Tuesday, July 17, 2007

Angst for Teens

By Julie Wright

It is a fact that teenagers have attitudes to some degree or another. It is a fact that angst ridden teenagers are moody, despondent, and irrational.

In your writing, how much is too much?

You want to capture reality and the reality is, you can go as far with angst as you want, but just because you can doesn't always mean you should.

I've read several teen books recently that are filled with angst so that by the time I close the book on the last word, I feel ticked off and want to lash out at something. The fact that I left the book with these emotions is a good clue there was too much angst peppered through the pages. It doesn't leave me feeling very pleased with the author who bestowed such pissy pessimism on me and I've sworn off four authors in the last two weeks.

I know . . . I know. I've heard all the arguments both for and against. I've fought on both sides of being for or against "reality."

I'm thinking of Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. How many people still like that book less than any of the others based on Harry's teen-tude? Most people actually.

I'm one of the few defenders. I thought she portrayed him realistically without souring my own personality. And it ended well enough with Harry's rational mind given back to him.

I think that's the key. How do people feel at the end of the book? Has the character grown, developed, morphed into something more noble than angst-ridden sarcasm? If not, you might want to revisit your manuscript, send it off to several readers who you trust to be brutally honest and see what they think. If they believe your characters to be angry, vile sort of people, you might want to try at a little humor to soften them, or give moments where they show a different range of emotion.

Janette Rallison said once that in order to win the Newbery, one must make certain that the angel of death slices his scythe through the pages of the book. But it is far more difficult writing humor than it is to write the flat angst ridden teenager. Anyone can write angst, but it truly takes talent to be funny.

Before you write that book for teens, think of what feeling you'll leave the reader with at the end. It could make the difference as to whether or not you get an encore.


Aneeka said...

I like your statement about managing the level of angst in a book. It is possible to let it get too heavy.

A quick question though: I'm afraid I don't understand your reference to Janette Rallison's comment. He makes an angel of death slice through his book to...what? Get rid of the angst? Add humor to it? Shorten it? I'm not quite sure what he's referring to.

Thanks though for the post!

Julie Wright said...

LOL! Sorry I was in the middle of other stuff when I wrote the post and you are absolutely right, it wasn't clear. Basically she said that in order to win the newbery you have to kill someone in your book, or have it be an "edgy angst-ridden" read. Nobody seems to give any credit to those who can be truly funny when they write. I personally love an author who makes me laugh.

Janette Rallison said...

And that is why you are brilliant, Julie!

Vessey Language Arts said...

ANGST? ANGST? I am teaching Romeo and Juliet in my 9th grade lit class -- much to MY angst. You cannot get through this without some girl raising her hand and saying "I believe in love at first sight" and some guy responding "Romeo just wanted to get some." Then the non-stop rotation of students who knew someone who killed themselves over lost love. IS THIS REALLY A GREAT PIECE OF LITERATURE TO SHARE WITH HORMONALLY CHALLENGED YOUTH? HELLO?