Posts tagged ‘illusion’

April 26th, 2011

I was born in 1995

by Madeleine Rex

I am not under the impression that any of you are creating a timeline of my life or writing a paper on me. My purpose in stating the year I was born is to remind you that I am the teenager of today. Going to high school five days of the week, talking with and texting teenagers, and drowning in the glory of overactive hormones and a swarm of young people with the worries/sense of invincibility/insecurities we read about makes me an insider.

I know that adults are constantly saying things along the lines of, “I remember when I was your age…” but that’s not all that’s required to write a young adult novel. You might remember an event or experience, but you, admittedly, did not experience it in 2010 or 2009. Prom in 1988 is different than prom now, despite the fact that the major characteristics are the same.

Miranda Kenneally, who is still young, once asked me what kids my age call a record store. And I said, “Um… a record store?” When I read a draft of one of her books, though, I came across an instant in which the main character mentions seeing someone’s underwear. My eyes bugged out of my head for a moment before I realized she meant undershirt.

I can promise anyone my age would have spit their Sprite all over that page if they’d read that the main character could see the guy’s underwear while he was leaning against his locker. And the reader probably would have blushed, too.

There are little differences between generations. Even those minor differences can help loads when it comes to making stories and characters easily relatable to the audience (people my age). Sarah Enni posted about this last week, and made many great points. I commented and left a short list of things that have struck me as slightly off or outdated and a few things that I think many people would assume were before my generation but are actually talked about. Here’s the comment:

You’re pretty much spot-on, although I think a lot of people my age have a hazy remembrance of 9/11. I remember walking into the living room on the morning before my second day of kindergarten and finding my mother standing in front of the TV, eyes glued to a building going down. I think lots of people my age feel some sort of connection to it (though I could be wrong). Also: We watched the version of Romeo and Juliet with Leonardo DiCaprio in it, and girls *were* drooling. One person people bring up all the time is Justin Timberlake, but I hear practically nothing about him. 😀

There are a few things I see in books that don’t strike true (and sometimes my adult friends will come to me with questions as they write, trying to verify). For example:

1. We (meaning the people I talk to at MY high school) don’t say “cell”. Often, we don’t even say “cell phone”, unless we’re asking if someone has one or what we’re saying could truly mistakenly be applied to a home phone. Most of the time we just call it “phone”.

2. There are names that creep up in a lot of YA books these days that I hardly ever hear. It’d be hard to list all of them, but there are many.

3. People do talk about politics. And the economy. They tend to sound like they’re regurgitating their parents views (and they are often pretty liberal, at least here). However, people get really worked up over it. Even in middle school during the last election, Obama’s face and name were *everywhere*.

4. OJ is still brought up occasionally. Michael Jackson is still brought up all the time. And almost everyone’s seen Titanic at least once.

5. We sometimes mention Blue’s Clues. And Elmo. And The Cookie Monster.

6. We don’t wear skirts over jeans. Ever.

7. Don’t forget Jamba Juice! It’s not all Starbucks.

I realize that these details might seem insignificant, but they’re the ones that stand out to me as I read. Particularly the overuse of “cells” and the occasional character who wears skirts over jeans. I never see that.

Although I understand that particular characters are unique and might break a generalized rule, I wanted to make the point that the details do not go unnoticed by the target audience. It’s like being ripped out of a dreamworld when the reader comes across something that feels off. Suddenly, we’re distanced from the situation or character, simply because we’ve remembered that what we’re reading is fiction. It’s our job as writers to sustain the illusion.