She’s All That: Writing for Contemporary Girls

Three YA authors came out the LA Times Festival of Books this past weekend to share their point of view on writing for teenage girls. Authors Robin Benway (Audrey Wait Series), Cherry Cheva (Duplikate, and She’s So Money), and Joanna Philbin (The Daughters) had the following to say:

How are teens different today than in the books you read as a teen?

Robin: The girls in the Sweet Valley High Books (that Robin read as a teen) were nothing like the teenager she was, and she couldn’t believe it. She’s realized that you have to write for the girl who isn’t from Sweet Valley High. You have to address what is inside the character, and articulate what teens feel they can’t say. This will cause them to identify with your voice/book. The Perks of Being a Wallflower was a book that really changed the game for Robin. It was a book that really talked about what is going on on the inside.

What type of issues do you think teens are dealing with?

All three authors address body issues and self image in their books. They all feel this is something that teens struggle with on a day to day basis. The Daughters really explores this with the relationship of one of the characters who is the daughter of a super model, so she has even higher expectations of being beautiful.  All three authors felt that finding self confidence, or testing your confidence is part of the game when it comes to beauty. The struggle to be beautiful is a test to find out who you are and the confidence to think you are worth while.

How do teens talk today? What issues have you had with using swear-words in your books?

Cherry: When she does public readings (like at the festival) she actually puts the swear words back into the text. You won’t actually read them in the text, but she feels it is part of the characters and part of how teens speak. She initially had around twenty instances of the F-word in her book She’s So Money, and if you read it now, there are none. The editors took them all out.

Joanna: She draws on how she speaks with her girlfriends. She doesn’t think that her voice and a teen voice are all that different.

Robin: She had to tone down her book in terms of swears as well. She actually had to change the term “cocaine skinny” because it implied drug use.

Cherry: You also want to consider what a 14 or 15 year old has at their access, as this can limit in some ways what you write about in regards to content.

How do you think writing for teens is different than writing for adults?

Robin: Teens are more fun to write! They have so much joy and enthusiasm for life. It can be really exciting.

Joanna: When writing for a YA audience you are dealing with issues of insecurity, body issues, etc. I don’t think those things go away as an adult. Those issues are still present. But as an adult you are not really allowed to talk about those issues, you are supposed to be past them. There is shame in talking about them as an adult. So I find writing for young adults very liberating. You have more freedom with these characters.

What ideals do you like to emphasize and share with young girls in your books?

All three authors agreed that they are trying to empower young girls to be strong and confident. Be yourself! It is important to find a support system, and surround yourself with good friends who will protect you and allow you to feel safe.

How do you deal with writers block?

Get out of your head for a while! Go watch television or movies. Give your work some space.

Also, carry around a notebook, just in case that great moment of inspiration comes when you are away from your work. Or, if you don’t have a notebook, call yourself on your cell phone and leave a voice message.

How do you avoid stereotypes in your books?

Read your work out loud. You will always hear when something feels fake or untrue.

Robin, Cherry, and Joanna

Again, the authors of this panel were Robin Benway who wrote the Audrey Wait series, Cherry Cheva author of Duplikate, and She’s So Money and a writer for the television show Family Guy, and Joanna Philbin author of the series The Daughters. This panel was moderated by Aaron Hartzler.

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