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Old 11-15-2012, 02:38 PM   #1
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Relatability in YA SFF

This one is mainly for fantasy and SF writers and is based on curiosity more than a specific issue with my own writing:

How do you personally make sure your YA characters are relatable to real-life teenagers when they’re living in an environment that would force a person to grow up quickly (no schools/adult figures of authority all dead/world at war with space bats etc)? How do you ensure a character is not just an adult in a teenager’s body?
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Old 11-15-2012, 03:38 PM   #2
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A big thing, I think, is allowing them to make mistakes. The environment might force them to grow up, but it isn't an instant thing, it still takes time. So when you show them screw up where "real" adults (or just, more experienced people) might know better, we're reminded that they've lived less than a quarter of their lives and are still learning.
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Old 11-15-2012, 04:01 PM   #3
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I agree with that.

I also have to add that it's through their reactions and interactions with others (even if they're not authority). They're going to show immaturity in situations, their decisions might be questionable or they might not always be logical. I don't feel like that changes with or without authority.

And I think it's in the attitude. There's always that (slightly stereotypical) disregard for their safety, the whole belief that they can't get hurt or what they're doing is right.

I feel like a teenager can easily be a teenager, even outside the normal experience and situation. They might grow up quicker, but they're still going to make teenager choices.
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Old 11-15-2012, 06:23 PM   #4
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Agree, though it's a very fine line. I may or may not have crossed it in my last book. Still waiting for agents to chime in on that, lol. So I may not be the best person to answer.

I think you can still have the issues of finding your place in the world, and shifting from the self-centric view to a more balanced, broad view in that situation. A characteristic of teens is that they're very "me" oriented. That's just biology and normal intellectual and emotional development, not a diss, mind. But I think you'd still have to go through that development no matter what the world.
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Old 11-15-2012, 06:43 PM   #5
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I think there are plenty of real-world situations that force kids and teenagers to grow up quickly, situations where the parental figures are absent, or untrustworthy, or drunk all the time or whatever. The fact that it's an SFF setting won't change that--just makes the reason for them growing up quickly a little different than what you might find in the real world.
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Old 11-15-2012, 07:01 PM   #6
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I read Epic Fantasy when I was a teen and found it very relatable. I usually read stories with teenaged protagonists who were were thrown into a new situation and were struggling and insecure. I think that made them easy to identify with. Sure they were forced into adult roles, but they didn't know how to fit into those roles, and to me that is very much the teenage experience.
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Old 11-15-2012, 07:12 PM   #7
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Keep in mind that just because a teenager is thrust into an adult role and "grows up fast" doesn't mean they've really matured. If all adults disappeared/died/whatever, teenagers would have to keep the world "running," but they'd still think like a teenager. In other words, their behaviors might shift rapidly, but their emotional maturity would still progress gradually. This makes for a wonderful tension between how they must act and how they feel. Even their actions wouldn't match with how an adult would behave. Not really.
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Old 11-15-2012, 11:10 PM   #8
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This makes for a wonderful tension between how they must act and how they feel.

And this is, exactly, why I write YA.


I always have my characters have issues teenagers can relate with. Anger at parents, anger at world, wanting to be someone else, wanting to be someone better, self-hate, obsessive love.

And in every respect, I make them feel intensely. It's a rare teen that doesn't feel lots all the time.
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Old 11-16-2012, 07:40 AM   #9
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I actually wrote a historical science fiction, and similar issues apply. I incorporated a lot of themes of butting heads with authority and assumed societal roles, allowing her to occasionally act immaturely even when she's expected to be more adult, desire for freedom and love, etc.
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Old 11-16-2012, 11:43 AM   #10
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Man, you think you guys are having trouble making your MCs relatable?

My MCs are golems with thousands of past lives influencing their personalities, but those personalities are freshly forged teenage-style ones that are only a few days old!
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Old 11-16-2012, 01:50 PM   #11
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Relationships are key for me. First loves, best friends, complicated relationships with adults/guardians/parents/authority.

Making decisions and mistakes are important too. Reacting to their decisions and mistakes.

Bullying and teasing between peers is another big one. You don't have to be in school to get teased by someone of a similar age, they could be a mean cousin or sibling.

The MC being a bit different and not really fitting in.

There's always room to fit in the regular teen angst. With sci-fi you just get to be more creative with it. As long as it's well written with complexities then it will fit into pretty much any time period or planet.
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Old 11-16-2012, 02:25 PM   #12
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Quote:
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Keep in mind that just because a teenager is thrust into an adult role and "grows up fast" doesn't mean they've really matured. If all adults disappeared/died/whatever, teenagers would have to keep the world "running," but they'd still think like a teenager. In other words, their behaviors might shift rapidly, but their emotional maturity would still progress gradually. This makes for a wonderful tension between how they must act and how they feel. Even their actions wouldn't match with how an adult would behave. Not really.
On top of all the wonderful things everyone's said, I want to come back to this one with an example.

I don't know if you're a gamer, OP, but take a look at the cast and story for Final Fantasy VIII. (I know, it's old at this point.) They are teenaged characters in very adult roles though still manage to feel like teens. Big emotions, overreactions, hurt feelings, emphasis on friendship, the occasional goofing off.

But where it really gets interesting is the protagonist, Squall. He's supposed to be the leader (actually, he's just thrust into the role against his will) and has been acting like a little adult ever since his big 'sister' vanished. He's laconic, slow to trust, and just a very grumpy guy. And as the game peels back the layers you see he's doing all of this to hide the fact that he's terrified and has no idea what to do. He's a kid behaving how he thinks mature adults behave rather than growing to that place naturally.
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Old 11-16-2012, 06:22 PM   #13
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On top of all the wonderful things everyone's said, I want to come back to this one with an example.

I don't know if you're a gamer, OP, but take a look at the cast and story for Final Fantasy VIII. (I know, it's old at this point.) They are teenaged characters in very adult roles though still manage to feel like teens. Big emotions, overreactions, hurt feelings, emphasis on friendship, the occasional goofing off.

But where it really gets interesting is the protagonist, Squall. He's supposed to be the leader (actually, he's just thrust into the role against his will) and has been acting like a little adult ever since his big 'sister' vanished. He's laconic, slow to trust, and just a very grumpy guy. And as the game peels back the layers you see he's doing all of this to hide the fact that he's terrified and has no idea what to do. He's a kid behaving how he thinks mature adults behave rather than growing to that place naturally.
I <3 Squall, but the thing that stuck with me all these years was Irving's reaction to his assigned mission in Deling City. He was so real at that moment.
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Old 11-16-2012, 06:31 PM   #14
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Yeah, the entire game should just be studied by YA SF/F writers for how it handles teen characters in an intense "adult" plot. Even Seifer, Raijin and Fujin are brilliant when you remember they're just kids in all of this - which makes them better villains. *nods* If you don't fall in love with at least half the cast, you might not have a soul.
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Old 11-16-2012, 08:00 PM   #15
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To be plain honest, I think the relatibility in YA (those I read, anyway) just dumb down teenagers a lot... I mean, it's not actually necessary for a compelling story: what does it matter the MC hasn't crushed on anyone, or doesn't have problems with their parents, if the plot brings much more interesting things to discuss and think about other than just immaturity, love, school and family? There are greater things to think about.

I don't understand at all the need for them to make mistakes or crush on others characters in order to be more "relatable" as if it's the only thing that makes a story read-worthy. But then again, that's just me and I won't be sending a MS to a publisher until half on the next year, so maybe I'm doing it completely wrong...
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Old 11-16-2012, 08:14 PM   #16
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Man, you think you guys are having trouble making your MCs relatable?

My MCs are golems with thousands of past lives influencing their personalities, but those personalities are freshly forged teenage-style ones that are only a few days old!
Well this puts my issues into perspective!
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Old 11-16-2012, 08:28 PM   #17
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To be plain honest, I think the relatibility in YA (those I read, anyway) just dumb down teenagers a lot... I mean, it's not actually necessary for a compelling story: what does it matter the MC hasn't crushed on anyone, or doesn't have problems with their parents, if the plot brings much more interesting things to discuss and think about other than just immaturity, love, school and family? There are greater things to think about.

I don't understand at all the need for them to make mistakes or crush on others characters in order to be more "relatable" as if it's the only thing that makes a story read-worthy. But then again, that's just me and I won't be sending a MS to a publisher until half on the next year, so maybe I'm doing it completely wrong...

When we raise the stakes and add conflict, making them "relatable" makes it more visceral because the reader knows what that's like and can feel the levity. Think of it on a simplified level: give a five year old a book where the main conflict is whether or not a woman's bank will grant her a loan so she doesn't default on her mortgage. Even if you tell the kid she'll lose her house, it won't be as compelling as a story of another five year old who lost her favorite toy, regardless of how you word it.

Young people are inherently more self involved. That's actually one of the differences between a YA voice and an adult voice. The adult voice may ask "what will be the consequences of this?" Where the YA voice is more likely to ask "what will be the consequences of this for me?"

It's not about dumbing down, it's about considering the life experience of your audience and allowing them to make an emotional connection. All of the best stories allow us to relate, even on very basic levels (fears and insecurities being the most common).
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Old 11-16-2012, 08:33 PM   #18
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You know that thing when you repeat the same word too many times and it starts to sound wrong, or you're trying to impress someone and you think and think and think of what you're going to say and then you end up asking what type of cheese they like in the middle of a conversation about Nietzsche? Well this is what spurned my original Q, only I was thinking about writing teenage characters because my new book isn’t quite working. Then all the thinking made me forget how to do word stuff. Thanks for the comments, I am now better and have book-fixing ideas.



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I don't know if you're a gamer, OP, but take a look at the cast and story for Final Fantasy VIII. (I know, it's old at this point.) They are teenaged characters in very adult roles though still manage to feel like teens. Big emotions, overreactions, hurt feelings, emphasis on friendship, the occasional goofing off.

I’m not much of a gamer precisely because I used to play hours and hours of FF VIII! But I kept getting a bit weird and thinking I was in the game, so had to stop. I had a massive crush on Rinoa despite a) her not being real and b) me liking boys. But that’s nothing to do with the thread.
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Old 11-16-2012, 08:40 PM   #19
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I don't understand at all the need for them to make mistakes or crush on others characters in order to be more "relatable" as if it's the only thing that makes a story read-worthy.
I think if anyone is including the crushing or mistake-making only to make a character relatable then it's going to come across as rubbish. But the whole making terrible decisions for all the right reasons is why I write YA. It's part of all my characters and it makes them so much more fun than adults, who are set in their ways and predictable!

Although I get what you mean about the crushing - I've tried to include a love interest subplot in my last two books and it's been like pulling nose hairs. No more love here. Bleugh.
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Old 11-16-2012, 09:10 PM   #20
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I think if anyone is including the crushing or mistake-making only to make a character relatable then it's going to come across as rubbish. But the whole making terrible decisions for all the right reasons is why I write YA. It's part of all my characters and it makes them so much more fun than adults, who are set in their ways and predictable!

Although I get what you mean about the crushing - I've tried to include a love interest subplot in my last two books and it's been like pulling nose hairs. No more love here. Bleugh.
I don't know, I think adults can be as much interesting as teenagers. I find it to be exactly the contrary, in fact: teenagers in books I've read were always so boringly predictable.

I'm pretty sure I just haven't found the right YA book yet

*is writing YA, somehow*
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Old 11-16-2012, 09:23 PM   #21
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I don't know, I think adults can be as much interesting as teenagers. I find it to be exactly the contrary, in fact: teenagers in books I've read were always so boringly predictable.

I'm pretty sure I just haven't found the right YA book yet

*is writing YA, somehow*
I love YA lit, but often just for its potential - sometimes I read YA books that I absolutely hate! But there are some awesome ones out there. (Recentish recs would be Pure by Julianna Baggott, The Raven Boys by Maggie Steifvater, and The Fault in our Stars by John Green, if you're interested).

And I agree that adults can be as interesting as characters (that was a flippant comment on my part). But, for me, I love finding out what someone is like as a person at the same time as they do.
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Old 11-17-2012, 12:26 AM   #22
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Seifer

The entire reason I write my male LIs like I do.

If I ever make a character as good/complicated as him I will die happy.
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Old 11-17-2012, 02:09 AM   #23
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I’m not much of a gamer precisely because I used to play hours and hours of FF VIII! But I kept getting a bit weird and thinking I was in the game, so had to stop. I had a massive crush on Rinoa despite a) her not being real and b) me liking boys. But that’s nothing to do with the thread.
Word. I think my mother started questioning my sanity when her 13 year old started talking about a game like it really happened.

Now I'm going to have to change the name of the MC in my WIP. Too many of you have played FF VIII and will recognize Raine as stolen.

That game came out right when I started getting hardcore into writing and storytelling. It has way too much influence on my imagination. *casually hides a decade's worth of fanfic and her shameful OC*
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Old 11-17-2012, 02:49 AM   #24
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Word. I think my mother started questioning my sanity when her 13 year old started talking about a game like it really happened.

Now I'm going to have to change the name of the MC in my WIP. Too many of you have played FF VIII and will recognize Raine as stolen.

That game came out right when I started getting hardcore into writing and storytelling. It has way too much influence on my imagination. *casually hides a decade's worth of fanfic and her shameful OC*
It's nice to see FFVIII and Rinoa get some love. <3

...that said, I owe my largest debts to IV and VI. A certain character from the latter, in particular, would be well within his rights to show up at my door and demand my blood in payment for services rendered. And that would be hilarious!
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Old 11-17-2012, 03:35 AM   #25
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It's nice to see FFVIII and Rinoa get some love. <3

...that said, I owe my largest debts to IV and VI. A certain character from the latter, in particular, would be well within his rights to show up at my door and demand my blood in payment for services rendered. And that would be hilarious!
The WIP may or may not (ok, totally does) have a supporting character named Celes. Just take everything IV - X and you'll see shades of it in just about everything I do.

And I'm very interested in who that character might be. Am I wrong in envisioning psychotic, megalomaniacal clowns? And if I am wrong, will someone please take all the inspiration from Kefka.
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