First, we need to recognize that “teens” covers a large range of ages and maturity. We have the “tweens,” also called juvenile, which incorporates the early years, ages approximately twelve through perhaps fourteen to fifteen. Young adult covers the ages from about fourteen, those more mature, to age nineteen and twenty.
Different maturity levels require different levels of subject matter, but all books for teens should be well-written about interesting topics.
The first suggestion I have is to write from inside the mind of a teen the age of your audience. Get to know youngsters the age you want to read your stories and books. Listen to them and really hear them. Teenagers want thought-provoking, attention-grabbing literature. Teens, of all ages, require characters’ behavior to be logical. They want well-written fiction and non-fiction. Eric Burdsall, from Children’s Writer’s & Illustrator’s Market, wrote, “… think in terms of writing for adults, but about experiences and situations that are relevant or interesting to teenagers.”
The second suggestion, avoid clichés. The dumb jock and the nerdy girl becoming romantically involved is a cliché, as is the strong athlete and the beautiful but dumb cheerleader. Characters need to be three dimensional, not flat. They need to show multiple layers of personality and traits.
Writing must relate to teens on their own levels without being patronizing or condescending. Writers should avoid trivial and superficial stories, essays, articles, or novels. Teenagers have minds and know how to use them.
Many writers believe that anything written for a teenager must be dark and dreary. That idea is wrong. Yes, the stories should have depth and meaning. Those for older teens can even be about war and violence, dating relationships, even drugs, sex, and abuse, but handled with honesty on the maturity level of the readers. However, teens, as any readers, need humor. A writer can lighten up and give enjoyment with their words.
What about love stories for teenagers of all ages? Believe it or not, the most erogenous zone is found between the ears. Graphic details are not needed if an author knows how to set the scene, how to focus on emotions when writing about romance.Eileen Goudge, in the September 2007 The Writer, wrote that love scenes don’t need to be explicit in order to deliver. “What they do need is to be emotionally rich in a way that will set the mood and resonate with the reader.”
A final suggestion: just because the world around teens is filled with vulgar speech, actions, and ideas doesn’t mean an author needs to increase the level in his stories, essays, poetry, or novels.