The Adult in Young Adult: Writing about Sex and Violence in Novels for Teens
If you’re writing for teens, how much should you worry about appropriate content? Are you allowed to write violence, and if so, how much? Sex sells, but should it sell to teenagers?
In a recent interview, young adult novelist Kathleen Hale vents: “I once read a New York Times piece that basically begged the question, 'Where is all this violence and sex in YA fiction coming from?' The tone of it was very much 'Kids these days!' … I would take it very seriously if a teenager came to me and said, 'Your book felt inappropriate to me,' but I’m probably not going to sweat it if someone older than that says my book is too sexy or violent for teens.”
Kathleen Hale isn’t the only YA writer who doesn’t “sweat it” when she writes about sex and violence in her books: John Green makes sure his terminally ill characters in The Fault in Our Stars “do it” before they die, and Matthew Quick writes about a planned murder-suicide in “Forgive Me, Leonard Peacock.” And that’s just the realist work, to say nothing of The Hunger Games or the Divergent series. These are the books that sell like slices of pizza in a high school cafeteria, while the “age-appropriate” books wilt like iceburg lettuce in the salad bar.
In this class, we’ll talk about what our obligations as adult writers are to teen readers, and what the line is between writing something necessary to the story and writing something simply in poor taste. We’ll read some examples and then try our hands at writing stories for teens that deserve a PG-13 rating, or perhaps even an R. There will be both in-class writing time and in-class feedback. Please come with a laptop or a notebook.
To learn more about instructor Annie Hartnett and her teaching style, check out the short podcast with her in our GrubStreet Instructor Interview series:
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