Friday Speak Out!: Writing “Dark” Scenes for Teens, Guest Post by Julie Anne Lindsey

Friday, October 04, 2013
The YA marketplace is saturated with amazing stories from the best, most profound voices in the business today. More teens are reading now than ever before and that truth gives me a powerful hope for our future. Reading opens minds to things unseen, unknown and unexplored. In a nutshell: Words are power. I tell my children this on a daily basis. Sometimes it sounds like, “Don’t call names.” Other times it comes in a warning related to Junie B. Jones’ “Big Fat Mouth.” No matter how it comes up, my lesson is the same. Words are powerful and we can use them for good or for evil. We can ruin someone’s day or change someone’s life. This is why I love writing for teens.

I’m one of many new authors choosing to bring back the teen thriller. I believe contemporary thrillers are scarier than paranormal thrillers because the implication is that contemporary thrillers CAN happen. If a reader doesn't believe in vampires or shape shifters, the scary story ends when they close the book. Serial killers, blood crazed criminals, home invasions and other things seen in the daily news are hard not to believe in. When a reader closes a book like that, it works on them – or so I hope. I wrote about a deranged serial killer bent on having some creepy-time with a teenage heroine. Can you see me twisting my evil mustache? Readers, especially moms, wonder why? Why a child? Am I as twisted as this character? And I sigh.

Writing the “dark” scenes for a teen audience is like writing for anyone else, except maybe harder. I don’t care how young a teen looks to an adult, teens should never be underestimated. They may lack the life experience that comes with existing for decades, but they are tough, resilient and determined like no other age group I know. So, when it came to writing the “dark” scenes, I wrote them at my *cough* thirty-something comfort level, and then I went back and I made them darker. Instilling fear and apprehension in readers doesn’t have to come with gore. Fear comes with a heaping helping of emotion. Use stress, anxiety, and the gut wrenching knowledge that there is only one way out to instill panic in any reader. Remind them there is only one way out: They have to go through it.

Advice from the “dark” side: Write with real agonizing emotion. Imagine yourself in the heroine’s place. Remember what it was like to be young and afraid. Then, focus on the feelings and thoughts that accompanied the fear. As your heart pounds, add the sensations to the story. Imagine the worst, creepiest, perviest, awful the villain can say and or do, and add that too. Create an environment of emotion readers will fall into with their lights on. And don’t worry about those who think writing thrillers for teens brings your mental health into question. After all, we’re writers. Our mental health is already in question.

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Julie Anne Lindsey is a multi-genre author who writes the stories that keep her up at night. In 2013, Julie welcomes five new releases in three genres including her newest title, DECEIVED, a YA suspense from Merit Press, and her first cozy mystery, MURDER BY THE SEASIDE, book one in the Patience Price, Counselor at Large series from Carina Press (a digital imprint of Harlequin).

Julie is a member of the International Thriller Writers (ITW), Society of Children’s Book Writers & Illustrators (SCBWI), and Sisters in Crime (SinC).

Would you like to participate in Friday "Speak Out!"? Email your short posts (under 500 words) about women and writing to: marcia[at]wow-womenonwriting[dot]com for consideration. We look forward to hearing from you!



Margo Dill said...

Great advice--JUlie--I love that last paragraph. I will share it with my online students.

Eugenia Parrish said...

I've been wondering for years why books for teens have become so dark, or why teens seemed to desire darker and darker stuff. It made me worry about where this generation was going. But you've helped me understand that it's important to instill in teens the feeling of "you can get through it" and "you're strong enough for this". The world is a scarier place than it was when I grew up (*cough* the fifties), and books are good when they make kids feel less alone. Thanks.

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