As some of you know, I’m working on a young adult novel—a horror/comedy for boys. I feel that I’m qualified to write books for teenagers because I still act like one. I’m self-absorbed, I make poor choices, and I laugh at any joke that involves a bodily function.
Because I’m so in touch with my inner teenager, I’ll share three important characteristics of adolescent life. These have helped me capture the awkward, pimple-faced, and generally moronic high school experience in my own manuscript.
Number one: Teenagers do NOT learn from others’ mistakes.
I think adults would like to believe this isn’t the case. But it is. Watch the MTV show “16 and Pregnant” or visit a juvenile hall.
I certainly didn’t learn from others’ mistakes. For instance, when my brother was seventeen he took a wood shop class at school. The shop room had one tiny window, one light switch on the exterior of the classroom, and the door locked from the outside—whoever drafted the plans for this room was clearly an idiot. One day, my brother left class to go to the bathroom, and on his way out, he had the urge to shut the classroom door, lock it from the outside, and flip off the lights, trapping the students and the teacher inside the dark room with no way out. So he did. He ended up getting suspended from school for it, too. Apparently, it was a fire hazard.
Flash forward eight years to when I was sixteen. My best friend, Carrie, and I didn’t have a third period class, so we had an hour and a half of free time every day. We seemed to fill it with mischief—like making a sign reading, HOOTER PATROL: Honk If You Have BIG HOOTERS, and sticking it on the back of a popular boy’s car, later watching him drive away from school oblivious of the label. One Friday, we were especially bored, and there was a certain teacher who was a big jerk. His classroom was at the back of the school building, completely isolated, and its entrance had double doors with two U-shaped handles—the kind of handles one could tether together with a rope or slip a stick through, securing the doors closed.
I’m sure you know where this is going.
Remembering my brother’s prank, we drove to Carrie’s house, found a wood slat in her garage, went back to school, and wedged it in the door handles. I must say, it was a proud moment for the both of us. We sat back on a bench, grinning, and waited for the bell to ring and the kids and teacher to begin beating on the double doors, desperate to escape the classroom.
Did I care that I could get suspended like my brother? No. I was an invincible teenager; nothing bad could happen to me (Actually, I’d been suspended once before and it was nice. I got to stay home from school and watch TV all day.). Did I consider that the school could go up in flames, and I’d be responsible for the deaths of thirty innocent students and one poorly dressed teacher? Of course not because I was stupid.
Well, we were never caught and no one died. One of the students happened to be in the bathroom, and when she went back to class, she discovered the piece of wood and removed it, foiling our plan. It was for the best, I guess.
Number Two: It’s completely normal and even encouraged to stalk a love interest like a homicidal lunatic tracks his next victim.
If Paul, Phil, David and Danny knew how many times my friends and I drove by their houses in high school, they would’ve gotten a restraining order. And hey, Scott, remember picking up your phone in ’95 only to hear heavy breathing on the other end followed by a click? Yeah, that was me.
People rag on books like Twilight, saying Edward’s stalking—following Bella everywhere she went, watching her while she slept—was obsessive and creepy. But in high school, if a boy I liked broke into my house and gazed at me while I slept, I would’ve been thrilled. As an adult it’s different. It would frighten me. And then I’d worry that I looked ugly when I slept. Was my mouth hanging open? Was I drooling? Wait. Did I mumble in my sleep, revealing my deepest, darkest secret (cat fetish)?
But teenagers aren’t like adults; they don’t care about that stuff. Their brains are underdeveloped, and they think with their genitals. So if the teen love in your manuscript seems irrational and makes you squirm, then you’ve nailed it.
Number Three: Teenagers will try anything even if it’s disgusting and/or dangerous.
If you want a perfect example of disgusting adolescent behavior, then read Saint Gut-Free’s story in the book Haunted by Chuck Palahniuk. I will never eat a carrot again. Or look a teenage boy in the eyes. If I had testicles and a penis, they would’ve permanently retracted inside my body when I read this story. I can’t explain further without curling into the fetal position and rocking back and forth, so just check it out yourself—supposedly, it’s based on true events, too.
Although I’ve never personally known a high schooler to do anything quiet as disturbing as the boys in Palahniuk’s Haunted, I’ve seen stories on the news about teenagers blowing their hands off with fireworks and dry ice bombs. I know a guy who climbed on top of a roof and dove into a swimming pool at a high school party. Yeah. . .he missed the pool. His face collided with the cement patio, and his eyeballs popped out of his head. Fortunately, he lived, but he’s not handsome.
This idiotic bravery usually dies down when an individual reaches adulthood. Suddenly, mortality means something. Now, I get nervous when I flip the switch on my gas fireplace—what if there’s a fuel leak and my house blows up? You don’t want to know how I feel when I walk underneath televisions that are suspended from the ceiling. But a teenager thinks nothing of those dangling TVs that threaten to drop right on top of a passerby’s head. In fact, he’d probably find some way to plank it, and his friend would stand directly below it, recording the whole thing on his phone.
So here’s a brief recap of the three teen qualities all YA authors should know: 1) When a teenager behaves stupidly, the others fall in line. 2) It’s normal for a boy to love his girlfriend so deeply that he’d wear a suit made out of her skin. 3) Abhorrent and life-threatening behavior is a must. Okay. Now go apply what you’ve read and prepare to make millions off your bestselling YA novel. Just give me a shout out in the acknowledgements, please.