you show it in your books, do so three-dimensionally. Always strive to show all sides of a situation; this makes for better writing anyway.
Like it or not, as a YA author you have to be a bit of a role model. You have a responsibility to your audience. I realized this for myself after I exchanged emails with a mom. Her daughter read one of my books and enjoyed it, so the mom read it, too. During the course of our email conversation, she mentioned that her daughter had a habit of adopting weird (potentially unhealthy) dieting habits from the books she reads. Teens pick up on all those little details you write. What if one of them leads them into behavior that they don't even know is bad for them?

You've decided to speak directly to young readers with your stories. When you do so, think carefully about exactly what you're saying to them. You always have a responsibility to your readers as an author, no matter how old they are. Do your best to wear that responsibility well.

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  1. I am so concerned about the issues you raise, and the irate mothers that might be incited, that I cannot bring myself to write YA. I've already been asked to stay out of Boston.

  2. lol I'd be interested in hearing the Boston story