Teenage Perspective Cheat Sheet

One of my favorite parts of SCBWI (where I took no pictures, because I am made of #epicfail, by the way) was Krista Marino’s voice workshop, where we dissected and discussed what an authentic teen voice is. One of the keenest insights came when she invited her author Frank Portman (mastermind behind KING DORK and the forthcoming ANDROMEDA KLEIN) to talk about his songwriting for his band, The Mr. T Experience (better known as MTX).

Now, full disclosure time: Frank Portman didn’t land on my radar with his brilliant YA debut novel, far from it. I was a fan long, long ago. When I was 14-15-16-17, I’d pile into a friend’s ride or drive my junker Ford Taurus up and down the San Francisco Bay Area and go to MTX shows. (There’s a fangirl picture of me with Dr. Frank, in fact, that I tried to find for you guys, where I’m wearing a leopard print coat, a rockabilly dress, an Avril tie, knee socks… all the trappings of good teenage fashion sense, believe you me… It’s probably best that I seem to have misplaced it, on second thought…)

Dr. Frank and Krista made a very good point during the workshop. Writers, remember:

Teens aren’t stupider versions of adults. They’re just as smart, just as emotional, just as perceptive… they’re simply lacking the experience and perspective that most adults get in the process of living more years on the planet.

And, since your character will change over the course of your story, your narrative is just one way they’ll get some different perspective and evolve as people, right? Excellent. In the meantime, as you’re fleshing your characters out, MTX songs make an excellent primer in teen voice and angst.

Have you forgotten how desperate guys are to find a girl, any girl who likes them/wants to talk to them/can stand looking at them? Do you remember the sting of feeling completely alone and invisible to the opposite sex? Listen to the hilarious “Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend” off of Our Bodies Our Selves.

Have you forgotten the tremendous roller coaster of first love? The ups and downs and the dizzy compulsion to make it work despite any and all common sense? Try “Who Needs Happiness (I’d Rather Have You)” from Revenge Is Sweet, And So Are You on for size.

Do you remember the ecstasy of finding the one person who understands you? The relief of discovering an oasis amidst the torture of high school? Listen to “Thank You (For Not Being One of Them)” off of Love is Dead.

If you think your voice is lacking authenticity, if your teen emotions aren’t ringing true, do yourself a favor and pick up a couple of Mr. T Experience albums. And yes, this is extremely, extremely gratifying for my 16 year-old inner fangirl. Who knew my nerdy MTX fandom would pay off career-wise? You can check out their record label’s minisite by clicking here. You can also check out Dr. Frank’s website.

9 Replies to “Teenage Perspective Cheat Sheet”

  1. HA!

    Too bad I probably BURNED most of it. Seriously. I was looking through some old pictures at my mom’s house the other day and flat-out asked her: “How could you let me out of the house like this?”

    To which she replied: “Are you kidding? I tried to stop you but you were out of control.”

  2. I can so imagine you cruising in the sofa on wheels (was it purple?), leopard coat flapping in the breeze. “Even Hitler Had a Girlfriend” is the greatest, and King Dork is one of my all-time faves. I’m bringing my autograph book and pyramid spike collar to NYMBC for sure. Rock on.

  3. LOL, Whit. Okay, the Taurus in my WIP is most definitely autobiographical. Am I THAT transparent? And mine was a nice midnighty bluish purple, not D&D wizard purple. That part was artistic liberty. You wear the pyramid choker, I’ll wear… Oh I don’t know. All my grown-up clothes are too classy to play anymore! I’ll find something!

  4. This is one problem I see a LOT of from people who write YA simply because that’s what’s selling right now. Thanks for posting this. I sometimes forget to put in those roller coasters when I have a love interest in my YA novels.

  5. The probably unnecessary preface:
    I found your site because of somebody on twitter (ColleenLindsey perhaps?)… and had to stick around for a bit when I saw the King Dork spine in the header. MTX was one of the bands I lamented never catching back in the day when I went to shows almost every week (here in Atlanta and down in Orlando for 6 months)… back in 93-97.

    I can’t begin to tell you how excited I was back when I saw that Dr Frank was writing a book and was AMAZED at how absolutely brilliant it was (and it was him who introduced me to John Green who I now love), though as brilliant of a lyricist as he is I probably should have expected it. I’m about 85% done with reading Andromeda Klein now, and while the whole occult thing doesn’t ring nearly as true for me as the music stuff in KD did, it’s still brilliant writing.

    The relevant comment:
    As somebody in their mid 30s it isn’t always easy to remember how it felt to be a member “YA” audience… but you are very right to recommend the band. Listening to MTX (and Frank’s books, and John Green’s books) does an amazing job of transporting me back to those years before the kids and the mortgages and the mini-vans.

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