When I first started writing, my son was a teen so I was surrounded with the sarcasm and the witty (but not necessarily kind) comebacks that passed for conversation between him and his friends. Inevitably it found its way into the teen dialogue in my novel.
I still remember one of the publisher’s comments regarding the protagonist. “She’s not a very likeable character, is she? I’m not sure the readers will empathize with her situation.” I hadn’t noticed. It sounded like my world. But I toned it down. Still, in the published version, Sarah makes some sharp responses that I find a little jarring. Now I work on depicting the emotions in a way that is vivid and authentic, but not unnecessarily harsh, if that is not the way I want the reader to view my character. For example, instead of allowing Lily to vent totally unchecked when something has made her angry, I’ll have her muster enough self-control to bite her tongue on occasion. Maybe, given the situation, she doesn’t need to yell mean things to her well-meaning granny. Maybe knowing what she is thinking inside her head is enough.
This isn’t to suggest that you never let your protagonist unleash her anger. But if a frustrated teen is constantly being sarcastic and rude when it isn’t called for, readers will think she’s a spoiled brat. She won’t be a character the readers want to root for.We want the reader to care about the character.
Getting inside the head of a teen and finding her voice can be challenging. Try reaching back to those angst-riddled years in your own life and write everything you remember. What happened? How did you feel? What did you do?
The situations below may have or may not have occurred during your teen years, but they will help you connect with a teen character who is encountering a rough patch. The more detail you include, the more useful you will find the exercise.
- What’s the greatest loss you have suffered? How did you react to this loss?
- Have you ever acted impulsively? What effect did it have on your life?
- What is the biggest lie you were ever caught in? What happened?
- What was your most embarrassing moment?
- Were you betrayed by a friend or family member? What did you do? How did you feel?
- What is the most unfair thing that has ever happened to you?
- Was there a time when you felt utterly misunderstood by your parents?
- How was your upbringing different from that of your best friend?
- When did you feel the loneliest?
- What did you do that was so crazy, you even surprised yourself?
- What was the biggest mistake you ever made?
Dig out those old journals and have fun!