5 Reasons Writing YA (Sci-Fi and Fantasy) Is Awesome

I like to say that despite aging into my twenties, part of my soul got stuck at sixteen.

I loved my teen years. ¬†They were awkward, complicated, and emotional, like anyone’s teen years, but they were also chock-full of joy, adventure, good friendship, and new knowledge.

Nineteen years old, holding my newborn son.  I was a teen mom.  :P

Nineteen years old, holding my newborn son. I was a teen mom. ūüėõ

During my mid-teens I moved from California to New Hampshire (during February, no less…talk about weather shock!). ¬†Weeks later, just before turning seventeen, I met my husband. ¬†By the time I turned twenty I had married him and given birth to our first baby!

Life changes like crazy during the teen years. ¬†You go from being a dependent child to an independent adult who’s expected to do almost everything for themselves. ¬†This is why the “coming of age story” has been around forever, even though “YA” is a fairly new genre, and currently a very popular one. ¬†Coming of age is a universal experience for teens (who are living it) and adults (who once lived it). ¬†Grown-ups who scorn teens forget that they were there once too, navigating a lot of hard situations and having their perspective battered and changed, over and over again. ¬†It’s no surprise to me that my protagonists usually come to me as teenagers (usually in the 14 to 18 range), whether or not they grow to twenty or older during a book or series.

Here are some of the reasons why writing for teenagers is awesome…

From the “Harry Potter” film franchise, based off the books by J.K. Rowling

1. We all love stories about people finding their place in the world.

So many stories are about people going from “nobodies” to “somebody”, people realizing, “I was meant for this,” people taking a stand and finding their place on the battlefield of life, people discovering their super powers, magical powers, or simply their own self-confidence. ¬†Young adult and teen literature is the perfect place to play with this theme, because young adulthood is a time in life where most people really have to grapple with who they are, and where God wants them to be.

Some have known all along what they wanted to be. ¬†I knew from an early age that I wanted to be a writer. ¬†But others aren’t sure if they have any abilities, or if they do, what possible use those abilities could be to God or His world. ¬†I love stories that remind them – and all of us – that God has a unique purpose for each human being, in particular those within His church, who He intends to strengthen one another. ¬†Even those of us who aren’t in our teens anymore can appreciate that reminder!

“For as in one body we have many members, and the members do not all have the same function, so we, though many, are one body in Christ, and individually members one of another. Having gifts that differ according to the grace given to us, let us use them: if prophecy, in proportion to our faith; if service, in our serving; the one who teaches, in his teaching; the one who exhorts, in his exhortation; the one who contributes, in generosity; the one who leads, with zeal; the one who does acts of mercy, with cheerfulness.” – Romans 12:4-8

From “The Chronicles of Narnia: The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe,” based off the book by C.S. Lewis

2. It reminds us that the “inconsequential” among us can do great things.

Is it “unrealistic” when teenagers save the world, a la¬†Harry Potter? ¬†We sometimes laugh at this. ¬†It seems so far fetched, and (grown-ups reason) teens know so little about the world and aren’t capable of that kind of amazing feat. ¬†Someone else is a better candidate, right? ¬†Obviously an adult would be a more realistic person to save the world, we say…adults have so much more know-how and are wiser/smarter/more experienced than teens, we think.

But God’s way isn’t always man’s way. ¬†The¬†Bible is full of young people God used in incredible ways – David, Daniel, Esther, Timothy. ¬†In fact, God even says he sometimes uses the foolish people in the world to shame the wise! ¬†This is possible because it is His strength we walk in, not our own. ¬†And that is a refreshing and comforting thought for all of us, because in God’s eyes we are all foolish, small-minded, and limited.

“Let no one despise you for your youth, but set the believers an example in speech, in conduct, in love, in faith, in purity.” – 1 Timothy 4:12

From “The Giver”, recent movie based off the book by Lois Lowry

3.  Teens are complex, deep-thinking people too.

“We hear a great deal about the rudeness of the rising generation. ¬†I am an oldster myself and might be expected to take the oldsters’ side, but in fact I have been far more impressed by the bad manners of parents to children than by those of children to parents. ¬†Who has not been the embarrassed guest at family meals where the father or mother treated their grown-up offspring with an incivility which, offered to any other young people, would have simply terminated the acquaintance? ¬†Dogmatic assertions on matters which the children understand and their elders don’t, ruthless interruptions, flat contradictions, ridicule of things the young take seriously, sometimes of their religion, insulting references to their friends, all provide an easy answer to the question, ‘Why are they always out? ¬†Why do they like every house better than their home?’ ¬†Who does not prefer civility to barbarism?” – C.S. Lewis

Back at the church I grew up in, when I graduated to the 6th grade (I think?), I walked into the youth Sunday school classroom for the first time with a few of my friends. ¬†This dimly lit, loud place was our new “home.”

As we entered, an older boy bellowed,¬†“Eeeeeew,¬†sixth graders.” ¬†Right off the bat this new place didn’t seem very friendly!

Often adults do this to teens. ¬†They treat them as shallow, stupid, silly, arrogant, and dramatic, because they are young and haven’t seen much of the world. ¬†But these are young adults, simply younger people trying to become a part of the grown-up realm. ¬†In many ways teens are only imitating the ideas and attitudes they see in the older people around them, as they try to fit into that world themselves. ¬†Sometimes their outside perspective can reveal important things.

Young adult fiction must take the teen protagonist seriously (or else teens won’t read it because they can see the condescension all over the page). ¬†Writing YA requires me to remember what it was like to¬†be¬†a teenager, and how it felt to be empowered and encouraged in my reluctant quest for independence by kind adults who had been there. ¬†That is a huge blessing to a young person. ¬†Teens need to be challenged – because they will rise to that challenge! – not taunted and disrespected.

I want to welcome young adults, to tell them, “You matter, and there is a place here for you. ¬†You will grow into this strange new world – I know it, and God is with you!”

“Do not rebuke an older man but encourage him as you would a father, younger men as brothers, older women as mothers, younger women as sisters, in all purity.” – 1 Timothy 5:1-2

From “The Hunger Games,” based off the book by Suzanne Collins

4.  We can influence the future for Christ by speaking directly to this rising generation.

One day teens will take over the places we adults inhabit.  We are responsible for shaping the generations that follow us, and this as true for teens as it is for young children.  And we all know books shape us and change us, no matter what age we are.

Writing for teens is a powerful way to encourage the next generation and “stir them up to love and good works.” ¬†Many people credit books like¬†Harry Potter¬†with challenging racism and discrimination. ¬†How much more powerful would it be if we Christian writers shared stories that not only challenge young people to do the right thing, but also urge them to draw close to God and find hope¬†in him? ¬†Much YA literature is devoid of hope (The Hunger Games included…), because it is devoid of Christ.

“He established a testimony in Jacob and appointed a law in Israel, which he commanded our fathers to teach to their children, that the next generation might know them, the children yet unborn, and arise and tell them to their children, so that they should set their hope in God¬†and not forget the works of God, but keep his commandments…” – Psalm 78:5-7

“…But in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect…” – 1 Peter 3:15

From “Divergent,” based off the book by Veronica Roth

5. ¬†This one’s specifically for speculative fiction writers – teens love to explore new worlds!

Certainly there are many adults who are geeky and love to read stories about other worlds and crazy adventures, but this is especially true of teens, who have more time to read and imagine as a general rule, and are often vocally passionate about their favorite fandoms. ¬†They love new worlds! ¬†Sometimes it’s to escape an unpleasant situation in the real world, and sometime it’s to revive their imaginations. ¬†Either way, reading opens our minds to look at life from a new perspective.

In my¬†Kraesinia Trilogy, more of the humans recruited to Kraesinia are young people, because there are fewer things resting on their shoulders and they are free to give their lives to the cause of Kraesinia. ¬†As we grow up, more earthly cares crowd our minds, and – sadly – some of us lose our sense of wonder and amazement at God’s creation. ¬†I have always found that reading about other amazing worlds refuels my amazement at this world! ¬†I want to capture the imaginations of young readers who are not jaded or cynical, but love beautiful worlds and beautiful stories, and whose lives are shaped and enriched by them.

Not everyone is called to write speculative fiction, and that’s not all teens read, but as the movie images above remind us, it is a genre loved by millions of teens the world over. ¬†I am excited to feed them more of the literary food they love, because that is how God has nourished my imagination all my life.

I love you, teen readers! Рespecially those of you who are my younger sisters and brothers in Christ!  Keep reading, and learning, and growing, and showing the world the beauty of Jesus our Savior, Who dwells in you and equips you for every good work.

“For God is my witness, how I yearn for you all with the affection of Christ Jesus. And it is my prayer that your love may abound more and more, with knowledge and all discernment, so that you may approve what is excellent, and so be pure and blameless for the day of Christ, filled with the fruit of righteousness that comes through Jesus Christ, to the glory and praise of God.” – Philippians 1:8-11

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What is / was your favorite fandom as a teenager?  What world did you want to inhabit?  For me it was The Lord of the Rings.

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6 Comments

  1. Kessie

     /  August 27, 2014

    As a teen, I inhabited Sonic the Hedgehog’s crazy world. And it is a massive, wonderful, science-fantasy world. I still have friends there. ūüôā

    Reply
  2. Lord of the Rings by far! Great article. I just entered the YA world with only limited amounts of kicking and screaming, but for many of the reasons you listed above, I felt like it was a good move. I think the main thing which kept me from wanting to be a YA writer was the slew of bad writing for this group, the willingness of some writers to have underdeveloped characters and stories because they believed it was okay in YA, and mistaking mating rituals for true romance. But I’m here now and I’m going to stay. THanks for the reminder of the beauty of this genre!

    Reply
    • I’m glad you enjoyed the article! Yes, there is a lot of bad writing and bad story development in this genre…let’s all change that stereotype, one book at a time! ūüėÄ

      Reply
  3. Very neat post! I’m sure my sister would totally agree as well. She’s always had quite the heart and ministry for teens.

    Reply

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