As I sat talking with my daughters, I realized that though pop culture changes constantly there are some things that remain the same. I write young adult fiction and though many of my tales are not based in reality, I write fantasy and science fiction, my stories and characters do have to be grounded in a real world. A part of creating this real world entails me making their make-believe world as real to the reader as possible.
How do I do this?
Though there are many fantastical elements to many of the stories I write I ground the story from the beginning using our natural laws or natural order. For instance, in the natural world it is strange for a character to have the ability to move objects with their minds. It is the same in my stories, unless the character is a Peacekeeper sent to protect the earth. They will have this ability.
Another way I make my imagined world more believable is by making my characters more believable. Though my characters sometimes have extraordinary power, are different in appearance and/or can travel through space and time – they are no different than regular teenagers.
How do I know what teenagers are like or what they want?
Well, duh! I was one once. Plus, my daughter says all the time.
This is how I break it down:
In 9th grade (between 14 and 15): OMG! I cannot believe I’m in high school. I’m so scared. I’m so excited. This is going to be the best four years of my life. I’m going to make a lot of friends and my life will be completely different.
In 10th grade (between 15 – 16): I’m still super excited about high school. This year will be different than last year. I can do this. I’ve got this. Parent’s always tell me I can do anything so I know I can do this.
In 11th grade (between 16 – 17): I can’t do this. Help!!!! I’m so freakin’ lame. My parents are ruining my life and school is a joke. I’ve got to get a good score on the SAT. I’ve got to pass physics. I’ve to get a good GPA or else its McDonald’s instead of college. I absolutely hate my life.
In 12th grade (17 – 18): I’m so badass! I’ve got this. No problem. I’m outta here…good riddance. Can’t wait to leave this god-awful place. College here I come. My life will be so much better once I leave this place.
This is some of the emotions my daughter says she had (she’ll be a senior next year) and this is how I felt at times. This cycle doesn’t change too much. So even if you write that your protagonist is a 16 year-old serial killing mermaid, they’ll most likely exhibit some of the emotions above. Your readers will appreciate the fact that though the main character is different from them physically, they do share some similarities. This will add empathy for your character. And empathy is definitely a good thing.
Can you think of behavior you or a friend exhibited in high school that you incorporate into your writing to create empathy and believability for your characters?