I recently attended Bouchercon, a convention that is as much, if not more, for readers as it is for writers of mysteries. Although Bouchercon is heavily weighted toward adult books, there were some offerings designed for children’s literature and I was eager to attend the Young Adult panel, “It Smells Like Teen Spirit,” moderated by Maria Alexander.
Panelist B.K. Stevens said she has a freedom with her YA characters that she doesn’t when she writes adult mysteries because she can have younger characters put themselves in dangerous situations that adults wouldn’t. “It is in character for teenagers to do reckless, stupid things,” she said and that by the end of the book, her young characters can grow and learn.
J.C. Lane said YA readers have a freshness to their emotions that adults don’t have. So how does an adult write YA literature with an authentic voice? Ann Redisch Stampler said that every age you’ve been is still in you and you simply have to access those feelings and emotions. Kelley Armstrong added that very little has changed from what happened in our teen years.
Whether or not to use slang that might go out of style was discussed. Chris Grabenstein said he tries not to use modern slang with the exception of cool because it has been around 30 years. Stampler said she feels the same about the way text messages are written within a story because the abbreviations could become dated. She also added that if your character has an accent, just suggest it rather than indicating it in all of that character’s dialogue.
One of the best pieces of advice was given by Grabenstein who said to always write as if nobody wants to read a single word. “Grab their attention!”