Friday, June 18, 2010

Clean teen

So I'm writing these books for YA readers, and I've so far chosen to stick with realism. Light romance, a little humor, situational comedy.

But about half-way through Book 3 of a series I've got going, the main female and male (teen) characters... well, let's just say they've got great chemistry.

What was that movie with (I think) Meryl Streep where she was a novelist and they would have real actors play out what her characters were doing while she watched? Or was that Nicholas Cage? Or... wait a minute... was it John Candy?!

Anyway, there I am happily typing up a scene, (teen) male lead and female lead embrace. They've finally declared their love! They kiss. They kiss a little more... that's pretty good, so they get a little closer when...

Hello! Where are those hands, mister? Missy?

I picture it something like this. I'm in my glasses with a pencil stuck in my hair and a stern look on my face with these two (naturally) great-looking teenage kids panting in front of me.

LTM (frowning): You two are not mature enough for this sort of thing.
Male lead looks guilty; female lead glares in defiance.

Yep, those are my literary babies.

So I've got those two cooling their jets in the "drawer" (it's really just a file on my computer) while I think about what to do with this.

I know it's a common concern because just yesterday I read a post about it on another writer's blog. The issue of sex in YA novels and how to handle it.

I suppose if I weren't a mom, I'd have a different reaction. I know much has changed for me since I gave birth. Whereas I used to laugh at Faye Dunaway's Mommie Dearest, now I cry, "Stop beating little Christina!"

Still, my characters are real kids, and in the kind of writing I aspire to make a living at, authenticity is everything.

I have characters who curse occasionally, although I've left out the F-bomb. I know, I know. Kids say it, but I'm not writing an episode of the Sopranos. I also haven't decided to write strictly inspirational fiction.

I've noted how some writers handle it. They'll have the chemistry kids "on break" from other relationships, and they're too honorable to "cheat" on their holding significant others.

That's good, but you can only use it so many times.

In Brand New Novel, I handled it two ways. First, the chemistry kids were separated because female lead was determined to date someone else. Then when they finally did get together, it was a natural place to end the book.

Yay! We're together now--kissy kissy, close curtain.

But that won't work in Book 3. And I'm sure I'll run into this again if I keep writing.

Even in the inspirational fiction I've been reading, I see authors grappling with this. It's not realistic for kids to get married at 17, but if you set up this dynamic... well, it's not realistic that they just hold hands either.

But good Lord, you can't go around romanticizing teenagers having sex. That's completely irresponsible.

I know! So show the potential consequences, right?

Well, that's just an enormous buzz kill. I'm trying to write for entertainment over here.

So what's the answer?

Eureka! Male lead's a 150 year-old vampire who can't have sex with female lead or he could kill her!


No, it's a tough one. And it's going to test my creative mettle.

Let me go on the record saying I don't think it's OK for teens to be having sex. But I appreciate that being a teenager is hard. And not because I buy the whole "they're exposed to more sexual images these days" line. (Read my "Madonna Earth" post for more on that.)

I'd really appreciate hearing what other writers think about this issue. Even parents of my potential readers (i.e., parents of teens), or any teens brave enough to venture into these waters. (Lord knows I played dumb on the subject at that age around adults.) Or just anyone who has an opinion. You know I'm easy.

Hey--not like that.


A Pen In Neverland: Angela Peña Dahle said...

LOL. This is why I write mostly picture books. Best of luck with all of it! I love that you are continually motivated! Major upper!

Anonymous said...

I have a friend in WI who writes Christian romance. You could have one of them not want to have sex because of personal convictions.

LTM said...

girrhhl... It's tough. But every time I'm about to give up something happens to keep me going. Often, it's just something like you or one of my other readers being so great. Thanks~ :o)

(You're really good with the PBs though. You've got great rhythm.)

LTM said...

@Anon: Yes--that's good, and I've considered that. Possibly w/male lead to sort of turn the tables or something. (Elizabeth Scott did something similar in Bloom.)
I don't know. I think even kids who love Jesus wrestle with this issue. We've all got those dang hormones...
Perhaps if one of them gets hit by a bus--LOL! j/k. It's a creative challenge--authenticity.
Hey, thanks for commenting! :o)

S. Hanefeld said...

It is unfortunately unrealistic to think that teens won't have sex. Some will. Some won't. As a parent, I would be appreciative of an author who either (a) showed that it can be a wonderful thing when handled appropriately, safely, with the right person; or (b) showed that it can be an awful painful disaster when handled in the exact opposite way. I loved reading Forever by Judy Blume and similar books way before I probably should have and I survived with my virginity in tact for quite awhile after that. I think you should let the story take its natural and honest course and let those two characters do what they would actually do, for better or worse.

LTM said...

@Stacy: yep, I agree, and you make great, well-reasoned points--of course! ;o)
I remember all the girls (me included) passing around the V.C. Andrews "Flowers" series when I was in 8th grade--Hello! and I managed to remain chaste. ;p
I do think we forget sometimes that not much has changed, there's nothing new, and even the Bible contains sexy stories--with consequences, of course.
Good stuff~

Jessie Harrell said...

When I write, I want my teens to be authentic, but I always keep in the back of my mind: will the parents of my betas approve of this? I don't think there's anything wrong with describing a little kissing and touching. But we're not writing true romance or erotica - you don't need to describe the sex scenes. You can have something interrupt them (as happens all the time in the Soul Screamers series) or you can fade out at a certain place. Maybe they fall asleep in each others arms, or someone puts on the brakes. But I believe authenticity is key & there are plenty of kids out there who are not looking to go all the way. it's ok to write about their feelings too

LTM said...

Jessie! Hey! Yep, that's my thought process exactly--staying true to the characters, yet not getting the hate mail for corrupting our youth--LOL!
In the new book I'm working on, I won't have this problem. (Traumatized) Female MC doesn't really want anything to happen; she's going to figure it out. I already see how that'll go and it works well.
As for the pair I've got in the drawer... well... I must check out those Soul Screamers. ;o)

Lia Keyes said...

It's not a black or white issue. There are many shades of grey amongst teens experimenting with how far they can go, short of having sex. Or bases, if you're into baseball analogy.

In old Hollywood the story always ended with the first kiss, the main action of the movie being all the yearning and obstacles that came before that 'consummation' of desire.

I think it's okay for that to be our guide, in writing fiction for teenagers. Not as many of them have sex as adults love to believe.

Hart Johnson said...

Hey, Leigh--Thank you for stopping by my blog! And INTERESTING dilemma! I also have a teen, but I think my background and perspective is pretty different. I am ALL OVER risk reduction. Teens ARE going to have sex. That is that. I don't think they should do it LIGHTLY. It has definite consequences not only to this relationship, but to all future ones. It has consequences to how they think about themselves. It is fascinating to explore.

If part of your audience is inspiration types though, they are gunna get mad at that *whispering* (they're in denial)--hope that isn't too offensive. I just think in REALITY that even 'good kids do' and THOSE kids are the ones who end up pregnant because nobody had faced reality and talked to them straight. Chances are, if your parents had sex, you will too.

That said: suggestions for avoiding it, if that's your real goal: 1) boy or girl OUTSIDE main pair DECIDES to break them up. 2) they decided to and it has disastrous consequences--possibly before actual act 3) a FRIEND gets pregnant and they make rational decision they aren't ready (or they meet a teen mom)

Good luck with the dilemma!

Portia said...

Oh, that's a tough one! I was recently at a conference where writer Aprilynne Pike spoke, and she gave a great talk about all the serious topics young adult stories are covering. Bravo to young adult writers who manage to tackle these tough issues!


LTM said...

@Lia--great points, and I agree that it's not so prevalent. Me = so thankful for all the Hamlets, Othellos, Lady Macbeths, Tempests, Midsummer Night's Dreams... but I think if one keeps writing past Debut Novel, s/he's going to encounter his/her Romeo & Juliet. And our culture has changed so much. And there I am. Pondering... ;p
I'm thankful for all the viewpoints, though! This is good stuff~

LTM said...

@WTart--Hey! Thanks for commenting, and thanks for your POV! I agree with you that denial is a great way to help kids get in trouble.
My primary concern is being responsible w/o losing the entertainment value of the story.
JRM: These aren't real people.
LTM: Tell that to all the Team Edward-Team Jacob girls...
Can responsibility and entertainment coexist when it comes to this subject? Should they? Should I even worry about it? Just follow the story, right?
Sigh... if only I weren't a mom. You've made super-great suggestions. Love them. Not only for B3, but future WIPs. Hope to hear from you again~ :o)

LTM said...

@Portia--Girl! Tell me about it. Why am I "no paranormal" again? Oh, for the supernatural escape clause... LOL!!! ;o)

Ezmirelda said...

I've run into the same problem. First I think about if the characters are absolutely ready for that advancement in the relationship, then I think if its something that I would want to see happen in the book--usually its a yes. Most YA books I've read have ways of geting around this. You could write the scene in a way that looks like the characters could or could not have done it. Or you could be extremly abscure during the whole scene so that much is left to the reader's imagination (like in Hourglass by Claudia Gray). Or you could fade out of the scene just before it gets too steamy for YA. Hope that helps! :)


LTM said...

Thanks, Ezmirelda! cool to have input from a young writer. Since this is a book in a series, we've sort of built to this moment, which is why it's troubling to me. I like your idea of the "closed door." That's an option I've been leaning toward the most--esp b/c them being together is a plot point~ Thanks for stopping by! :o)