At a CBC morning interview in Saskatoon last September I was asked how I connect to my teen audience, the unspoken end of the sentence may have been “when you’re as old as you are.” I answered, perhaps too glibly, that people mistake writers for people who chase some market when they really just write for themselves. In my case my soul and psyche is somehow stuck in 14-15 year old mode and so I write for that teen. Not every teen, just that one.
Besides how can you capture one universal teen voice? Or captivate all teen readers? Young people are just younger adults; they are not a different species. The way a teenaged person speaks is a function of his socio economic background more than a function of his age. Each young person is unique; every character’s voice can be justified by the background a writer creates.
Here is my thirteen-year-old grandson Hunter reading The Life of Pi. I bet most critics if faced with a thirteen-year-old male character reading this novel might question it. Heck I question it. He saw the movie and loved it; now, as he reads, he hears an East Indian voice narrating to him, even though I assured him Yann Martel is not East Indian.
Creating authentic dialogue is by no means a task of creepily stalking teens. I think it’s more a function of writing a believable, if more artful, facsimile of a younger voice. Nobody wants to read the way real people speak, it’s too mundane. Growing up in French Canada (with German parents ) while attending English school allowed me to listen to a number of rhythms and cadences which naturally have flowed into my dialogue.
What about topics that capture kids? Again there are all different kinds of young readers and no one book can grab all of them. I think all writers should inhale and observe the world around them whether they write historical or dystopian.
A moment after I was lying down beside him observing Voice of Fire by Barnett Newman. If your eyes follow the edge of the red, against the black, up and up, you will experience a “zip” or flash of orange colour. Too cool, for a thirteen-year-old…and a senior author.