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Question for Writers: Staying in Touch With Your Market

A friend of mine, a published adult writer whose characters have ranged from sixteen to twenty-five years old, mentioned an interesting opinion the other day. “I was thirty four when I wrote my twenty-five year-old character,” she said. “I wanted to write her then because, now that I’m older, I don’t think I can justifiably write someone that young.”

She writes for the adult market but her comment is even more applicable to kidlit. Most characters in our market are eighteen and under. Most writers, though, are older than that. Sometimes much older. And yet older writers manage, in most cases, to make their voices and their characters sound authentic and true-to-age.

Here’s a question for the writers out there. Aside from interacting with your kids and their friends/schools/lives, how do you keep in touch with your market? How do you bridge the age divide and keep yourself fresh?

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  1. Shaun Hutchinson’s avatar

    I think my method is simply not to try so hard. I do watch current television and read and listen to current music, but I don’t think those things keep me in touch with my “kid voice.” Mostly I just remember what it was like being a kid. I sort of never lost touch with those feelings. I still have my old journals from that time and can read them if need be.

    The biggest mistake, in my opinion, that YA writers make is TRYING to sound young by using current slang or current music or current trends. I try to keep all that stuff out of my writing so that it has a timeless kind of feel. That way, any kid reading at any time can connect to my characters. I even try to keep out things like iPods and cellphones and tech that might change rapidly and look dated.

    But that’s just me.

  2. marykole’s avatar

    Shaun, I totally agree with your ideas. My old journals are such a creative boon for me! I do, however, believe in including some references (there was a discussion about this on my Livejournal a few weeks ago, I should do a post here). However, this can be dangerous when you’re really out of touch and your characters are using their “My Space” accounts and texting on their “Iphones,” which I’ve encountered in several manuscripts.

    It’s a fine balance between locating your characters believably in the moment and not wanting to date your work. As for the voice, I think that’s a skill that needs to be honed every once in a while but it’s much easier to get when you’re writing a lot and reading a lot.

  3. Ron Huckemeyer’s avatar

    I grew up in a neighborhood with what seemed to me as hundreds of kids (well not really) of all different ages. It was that interaction with many of them that constantly draws me back there. I’m fifty six now and those moments are so clear. Maybe that’s odd, in a way not letting go. When a thought of someone or something comes along, down on paper it goes. I think it’s the only gift I have. So now I’m in the middle of a series of three books thanks to those days and of course a good imagination. Let’s hope they get picked up—-Ronnie

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