Saturday, July 24, 2010

Tapping into my inner teenage boy

Writing from a teenage boy's POV is a little challenging, to say the least. I live with a teenage girl and at one point about a hundred years ago I was a teenage girl, and it's a very different thing. I admit to checking out my nephew's Wall on Facebook to see the sorts of things he and his friends are saying. He's almost sixteen, which is just a tad younger than Phinn, my protagonist.

I hadn't started out writing completely from Phinn's point of view. There is also a teenage girl in my WIP, Jess, and in the first incarnation of this novel had her own POV. I'd written alternating chapters from both points of view, in third person. But when I started to rewrite the book, I had to twist around my whole original vision, and I wrote five pages to get into it. And it was first person, all from Phinn's POV. I considered—briefly—still doing the alternate chapter thing using Jess, maybe in first person, maybe third, but abandoned that idea when I merely continued to write from Phinn's POV without even taking a breath.

On the most part, I think I've got it. I've had a friend read the first 100 pages, and she concurred, for the most part, but pointed out a couple of things that she didn't really think Phinn would say, and I agreed and changed it appropriately.

To get a little more into a teenage boy's head, I picked up a book by John Green, PAPER TOWNS, which won the Edgar award for Best YA mystery in 2009. It's the story of Quentin Jacobsen's obsession with his neighbor, Margo, who appears at his window one night and their antics as they play pranks on Margo's boyfriend and her best friend, who fooled around with her boyfriend. And then the next morning, when Quentin wakes up, he discovers that Margo has gone missing. It's not the first time, but a series of clues she leaves behind leads him on a quest to find her.

I loved the voice, I loved the relationship Q had with his friends and how he comes to terms with how he feels—and has always felt—about Margo and his perception of her.

Because I loved PAPER TOWNS, I turned to another John Green novel, his first, LOOKING FOR ALASKA. Miles leaves his Florida home and unpopularity behind to attend an exclusive private boarding school in Alabama, where he meets his roommate, Chip, aka The Colonel, and Alaska Young, a wild girl who swings back and forth from fun and flirty to bitchy to sullen to depressed. Miles's fascination with Alaska, his relationship with the Colonel, and his ruminations about his favorite class, Religion, are compelling. I can't say much more about the plot without giving it away, but the book raises interesting questions for the reader as well as for Miles.

Since John Green used to be a teenage boy, I believed in both Q and Miles's characters. They are typical teenage boys, much like Phinn.

I do know that some women writers have had to use initials in their names if they've written books with male protagonists, such as J.A. Jance, who writes the excellent JP Beaumont series, or JK Rowling—not that I have to tell you she writes about Harry Potter. I'm not sure that ploy really works, since we all know they're really women writing about boys, and people read them anyway.

What about you? Does the gender of the author make any difference if that author has created believable characters, whether male or female?


Anonymous said...

Funny--my WIP (and it has been that for a long time!) features a female protagonist.

I was going to make a comment about tapping into my inner teenage girl, but I thought it might be in bad taste. (After all, I am a guy, which gives that a different connotation...)

Maybe I should blame it on my mother? Or my Italian aunts? Or my girl friends from high school? Or the woman I married? (I do have a brother, but we are very different.) Who knows...

But I never found it a stretch to write from that POV, and the few people that have read "YA Book" have all shared the sentiment that they were surprised with my ease at writing from that perspective.

I don't know what that says about me.


Anonymous said...

PS -- I really want to read PAPER TOWNS now...


David Terrenoire said...

My hat is off to you. At 60, I don't think I could write in the voice of a teenage boy or girl. Too many years separate us. Possibly, if I set the book in 1966, I could conjure up my past life, but that would be the only way. Interesting to think about, though.

As for the gender of an author, I do read more men than women, but that's not a conscious choice. I love Laura Lippmann's work, for instance. Good writing is good writing.

Still, I admire your courage in tackling this. The only advice I can give about being a teenage boy is they think about sex all the time. I mean all the time.But you probably knew that, having once been a teenage girl.

L.J. Sellers said...

Your WIP sounds challenging and fun! I just set aside a challenging story to write something more in my comfort zone, but you inspire me to get back to it.

Patrick Brian Miller said...

I think a writer should be able to write from any POV. Some are more challenging than others, for sure, but those are also more fun! It doesn't bother me as to the author's gender, if the writing is good, and it ususally is. If anything, a fresh approach probably sparks a writer's best instincts.

David Terrenoire said...


Asking a writer to be able write from any POV is like asking the high wire guy to ride the trick ponies through the center ring. It's not that easy. Yes, the actor in you can channel another voice, but to write for an entire novel, in another time, takes a talent bigger than any I've seen. Scene to scene is one thing, but if I were to take on a novel by a tween girl in 2010 would be a real stretch.