Wednesday, October 27, 2010

Generation Gap and Keeping it Fresh for Young Readers

Kids and teens today don't live in quite the same world today's YA and middle grade authors remember. Case in point:

Conan the Librarian would be lost on them...

from UHF, a Weird Al Yankovic movie

Most, in fact, don't know the Dewey Decimal system or how to use a card catalog. Why should they, when everything is on computers?

Check out this list of things that are different for this fall's incoming class of college freshman, the class of 2014. A few I picked out from their collection:

1. Few in the class know how to write in cursive.
12. Clint Eastwood is better known as a sensitive director than as Dirty Harry. 
19. They never twisted the coiled handset wire aimlessly around their wrists while chatting on the phone. 
46. Nirvana is on the classic oldies station.
55. Rock bands have always played at presidential inaugural parties. 
64. The U.S, Canada, and Mexico have always agreed to trade freely.
71. The nation has never approved of the job Congress is doing.
74. They've always been able to blast off with the Sci-Fi (SYFY) Channel. 
Just something to keep in mind when you're writing something you think is hilarious that references Dirty Harry or tangling phone cards or [insert your favorite childhood TV show here]--your readers might not get the joke. And if teen readers won't get it, savvy literary agents reading your pages will catch it, too. Yet another great reason to...

a) do your research
   1) google everything
   2) subscribe to a teen mag
   3) watch kiddie or teen-targeted TV shows (and then google those shows to find out what teens think about them)
   4) spy on teenagers (but don't be creepy) I just mean to do what few adults seem to do, which is listen to what teenagers have to say

b) run your work through beta readers or critique partners

I'm not extremely old (okay, I'm 27), but my high school experience was very different from today's high school experience. Schools were only just beginning to have bomb drills and lock-down drills to manage the risk of high school bombings/shootings (part of my decision to homeschool, actually--in Columbine's aftermath, those drills were terrifying). Twitter and facebook weren't mega-- myspace was. Ebay was still new and shiny. Craigslist wasn't around, that I know of.

Things change, and if your audience is the rising generation, it will pay to pay attention.

Okay, memory lane time. What's changed since you were in high school?

p.s. I miss Weird Al.


  1. Great post! It's so important to know what is relevant to teens today. Some of the issues might be the same, but the day-to-day details are so different now.

    What I want to know is: how do we write a novel that will be relevant for teens today, but not be dated and irrelevant in 15 years?

  2. Good point, Ishta! We definitely don't want to be a shooting star that fades when pop culture references become irrelevant. I've seen a few agents mention that they're looking for timelessness in literature, and I think that is the struggle. Relevant, relatable, but recyclable, too.

    I think that's one reason I love fantasy so much. It's so "other" that nobody would mistake it for a specific time or place.


Speak up! You will be heard...or read.