Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb December 10, 2013 - 12:50pm

One thing I've come to appreciate recently is that capturing the voice of a young person is pretty damn difficult to do effectively. Most of us have at one point or another talked about why and how much Twilight sucks, yet I have to give Stephanie Meyer at least some credit for having given writing as a teenager in the first person a shot. Loads of people have tried the teenage 'I' with varying degrees of success. If you're writing a book aimed at teenagers, or Young Adult as seems to be the term for it now, then that sort of narrator is fairly safe. What I think's more difficult is to write a novel for an adult audience in which your narrator is effectively a kid - where you try to keep things on a grown up level but then read sections later and have your inner critic say 'What the actual fuck, are you writing Twilight here?'

You guessed it, that's what I've been doing lately. Does it work? I don't know until I've tried it out on a few people. Have I enjoyed the project enough to see it through to completion anyway? Hell yes. But what I've found hardest is how to strike that ballance between the sides of the narrator and the things about his voice that would appeal to someone around my own sort of age (I'm 30) and the believable side of this character - who at 17 years old is bound to behave in ways that are 'juvenile,' and immature, and express himself in ways that bring out the teenager that might not appeal so much. Granted, I've cheated somewhat in that in the middle of the story we get his 18th birthday, and the pivotal 'accident' that befalls him happens on that day. Then there's a jump of three years and I pick the narrative back up with this guy at 21 (and my challenge there is to make the voice different from the one that's told the first half of the story.) Yes there are plot reasons for me needing to start with my character at that age. No I'm not changing it. Yes I'm wondering if what I'm planning to write after this with my protagonist older and with a 3rd person narrative will be better, and this is just an exercise for getting his past straight in my head rather than something anyone will read.

This isn't an advice thread (I know what I'm doing, for better or worse, and will use the workshop for a couple of excerpts soon) but a thread for anyone who's either taken a risk on this sort of narrative or read a book that worked where a younger narrator tells the story (but mention Hunger Games and I'll shoot you...I liked those books, but everyone knows about them. Let's praise/criticise something different!) 

Nathan Scalia's picture
Nathan Scalia from Kansas is reading so many things December 10, 2013 - 2:06pm

My protagonist in my working book is a child. It's third person, but single-character perspective.

I've found that most children protagonists in fiction tend to be smarter than the average bear. We see it in Coraline, Lemony Snicket's works, etc. If not smarter, than braver. Stories aimed at and about children usually carry some sort of message, and having an inspiring protagonist seems to be important. Even the children in the Narnia tales make children-like mistakes, but still ultimately have good hearts, good enough to save the day.

But yeah, it's a challenge. You don't want to make the child his own worst enemy, but you want him to learn from making mistakes, which is often what happens in children's stories. Usually, you are looking for the child to be good, but selfish and narrow-minded, as many children go through this phase. 

Every child is different, but a working knowledge of child psychology has been pretty helpful in determining how my protagonist might view the world, authority, scary things, etc. Children raised by good parents are going to go through a lot of the same phases, and the rest you fill in with parts of their identity.

TheScrivener's picture
TheScrivener from Seattle is reading short stories December 10, 2013 - 3:28pm

 

I read the Butcher Boy back when I actually was 18 and thought it was amazing.  And he's like 14ish I think in the book?  Well it is narrated by an older Francie Brady, but he's somewhat arrested as a permanent psycho teenager.  I get kind of tired of the precocious kid in books, and this character was not like that.  He was smart enough, but also the product of his environment.  His solutions to problems were impulsive and naive, totally in character.  And he is just sympathetic enough that you can sort of see his point of view, though it would be tough to argue that he had a good heart.  WHICH IS GOOD, because seriously, this myth that children are all angels is such a joke. Kids can be viscious little f***ers, and to ignore the potential of cruelty and lack of empathy in kids is to miss part of the dark side, as it were, of childhood.  I can still remember my friend telling me about how her infant once he had teeth would bite her nipple while breastfeeding, then look up at her and smile.  (And no, he was no Damien.  He's 11 now and became a very sensitive and inquisitive kid who sticks up for his cousins.)  But maybe that is it---the kids hide all that from the big people, and then we are taken in by their cute looks, smooth skin, little high pitched voices, and just cannot imagine that they would go burn a bunch of grasshoppers with magnifying glasses and then kick the neighbor dog.

Nathan Scalia's picture
Nathan Scalia from Kansas is reading so many things December 10, 2013 - 4:52pm

Well, my post was directed toward authors writing child characters for a youth audience. Perhaps I'm making assumptions, but I don't see too many successful children's stories that involve children that aren't fundamentally good in the end. Even something like Lord of the Flies "redeems" the characters in the end as being only human.

Do you know any books that are about bad kids that are directed toward a young audience (say, below high school)?

TheScrivener's picture
TheScrivener from Seattle is reading short stories December 10, 2013 - 6:56pm

Oh, heh, yeah.  Sorry, I obviously ventured into adults writing kids for adults. 

I mean, there are loads of bad kids, but I cannot think of any books where they are the main character.  I read all sorts of crap like Queen of the Sixth Grade and stuff when I was a kid, and some of the kids are basically crappy all the way through.  But they is hardly literature.  More like child pulp.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 10, 2013 - 7:20pm

If Twilight is any indication, writing as a teenager has vast appeal to adults.

They say we never really leave high school.

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland December 10, 2013 - 7:23pm

I've only read a few John Grisham books and it was years ago but the one I liked the best and remember most "The Client" was written in the first person p.o.v. of a teenage boy. I think it's a good example of what you are looking for because the story itself was geared more toward an adult audience. I think. The boy has to deal with very adult things. I did read it when I was a teenager though so maybe I related well, but if I recall correctly the novel was a bestseller and the movie did well among audience probably eighteen and up.

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club December 11, 2013 - 1:36am

I recently read David Mitchell's Black Swan Green, which has a (I want to say) thirteen year old narrator, but it's definitely an adult book. It spans over a year in post WWII England, following a regular student, who just happens to have a stammer, and his observations about the world. He talks about his parent's relationships, other students' reactions to his speech impediment, what it's like to climb the popularity ladder as a teenager, all that fun stuff. As I'm describing it, it sounds like it's a YA novel, and perhaps there are a few fourteen year olds who'd enjoy it. I certainly wouldn't have been among them.

On another note: does anyone have examples of young narrators who are introverted? Since there is a pattern of bravery: Harry Potter, Katniss Everdeen (sorry Chacron), among many others, I've gotten a lot of comments about how uninteresting my character is in my current work in progress, and my readers have compared them to the characters listed above. I've been reading an unhealthy amount of YA novels and have yet to find one.

voodoo_em's picture
voodoo_em from England is reading All the books by Ira Levin December 11, 2013 - 7:09am

Lidia Yuknavitch ~ Dora

Chuck Palahniuk~ Damned/Doomed/Zombies

Stephen Graham Jones ~The ones that got away (there are a few stories in here with teenage narrators)

Julie Burchill ~Sugar Rush

Melvin Burgess ~ Lady: My life as a bitch

Also my favourite kids author Robin Jarvis writes realistic flawed kids.

Oh, and I've got a copy of The perks of being a wall flower, but I haven't read it yet so I can't comment on that one :)

 

Dwayne's picture
Dwayne from Cincinnati, Ohio (suburbs) is reading books that rotate to often to keep this updated December 12, 2013 - 1:49am

Maybe read something by younger author or blogger or such?

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 12, 2013 - 6:39pm

@Raelyn

I think I'd consider Katniss Everdeen introverted.  

And while I'll never crack a Twilight spine, surely that's an example, too.

Then there's Holden Caulfield, but ugh, only if you can stand that book.

Raelyn's picture
Raelyn from California is reading The Liars' Club December 12, 2013 - 9:44pm

Katniss may be introverted, but she's certainly brave. Also, I may just be a bit too old, even if only by a few years, to read Catcher in the Rye. (I've never read it, and probably won't). I'm trying to find an example of a young narrator who is a coward, doesn't like adventure, and would rather be left alone. I'm starting to wonder, however, if the reason it's so hard to find this character is because no one wants to read about such a boring thing.

For some context, my character accidentally falls off a cliff and dies because she's so desperate to get away from her birthday party. The story takes place in the afterlife.

TheScrivener's picture
TheScrivener from Seattle is reading short stories December 12, 2013 - 10:45pm

I'm starting to wonder, however, if the reason it's so hard to find this character is because no one wants to read about such a boring thing.

Or you're doing something against the grain, which could turn out to be really interesting to people who are tired of the usual tropes.

I wrote a story about an old guy with metabolic syndrome.  Who knows if there will ultimately be an audience for the story, but at this point I have sent it off and will let editors, or more likely the minions who get stuck sifting the slush pile, decide. 

 

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal December 13, 2013 - 2:10pm

...Catcher in the Rye. (I've never read it, and probably won't)...

 

Ugh, don't bother.

 

http://www.amazon.com/dp/0312629176

^ My kid's reading that right now, I don't know if it's what you're looking for, but your description reminded me of it.

Alan H Jordan's picture
Alan H Jordan from Reno, Nevada is reading "The Whisper Jar" and "The World Beneath" December 13, 2013 - 7:45pm

http://www.louissachar.com/HolesBook.htm

Check this book out. You'll be impressed.