Teenagers, like adults, are complex. They make mistakes. They say problematic things. They make stupid choices. This isn’t a news-flash for anyone. After all, teens [people] are flawed, nuanced, and constantly growing. In my opinion, they do and say A LOT of things very, very wrong and this should be reflected in YA novels. And I think for the most part it is.
My point for this blog isn’t about writing more flawed characters, it’s about accepting those flawed characters. We (as writers) tend to romanticize our characters and make them perfect before weaving in a dose of reality. And although we know people are flawed and our characters should be too, there’s an awful lot of judgement thrown around after the fact about how frustrating those flawed representations can be.
Sure, these teenagers were written by adults and as adults we would hope that our peers could understand the delicate nature of certain conversations or situations teens get thrown into and age-appropriately display them. I don’t know about you, but when I read teenagers making incredibly well reasoned choices in the face of challenging encounters I call shenanigans. Not on everything, of course, but generally speaking if they go with the choice any rational adult would make, I’m not sure I buy it.
Yes, there are characters who could be considered an exception to the rule. I knew and currently know teens who don’t act their age or behave like tiny professors in kids bodies. However, for every one of them, you’ll come across ten, twenty, maybe a hundred teens who are just trying to make it to the end of high school without having a total break down.
Although I find it frustrating and sometimes second-hand embarrassing, I like reading about teenagers who don’t understand the world around them. I like reading about teens who struggle to find the right path. I like reading about teens who royally mess up. Why? Because that’s what teens do! I enjoy watching a character’s evolution from saying dumb shit to finally realizing how uninformed they were. I know as a teen I struggled to connect with a lot of YA characters because they seemed to have everything together and I totally did not. Frankly, that was a factor that turned me off the category. Perhaps (and arguably) I wasn’t reading the right books, but I am glad to see an increase in flawed teens these days. It’s nice to read realistic teens and watch them stumble before finding their wings.
To expand that point, though, I have noticed while male teenage characters are allowed to make these mistakes and lapses in judgement without backlash (actually, they get a lot of cheers and laughs for their mistakes), female teenage characters on the other hand are often not allowed the same leniency. Everything gets put under a microscope and people go off the deep end about how immature or irresponsible these girls were. If they were fellow adults, sure, I’d probably be concerned about them as well, but they’re teens and giant mistakes and glaring flaws are part of that stage in life.
It’s like no where is safe for girls, even fictional girls, not to be perfect little princesses. Ugh, even writing that made me a little sick. Moving on before I have a conniption.
Since many YA readers are adults, I’d like to kindly remind that portion of the fanbase about how messy they were in their teens and how many things they said and did that were problematic. I think teen readers need to see other teens (even if they are fictional) making those same errors and growing from those choices. I think it’s really important to remove the notion teens should be perfect. Maybe we can be less critical as outsiders looking in and more sympathetic to how flawed characters might actually be a good thing for teens to read.
Something unique and special I love about books is finding the hidden hints authors weave in about the their muses, favorite people, or personally important things. Incorporating “Easter eggs” into your novel can create additional creative layers in your storytelling. Sometimes those allusions are really only for you and your inner circle, but for those in the know, it can be a great surprise to come across. If you’re wondering what types of Easter eggs you can include, here are a few:
Hint to other works- Writers do this a lot out of admiration and sometimes inspiration. They’ll have their characters read their favorite books, or quote their favorite authors. Sometimes the allusions are more subtle, like using the same character name, or having the character wear the same ionic piece of clothing.
Hint to previous works– For authors with several book babies in the world, they might also have secret references to their other novels. Maybe the characters share a favorite band or they have a certain “type” when dating. It could even be something as simple and cool as visiting the same town or shared symbolism.
Hint to writing friends- This always gives me a giggle! These Easter Eggs can be harder to locate, but can be something akin to a naming reference or the character having the same favorite pizza topping as a friend. Maybe the author’s friend always uses a specific phrase and so the character does as well. Finding these personal touches warms my heart x)
Family Hints- Much like referencing friends, the family mentions tend to center about names or personality types. As writers we all draw from experience and reality when crafting our worlds so it’s no surprise a lot of these people seep into our writing.
Pop culture hints- These aren’t always hints, per se, but I like coming across them anyway. Any fandom geekery gives me a squee, but it can be even more exciting to come across these in spec fic where such hints need to be expertly incorporated as to not draw away from the imaginary world but also keep readers from the real world engaged.
When friends books are published, first, I majorly fangirl, then I read in search of these Easter Eggs. Every book is like a treasure hunt when you think about! I love finding mentions of other writers, or books, tv, or movies they found significant. Although reading books by people I’m not close with can prove more difficult in searching for their hidden hints, sometimes that challenge can make the discoveries even more exciting! And it’s everywhere. Every writer does this in some way, whether they’re intentional hints or accidental hints–they’re there. Go pick up a book, any book, and search through for the stories hidden underneath.
In honor of Women’s History Month, I thought I’d come up with a list of my favorite movies directed by, written by, or starring women. Why not books, you say? I’m an equal opportunity lover of all things artistic. Plus, I talk about books A LOT so I’m switching it up here.
These are in no particular order:
Big, Penny Marshall
A League of Their Own, Penny Marshall
Brave, Brenda Chapman
Sleepless in Seattle, Nora Ephron
Clueless, Amy Heckerling
Boys Don’t Cry, Kimberly Peirce
You’ve Got Mail, Nora Ephron
Prince of Egypt, Brenda Chapman
Bridget Jones’s Diary, Sharon Maguire
Bent it Like Beckham, Gurinder Chadha
The Matrix, Wachowski Siblings
Zero Dark Thirty, Katherine Bigelow
Selma, Ava DuVernay
Clueless, Amy Heckerling
Erin Brockovich, Susannah Grant
Interview With A Vampire, Anne Rice
Mean Girls, Tina Fey
Thelma and Louise, Callie Khouri
When Harry Met Sally, Nora Ephron
Letters From Iwo Jima, Iris Yamashita
Shutter Island, Laeta Kalogridis
Mrs. Doubtfire, Leslie Dixon
Legally Blonde, Karen McCullah & Kristen Smith
Juno, Diablo Cody
Bridesmaids, Melissa McCarthy, Kristin Wiig, Maya Rudolph, Ellie Kemper
Bend it Like Beckham, Kiera Knightly, Parminder Nagra
The Help, Emma Stone, Viola Davis, Octavia Spencer, Allison Janney
Precious, Gabourey Sidibe
Girl, Interrupted, Wynona Rider, Angelina Jolie, Brittany Murphy
Black Swan, Natalie Portman, Mila Kunis
Easy A, Emma Stone
Imagine Me and You, Piper Perabo, Lena Headey
Legally Blonde, Reese Witherspoon
Winter’s Bone, Jennifer Lawrence
GI Jane, Demi Moore
The Color Purple, Oprah Winfrey, Whoopi Goldberg
Kill Bill (1 and 2), Uma Thurman, Lucy Liu
Pitch Perfect, Anna Kendrick, Rebel Wilson, Anna Camp, Brittany Snow, Elizabeth Banks
The Devil Wears Prada, Anne Hathaway, Meryl Streep
Mean Girls, Lindsay Lohan, Rachel McAdams, Amanda Seyfried, Lacey Chabert, Lizzy Caplan
Carol, Cate Blanchett, Rooney Mara
The Hunger Games, Jennifer Lawrence
Mad Max: Fury Road, Charlize Theron, Zoe Kravitz, Rosie Huntington-Whitle
Charlie’s Angels, Cameron Diaz, Drew Barrymore, Lucy Liu
Star Wars: The Force Awakens, Daisy Ridley
Some of these (a lot, actually) overlap categories, but I didn’t include them in each section. I placed them in the category for which I most like the representation, or at least, I tried to because for some I like in overlapping categories as well. I could have included WAY more accomplished women on this list but I tried to be selective.
There are so many talented ladies out there developing incredible stories for the big screen or portraying women in such varied and heartfelt ways. But this list needs to get bigger! There need to be more films written by, directed by, and starring women. Since these are only my favorites, if you have any suggestions, feel free to leave a comment!
Kind of random stuff here, but I thought it would be fun to post today since we only live this day every four years. I guess today’s got me thinking about where I was the last time today came around and the leap of faith it took to get to where I am now.
It was 2012, I was new to twitter, new to actively pursuing my writer’s journey, fresh out of school, and filled with optimism. I had this crazy notion that publishing was easy and there wasn’t anything else I had to learn about writing. It would all be a piece of cake.
Oh little Rachel, so young, so pure.
I thought twitter would help me find who to query in the industry and nothing more. Actually, I begrudgingly signed up. I was convinced twitter was a big waste of time and it was far better to lurk around soaking up information rather than participating. And it did help with soaking up info, for sure, but beyond gathering new knowledge, twitter introduced me to something magical: writing contests. And that’s where the leap comes in.
From the sidelines, I watched Cupid’s Blind Date contest that February and thought, “Huh. This could be really cool.” I also thought, “There’s no way I could share my writing with the entire internet. Or at least the part of the internet reading these posts. No way.” Just the thought of entering something like that made me panic.
And so as Cupid’s contest ended, another began. The Writer’s Voice. For a while I hemmed and hawed about entering, but for frack’s sake, it was a leap year! It was time to take a leap of faith! I’m pretty positive I didn’t actually think that, but for the sake of this post, let’s say I did. Honestly, I took a huge risk applying. I put my writing into the world in a way that forced me to be brave, build a thick skin, and continue to develop my craft. This was my sad entry, if you care to check it out. Hint: don’t. Please.
What happened after that contest, you ask? Well, nothing, to be quite frank. And also everything.
My entry went no where, but I started bonding with other writers over the stress of the contest, I started getting actual people to read this old blog here, I started seeing the difference between entries that were well polished and my work that was…well…not. Taking the leap to enter the Writer’s Voice contest started a whole new chapter in my life. I had no idea at the time how influential it would be, but it really changed everything from there on out.
I met almost all my CPs and betas through that contest, a lot of which have become my closest friends. I was able to find resources and outlets to continue learning about writing (because surprise! you’re never done learning) and that ultimately made me comfortable in writing something new and different. Not long after, that something new and different connected me with a lot of agents and some editors, too. Getting such positive feedback on my first publishable novel was what led me to writing another, and another. It’s what led me to entering Pitch Wars with the novel I got signed.
Creating a community on twitter from that first class of Writer’s Voice people and slowly building off it with so many awesome others also helped me become more open about the silly things I did, or nerdy stuff I liked, or even sharing my truest self with others. I found a place that let me show all of that without fear or worry of what other people might think which little by little helped me do that more with everyone in my life.
Four years ago I took a huge leap of faith. I’d say the leap is something people take for granted and don’t embrace enough. Mostly because it sounds easy, but it’s quite terrifying and sometimes can be the hardest thing you do. But if you don’t take that leap, you’ll never know. And personally, not knowing is scarier so, I took the leap and entered that contest. I can say with 100% certainty, I had no idea how it would effect my life, but it set me on a positive course that was different from anything I ever expected out of twitter or writing contests or being a writer in general.
As this new leap year comes around, I’m proud of that choice and looking forward to the leaps to come. So if I have any advice to you, it’s laugh in the face of danger/anxiety/the unknown and take the leap.