"Good writing is good writing. There should be no dumbing down for children, and certainly not for teens."

Writing YA this NaNoWriMo holiday season?

Here are two publishing pros weighing in on style and voice in the latest from Promptly’s Top 20 Tips From WD in 2010 series (the quote-worthy quips that branded themselves in my mind when we were creating these magazines throughout the year). A regular prompt follows. Fear the phonies.

No. 15: YA Voice Lessons
I think teen readers are—and have
always been—a lot smarter and savvier than many give them credit for.
Today’s teens in particular tend to be remarkably mature, articulate and
pop-culturally aware. And I find that teens have an amazing radar for
inauthenticity—for ‘phonies,’ as our dear Holden Caulfield would put it.
So with all that in mind, I think YA readers really respond to an
authentic voice—one that doesn’t feel pandering or dumbed down in any
way. And if that voice is authentic—if it rings true and doesn’t try too
hard—I think YA readers are really open to wherever those voices can
range: from ones that are earnest and heartbroken, to wry, witty,
hilarious takes on life and love.”
—Aimee Friedman (author, Scholastic senior editor), “YA Today,” by Jessica Strawser, May/June 2010 (click here to check the rest of the issue out)

The line between YA and adult is very slight. While YA authors still need to be conscious that teens don’t have the life experience that adults do, the word choices, choice of topic, narrative skill, should be similar. I have always felt literature for children and teens should be evaluated on the same terms as adult literature. Good writing is good writing. There should be no cheapening or dumbing down for children, and certainly not for teens. And I suppose it’s like those great Disney movies; there can be a layer for the adult, a layer of meaning, humor, depth, that the younger readers won’t catch. Though the smarter ones always do.”
—Stephen Fraser (agent, Jennifer DeChiara Literary), “YA Today”


House Guests

Feel free to take the following prompt home or post a response (500
words or fewer, funny, sad or stirring) in the Comments section below.
By posting, you’ll be automatically entered in our occasional
around-the-office swag drawings. If you’re having trouble with the
captcha code sticking, e-mail your piece and the prompt to me at
writersdigest@fwmedia.com, with “Promptly” in the subject line, and I’ll
make sure it gets up.

In your new home, you discover an infestation of something you didn’t even think, well, infested places.

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5 thoughts on “"Good writing is good writing. There should be no dumbing down for children, and certainly not for teens."

  1. Mark James

    “Heaven’s Here For You. Michael speaking.”

    Beth pushed out the words she’d spent all night rehearsing. “Angels are infesting my new house.” That was as far as she’d taken it. Beyond that, there was nothing. Her voice turned bleak, hopeless. “Do you do that?”

    “You know what kind of angels, ma’am?”

    The phone was slippery in Beth’s sweaty hand. “Some look like babies. The ones in the den sing. And,” she dropped her voice to a whisper, “the ones in my bedroom, they . . . they’re naked.”

    “Do they touch you?”

    “They try to steal my blankets at night.”

    The man on the other end was all business, crisp. “So we got a level one infestation. Cherubs, herald angels, and possible imps. Be right over.”

    Before Beth could think about the ridiculous conversation she’d just had, the door bell rang. “No way,” she said.

    At the front door, a man in a black leather jacket, black jeans and black shades, carrying a clipboard said, “Morning ma’am. I’m Michael.” He pointed a thumb over his shoulder. “That’s Lucifer.”

    Beth fell back a step.

    “Could you show us around, please?”

    Her phone, on the kitchen counter, still had beads of sweat from her hands on the leather cover. “Who are you?”

    The one called Lucifer looked harmless, unless wrestlers having a bad day counted for anything. He said, “We’re from Heaven’s Here For You.”

    It wasn’t any crazier than the angels Beth could already hear tuning up in the den. “Takes one to catch one, is that it?”

    Michael, writing something on his clipboard said, “Something like that, ma’am. Okay if we come in?”

    “Why not.” Beth opened the door all the way. “The priest couldn’t do anything.”

    Lucifer’s smile as he came in made Beth think very, very naughty thoughts. He was sculpted like a body building dream. She’d looked into those warm, inviting eyes on the cover of every romance book she’d ever read.

    “Do you cheat on your husband?” he said.

    Beth’s thoughts kicked up from naughty to lust-inspired obscene. “Single.”

    Lucifer came closer, his dark brown eyes on hers. “Do you believe in the joys of fornication?”

    The deepest, warmest part of Beth was throbbing in a way that was shameful. She closed the few inches between them. Their lips were almost touching. “Only when I’m naked,” she said in a low, throaty voice.

    “Lucifer, get in here,” Michael said. “We’re on a job.”

    “I’ll be working on the imps,” Lucifer called back. He turned to Beth. “There’s a proven method for removing imps in the bedroom of a single woman.” Lucifer ran a finger down her lips, to her throat, then lower. “But she has to be naked, uncovered, open to what comes. Are you?”

    The heat pulsing through Beth was maddening. “About the naked part,” she said. “Give me a minute.”

    “I’ll give you much more than that.”

    Many long pleasure-filled hours later, Lucifer had taken care of the bedroom, and Beth. As it turned out, the angel infestation was a recurring problem in the house. Michael suggested that Beth sign up for regular service. She signed a four hundred year contract.

  2. Janel

    Michelle turned off the lamp on the nightstand and settled into bed. Moving into the new rental house was exhausting, but she was happy to no longer be dealing with noisy, night owl apartment neighbors.

    “What’s that?” She elbowed Steven.

    “What’s what?”

    “That scratching sound.”

    “I don’t hear anything.” He rolled away from her. “Maybe it’s a mouse.”

    She was dreaming of cute, cartoon mice doing a conga line around the bedroom when the alarm went off. Michelle slapped the snooze button, but the sound didn’t stop. She jolted fully awake when she remembered she hadn’t set the alarm clock last night. It sounded like a rooster was crowing in the wall behind the headboard. She sat up and poked Steven in the ribs. He was already awake.

    “Stupid chickens.” He groaned and pulled the sheets over his head. “We’re in the middle of the city.”

    Michelle scrambled out of bed and peeked through a crack in the curtains. An entire flock of chickens was milling around the yard. She had seen a few chickens in the yard when they were moving boxes into the house, but figured the owner would retrieve them. One disappeared around the corner of the house. The scratching noise started again.

    She dragged Steven outside to investigate. There was a large hole in the siding on the back of the house. He found a hammer in the garage and pried off a panel of siding. A blizzard of feathers engulfed them as chickens scurried around in protest to the intrusion. The stench of chicken droppins and rotten eggs made them gag. The straggly chickens were living in a space between the siding and interior walls of the house.

    “What do we do now?” Michelle held her nose and jumped as a crazed chicken darted between her feet.

    “Make chicken soup?”

  3. Dare Gaither

    I am not crazy!
    There really is a low hum coming from the storage room.
    Strange noises filled our new home, but this one took the cake.
    The persistent hum filled me with unspeakable rage.
    A strange compulsion moved my right thumb to push frantically
    at the mute button on an imaginary remote control.

    Annoyance squelched the tickle of fear in my gut.
    I flung open the door and stormed inside.
    My jaw dropped as a dozen eager faces turned to greet me.
    Before I could speak the babble started again.

    A brawny man wearing jeans and t-shirt stepped forward,
    holding out a pair of scissors and a scrap of metal cable.

    “Shear Perfection, the latest in cutting edge, heh-heh, technology!”

    He snipped through the cable with a quick squeeze of his hand.

    “Shear Perfection easily cuts the toughest steel cable.”

    Good Lord! My storage room had been overrun with an
    infestation of television pitch men!

    Still stabbing at the non-existent remote, I angrily shouted,
    “I don’t have a steel cable!”

    Seizing the moment, a rotund man in a chef’s hat
    elbowed his way to the front.

    “Meal Magic, the frying pan that never sticks!”

    He swirled a fried egg around the pan with a flourish
    and tossed it in the air. The egg bounced off the bottom
    of the pan and fell to the floor. I picked up the rubber egg
    and gingerly held it out to him. His round face turned beet red
    and he silently placed the fake egg back in his magic pan.

    Pandemonium broke out as the rest of the pitch men
    wrestled each other for the chance to speak.

    A voice rang out from the squirming mass of humanity.

    “Stain Secret! Instantly removes the toughest appearance of blueberry stains.”

    A tall thin man stood up and carefully smoothed his hair.
    He showed me a dazzling white shirt with a dark blue blob on the sleeve.

    “Really? It removes blueberry stains?”

    “It removes the appearance of blueberry stains. Instantly!”

    I noticed a bottle of blue finger paint roll slowly across the floor.
    A thin arm deftly grabbed the bottle and stuffed in his pocket.

    “Only $9.99!” He chirped, “We accept all major credit cards.”

    Hope sprang in my heart.

    “But, I don’t have a credit card.”

    Blessed silence filled my storage room.
    The group of shameless hawkers stared at me in disbelief.

    Without a word, they collected their wares and filed past me out the door.
    The thin man turned and hurled a look of utter disgust at me.

    “Y’all have a nice day now, you hear?”

    I waved cheerfully as they hurried down the street toward
    an unsuspecting group of women out for their morning walk.

  4. Nathan Honore

    “SHARON!!!!” I shouted. She rushed in, fresh paint splattered all over her.
    “What is it?”
    “Sharon, did the realtor mention who used to live here?”
    “Uh, I think she said an elderly lady. Why?”
    My back was to her. I couldn’t keep my eyes off the ridiculous infestation that lay before me. I didn’t even know these kinds of infestations existed. She stepped towards me. I didn’t know how to say it so I just let her see for herself.
    “Oh my God!”
    I nodded.
    I shrugged.
    “We have a…”
    “Yup. We have a cat infestation.” The words were so awkward. I felt as though I were on a TV show and the crew would pop out and yell that I was “punk’d”. But that didn’t happen. I had opened a hidden door that was flush with the stairwell and had no handle. How did nobody know about this? The purrs and meows that came from the tiny room sounded like a demented orchestra on a Monty Python sketch: The Vienna Cat Choir.
    At least forty cats stared up at me. I hate the shit out of cats. One hissed at my brother once when we were kids. Luckily a dog was also present and barked at the cat. From that day on, I was a dog guy. They have such piercing eyes of questionable color and intentions. Clearly, the old lady who previously resided here was a “Cat Lady.”
    “What do we do?” Sharon asked after our stunned silence.
    “I have no clue. Call the realtor?”
    “What can he do? Everything is finalized and the lady is dead.”
    “That is pretty final, “ I said.
    Sharon turned to me. She put her hands on her hips in the usual way, telling me to take care of it, without words. Then she left the room and resumed painting. That was her last words on the matter apparently.
    I devised a number of plans, most of which ended in the deaths of at least half of the felines. But I knew Sharon wouldn’t go for them.
    Then it hit me. I took a bunch of empty moving boxes and created a box tunnel out of the secret door and to the front door. Having my tunnel of cat freedom constructed, I started shouting and making maniacal gestures at the cats. I believe I may have barked a little too. It worked! The cats darted out, not looking the least bit graceful. Unfortunately I did not tape the tunnel together and the cats exploded out the sides of it, scattering throughout the freshly painted living room. They fell against the wet walls and ran towards the door. Sharon screamed as they stepped in her paint tray, making painted paw prints on our new wooden floors.
    Eventually they all left. I stood with my hands on my hips, like Superman. I was triumphant, and no cats were destroyed. Sharon did not share my moment.

  5. Becky Levine

    I love hearing this kind of advice. YA is not vocabulary or sentence length. It’s content that attracts a teen reader, that they can connect with. And, yes, they’ll read it. My 14-year-old son just read Life of Pi, which I don’t think anyone would call an easy read and LOVED it. Couldn’t stop reading.

    I just read a NF article in a teen magazine, in which the writing was great, but they highlighted the word HYPOCRISY and gave it it a mini side-bar glossary definition. All I could think was that I’m pretty sure most teens are more than familiar with that word. 🙂


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