Mind games

Yes, the title’s a a bit deceiving. I’m not really playing mind games, but when it comes to hooking a reader, writers have to execute the right strategies to get their readers into the heads of their characters so their readers can care enough to connect with their characters.

YA writers and readers, I need your input. Being a novice, I am careful to follow all the rules. Survey says—so far—editors don’t fancy adult POV characters telling part of the story, even if young adult characters carry the majority of it.

What do you think? Can a successful YA novel include an adult POV character, especially one who can speak candidly and objectively about the events in the teen world without passing judgment? Will teens buy into the story?

We all have our artistic licenses, and we can navigate inside and outside the boundaries. I have a story or two to tell, and for me to tell it truly, I need to take my young readers into the mind of an adult.

For years, the teacher in me has fought for the young adults, defending their hair styles, clothing choices, tats, piercings, music choices, etc. I’ve heard seasoned adults put down young people because of what they are, the age they are, without getting to know who they are, without getting into their heads.

But now I’m old. I see life from a different perspective. I think the underdog is fastly becoming the older adult, sadly synonymous with antiquated and obsolete, especially the older teacher.

Dedicated older teachers have given their students everything they’ve learned, as well as a portion of their paychecks to buy extra school supplies, and at the end of the day, these same teachers watch their prodigies leave their classrooms and march out to the student parking lots to drive off in shiny new machines, hot from the assembly line.

Meanwhile, after packing their briefcases and bags, seasoned teachers drag their weary bodies and pounds of take-home work to their own junkers waiting for them in the teacher’s parking lot. They count their pennies along the way, hoping they’ll have enough to pay for gas to take them to the middle of next month, pay day. And they wonder, “Do I really have anything that makes these kid want to listen to me?”

When I write, I want to make my young readers feel something about themselves, about their peers, about their mentors. Even if I’m making them laugh, I want them to learn something, to experience Verstehen, “empathy” or “understanding.”

I want to bring people together—not further divide them. The generation gap is growing exponentially.

I think it’s time YA novels, along with other forms of media, stop downplaying the role of the older adult, especially teachers.

It’s not uncommon for young consumers to be media illiterate. They believe everything they’re told. For years, we teachers have been the “bad guys” of most kid shows. Even Charlie Brown’s teacher was just another “Wa Wa Wa WA Wah Wa.”

And have you seen the movie trailers for Bad Teacher, staring Cameron Diaz, Jason Timberlake, and Jason Segel? I don’t want to be portrayed as just another a bad character in the lives of my students. The list goes on. Let us not forget Mr. Herbert Garrison from South Park, Professor Umbridge in Harry Potter, Edna Krabappel from The Simpsons, and Sue Sylvester from Glee. And that’s just fiction!

Turn on the nightly news, and viewers can catch mug shots of teachers who have crossed the line and committed pedophilia and other criminal acts.

Yep, I’m on my soapbox again, but oh how powerful is the act of persuasion.

Let me write. Let me SHOW teens life as it really is. Let ME persuade. Let me take young readers on a trip into the minds of older characters who have been there, done that, and lived to tell about it without condemning or commanding the young people they’re sent to guide.

I believe we writers are doing our YA readers a disservice by not allowing them to listen to the older characters. Yes, teens want to be the stars of their own shows, but they need adults in their lives. They need adults in their books. They need to see into the heads of the adults, to see adults critically, not stereotypically.

Face it. Kids grow up. The thought terrifies them. They need the reassurance that growing up doesn’t mean losing their sense of adventure, their dreams, their sense of wonder. Stepping into the mind of an adult POV character reassures them that growing up doesn’t mean giving up who they are and who they want to be.

I asked my young adult readers what they think about adult POV characters in YA novels. The following is a sample of what they had to say:

  • Rebecca said that adding an adult character who remains a quiet confidant makes the book dramatic because the adult holds a secret but chooses not to tell.
  • Haylee said adult characters work only if they have the “cool” factor and if they’re fun.
  • Lynnie and Payton said likeable adult characters in YA novels provide reliable advice to teen characters.
  • Charlie pointed out that authoritative figures are common in any situation involving teens, but including them in a YA novel provides futher insight or wisdom and creates a parallelism between child and adult.
  • Kayla said she doesn’t have a problem with adults being characters in YA novels because if the adult is cool enough for the characters to interact with then the adult is probably cool enough for the reader to hear his or her thoughts.
  • Izzy said adult characters in YA novels act as guides for the teen characters, and Whitney said adult characters allow teen readers to look up to someone older.
  • Beth said one of her favorite books involves a teacher who is there for her students who need help.
  • Ashleigh, Tyler and Liz said adding an adult character that teens can talk to and relate to makes the story itself more believable, and Aubrey said adult characters create a trustworthy, comforting safety net for both young adult characters and young adult readers.
  • Benjamin pointed out that YA novels with adult POV characters might encourage the readers, especially those in high school, to feel more like adults themselves.
  • And Katie stated the obvious—adults are a part of every teen’s life. Why shouldn’t they play a role in their stories?

So writers, readers, lend me your advice based on your experience. Should writers avoid incorporating adult POV characters in their novels? Tell me what you think. I want to learn from you.

Leaving Manchester for the good

Well, I’ve decided to pack my bags and to leave Manchester.

I just wanted to take a moment to say thank you to all of you who have supported me during the three or so weeks that I have been in possession of a complete, revised novel. I especially want to thank the EDGE staff for advising me during the year-long writing process. Without your help I would not have had “straight from the horse’s mouth insider information” concerning what teens do and do not want to read. And thank you, EDGE staff, for helping me get a better handle on what teens would really do if they were faced with the same types of crises that TJ and Megan face. I could not have made it this far without you.

Even though you have been an incredible support system to me, I realize I need more—namely an agent, an editor and a publishing house. Hmmm. I have bribed you a couple of times in the past. Would a bribe work now? How about Aztec Chicken every Friday at El Manantial until for the first person who can bring me the three aforementioned items?  On second thought, let me rethink that offer. I am envisioning an illegal kidnapping plot involving one or more Edgers—all for the sake of Aztec Chicken. I can see said agent being duct-taped and taken away in a little orange VW bus full of crazed writers in dreadlocks and hippie shirts.

But as I was saying, I have decided to leave Manchester to attend the ACFW Conference at the end of summer if all goes well, but I’ll return within a few days. (And, yes, some family members will accompany me to make sure I stay out of trouble.) I hope that while I am there I will learn the process of acquiring the three treasures listed above. All kidding aside, please keep me in your prayers. The YA (young adult) market is very competitive right now, and prayer is a necessity.

I’m really shocked that the YA market is so tough. When I walk into the classroom, I see most of you lugging around a book or two, and I’m not talking about required reading. Of course, I teach writers, and good readers, as we know, make good writers. Maybe that’s why YOU have a book in your hands. Your reading and writing go hand in hand.

I want to know what it is about the Harry Potter series and the Twilight series that lures both young and older readers. What magic do these novels possess? Are teens reading anything else these days? If so, what? Speaking of reading, what are you reading right now? 

I’ll go first, and then it’s your turn.  As you know I just finished, The Heart’s Journey Home by Jen Stephens. Next, on my list is In Between by Jenny B. Jones. After that, I’ll looking forward to a novel by Kaye Dacus. I was also hoping for another Odd Thomas novel by Dean Koontz, but it appears Odd is only appearing in graphic novels these days. Sigh.

It’s your turn now.