1. vonzex
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    vonzex New Member

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    Is it really possible to create a realistic teenage character?

    Discussion in 'Character Development' started by vonzex, Aug 6, 2014.

    In my free time, I like to read book reviews in the Young Adult genre.

    By far the biggest pattern I've seen regarding bad reviews is that the author hasn't balanced their teenage characters. John Green's characters are far too witty, and they're criticised for being pretentious. Gayle Forman's characters are apparently too real, because they're criticised for being obnoxious.

    My question is therefore this: How can you write teenage characters that don't irritate their teenage readers?
     
  2. Nilfiry
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    Nilfiry Contributing Member

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    You know what is really pretentious and obnoxious? Critics that think they know exactly how teenagers are supposed to be. It is obvious that there are certain molds that most people expect teenagers to be, but the problem with stereotypes is that they are only partially true at the best. There are, in fact, real teenagers that are very witty or obnoxious, just as there are a myriad of other possibilities that teenagers can be.

    To answer your question, it is impossible. You cannot please them all. People do not have such a unified mind to where they see or think everything in the same way.
     
  3. peachalulu
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    peachalulu Contributing Member Reviewer Contributor

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    Take criticisms of characters and stories with a grain of salt - the good thing is people are talking about the book. If you can get people to talk about your book and fired up enough to attack aspects of it than that's a good thing - it means that they read it and paid attention.

    Believability of a gender, type, age, group is a slippery slope. Because everyone is bringing their own beliefs in to compare against what you created. You don't really need to be accurate - you need to create an aura of believeability, get the reader to buy into the belief that your teenager is witty, or smart or whatever. A good way to build up that belief is to back it up with details. A witty teenager could be well-read, have an eye for great detail, bides his time to make a crack instead of just letting anything fly out of his mouth. The little details will let your reader know this isn't just any teenager this is your creation.
     
  4. Mike Hill
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    Mike Hill Natural born citizen of republic of Finland.

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    If I would write a book about my own life currently, as a teenager it would have some typical things, but mostly it would be quite extraordinary.
    I think that most, not all, teenagers believe that their live extraordinary. That's why they don't like the teenagers of the books because they have hard time relating.
     
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  5. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    The quality of criticism in the English-speaking world, especially critics working for newspapers who are always quoted on book blurbs, is shockingly shit.

    I know a critic personally (I'll not name him to protect the innocent - and him) who once told me that if he has 500 words in which to review a book, which is a pathetic amount of space as it is, and he's one of the lucky ones, most of those 500 words will go to summing up the story to avoid making critical points, and to prove the critic has read it. If that doesn't strike you as sickening then I guess you and I do not share the same genetic material.
     
  6. Charisma
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    Charisma Transposon Contributor

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    It's not possible to create a character everyone likes, or considers realistic. For any character, of course, realism comes when people can say, "oh, he's an abc because of xyz"; you provide reasons and cause-and-effect relationships for their behaviour, good or bad. Not like literally, but of course, in the process of developing the character.

    For teenagers, I would note though that many a times things teenagers do have unclear motivations or purposes. And that's just what a teenager is--a bird just learning to fly, not really sure what he/she wants from life. Others are so sure they feel like they need to broadcast it. A few simply rebel to mark their identity. I think of my teenage shenanigans and I just wonder--what was I trying to prove by doing all of it? An era of growth and eventual maturity, teenagers don't always make sense, so that in itself is realistic, depending on what angle you're going for.
     
  7. thirdwind
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    thirdwind Contributing Member Contest Administrator Reviewer Contributor

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    One of my pet peeves is when people say that the characters in a particular book aren't realistic enough. We have to keep in mind that our experiences are different from those of the author. Our definition of "realistic" is determined by our culture, upbringing, environment, etc. So instead of dismissing characters as being too unrealistic, maybe we should take some time and effort to understand where the author is coming from. After all, isn't literature all about learning about the experiences of others?
     
  8. Lemex
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    Lemex That's Lord Lemex to you. Contributor

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    'Realistic' is a funny word to be honest, I've met some very odd people in my life. :p
     
  9. Chaos Inc.
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    Chaos Inc. Active Member

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    I have an 11 year old reader and although I'm no longer qualified to provide useful information on this matter but I'll try to draw from my experience.

    Teens like to hang around people that are like themselves. There's a lot of things happening to them that their parents might not have the sense to tell them that it's normal or okay to feel a certain way. Insecurities are abound and can infect other parts of their life. My kid is already exceeding my own drawing abilities but she doesn't think she's good enough to let other people see. While my adult brain grapples with this conflict in reality, her brain is easily convinced that it is true.

    An individual's truth is their perception reality at any age. Teens are seeing truth though a bias of inexperience and hormonal emotions. If they're wrong their world collapses, if they're not liked by their enemies their world collapses, if it rains on their way to school, well you get the picture. If you write your teen characters with that in mind they're going to seem strange to you but make perfect since to your reader. I wouldn't saturate your teen characters with it but they should fight themselves a little on "trivial" things.
     
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  10. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    What kind of teen? Are you going for the sport kids? The nerds? The scene kids (emo, ~kinda~ goth), punks, or? There's no overall teen image.
     
  11. GingerCoffee
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    GingerCoffee Web Surfer Girl Contributor

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    I haven't read "The Fault of Our Stars" or any of his other books, but I've seen some sick kids who grew up fast because of their diagnoses.

    As for too obnoxious, if it's overdone, it's not enjoyable to read (to my taste), regardless if it's realistic or not.
     
  12. Empty Bird
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    Empty Bird Member

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    E-x-a-c-t-l-y!

    As people have already mentioned, creating a character that everyone views as realistic is near impossible.

    For one thing, there are so many people in the world that pinning down an exact character is near impossible. Besides, there are situations in the world that would change people.

    What if you wrote about a teenager in a post-apocolyptic world who had been brought up fighting monsters for a living or something? Reactions would change, perhaps a stereotpical teenager of that time-period would be completely different from the teenagers we associate with today! Basically, time changes things and people, situations, people change people.

    A "realistic teenager"? No, don't worry about creating a realistic teenager! Think about creating a kid who people look up to, hate, connect with- whatever. But what's important isn't that you're creating a teenager, it's that you're creating a character.

    The readers, if they like your character (or love to hate them) will do the rest of sinking them into reality and giving them the features that they can connect to.

    I'd say not to stress too much about it. :) Trust me, the longer you stress of "realism" in characters, the harder it is to create a real one.
     
  13. daemon
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    daemon Contributing Member Contributor

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    You cannot.
     
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  14. vonzex
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    vonzex New Member

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    After reading all your responses, I'm so damn glad I joined this forum. There is clearly a wealth of experience here, and there's been far too many times I've had to spend hours researching some crazy-specific question.

    Thanks for all the comments. You guys have helped me more than you know, but I was wondering if you could help me with one last thing. I have a few issues that the experts here could hopefully help me with. I've added a few notes to my responses that follow to do with grammarian issues I found in my own replies.

    These are some of the things that keep me up at night, so my sleep might very well depend on you.

    I couldn't agree more. My only hope is that I can somehow make believable characters that push the envelope without it feeling unnatural or forced.

    You've hit the nail on the head. The real issue really is making it believable, and as you said, it all hinges on details.

    So you're saying that the book teenagers are too generic?

    It is true that we can't take critics too seriously. My research largely involves reader's reviews, not these so-called "critics". I mean, it's just a job to the critics: they don't really care about the book.

    I'm going to remember this, and I certainly agree that it's just not possible to please everyone.

    This is extremely diplomatic and well reasoned, but, unfortunately, the same is not true of the vast majority of people. I do, however, very much appreciate coming across people like you.

    Note: was my construction of ", but, unfortunately," correct? These are some of the questions I'm rarely able to answer by research. I understand that these conjunctive adverbs are surrounded by commas if they start a sentence or interrupt one, but it feels sloppy next to the independent-clause comma. Also, the commas are omitted if they don't cause an interruption, e.g., However you intend to write, be consistent.

    Noted :D

    This is absolutely brilliant, and I'm going to consciously put this into my next book. Thank you so much for a mother's insight.

    I think I'm going for the "unique teen", which sounds like an oxymoron to us, but to them... I'm not entirely sure how to go about this without making an incredibly annoying character that makes teenagers feel condescended.

    My take on it is trying to find the balance between real life, which is mundane, and books, which are hopefully exciting.

    Note: this construction also seems sloppy to me. Would it have been excessive to place a semicolon between mundane and and?

    Thank you. I think I really needed to hear this.

    Note: what do you do with short fragments like thank you? It appears fragments are fine in dialogue, but what about in general writing. Would the solution have been attaching the thank you to a main sentence?

    It would appear so.
     
  15. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Unique teen, damn that's tough. I'm in high school still (rising senior), and in my three years of high school all I can say is that none of us are unique. We've all got our quirks, but we're all the same. Fighting to get ready for college and the future, no matter how much we try and resist.

    Find something unusual to give the character that third dimension (John Green gave the kids cancer in The Fault in Our Stars, J.K. Rowling gave the kids magic in Harry Potter). Something that makes them stand out. Normal things that you'd see every day in high school aren't unique. If one kid has it, most likely 10 others do.

    Depending on where you want the story to go, you can have fun with this. Like have the kid be a foreign exchange student (In Cold War era US and the kid came to the US from the USSR with his parents who defected from the USSR to the US and they're always being watched and protected). Maybe he's got a disability. Or a superpower? Maybe he's an alien. Honestly you can do anything here. Just be careful, just about everything's been done.
     
  16. vonzex
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    vonzex New Member

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    Well, you're exactly the audience my Young Adult books are targeting, so I'm definitely appreciative that you took the time to reply to me. As far as making characters stand out, you've certainly cracked the code. My biggest concern is doing this in a way that would condescend, you, the reader.

    This is going to be a disjointed analogy, but I've always considered those struck with misfortune that donate to the corresponding charity to be somewhat shallow. In other words, I don't want my characters to be, say, witty as a response to having cancer.

    I already wanted them to be witty, because I want them to be unique without some special circumstance having to occur. It feels more authentic and, in my opinion, results in less irritating characters. I'm likely hardly making sense. Ultimately, if you're familiar with Twilight, you'll know that nothing in particular made Bella unique. She happened to come from a different town, and was perhaps less giddy than the other girls her age, but ultimately she was still different enough to be interesting.

    We see this difference in many ways, but it is most apparent when she becomes a vampire. Although Twilight wasn't exactly captivating for me, Bella is a completely balanced character. She's relatable, and yet there's something about her. It is undeniable due to the series' success.
     
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  17. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    If I understand right from all my female friends flipping out over it, she was an ordinary girl who met the vampire and fell in love and was like "Oh make me a vampire" then there was sex and she almost died and became a vampire. So an external force made her unique.

    Now, I don't know if you could really be condescending. I mean, if you depicted the teen as a burnout who does drugs and parties and is failing, school you're okay. But make him the odd one out. If everyone's like that, then you're being slightly condescending, I think.

    At least in the one example I know I can talk about, The Fault in Our Stars (was forced to read the book, forced to watch the movie), the kids have cancer (we've been over this, of course). Now, I'm not sure where John Green got his info on cancer, but there's no technical talk (as that'd turn off the teenage girls). She's got her backpack with her breathing stuff and he's got his prosthetic leg. What keeps it from being condescending (they're both terminal cancer survivors somehow who are trying to make it through life) is what happens to them. It's not all hunky dorey.
    *SPOILERS* (because I get yelled at when I don't write that)
    Isaac has his eyes cut out to remove the cancer and then his girlfriend breaks up with him because of it.
    Hasel goes into remission briefly but pulls out so she can go to Amsterdam with Gus.
    Gus, after the trip, goes into remission and dies in the end.

    It's realistic. Yes, they survived, but they weren't in their fantasy land. "You don't want to date me, Gus. Because I'm a grenade. One day I'm going to blow up and take with me everyone who's around me." They knew what they were dealing with. As long as it's realistic (and observing teenagers is the best way to achieve realism), you won't be condescending. Of course I have no idea how cancer survivors felt about the book, so I can't say much there.
     
  18. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    Have been watching and enjoying this thread for a bit, thanks! At the moment (based on the characters I enjoyed most as a teenager), I'm working with this sketchy ideology:

    The first thing I do is make an empathetic character. Early on, I want the reader to step into the MC's shoes, so the MC does everyday things the majority of readers can identify with (or whatever fantastical equivalents are necessary). Once you've got them on side, you move on to show the character's true personality via their responses to whatever happens to them (i.e. plot). This is what the reader remembers them for.

    This might mean that early in the story (first few chapters or whatever), the character is doing everyday teenage things and responding as the majority would, without yet revealing any particularly strong character trait. This isn't necessarily boring; just that the character might be a 'blank slate' to start with, with the interest generated by the brilliance of your writing style and ability to point out the humour/irony/idiosyncracies/whatever of everyday life. For instance, Looking for Alibrandi starts with the high-school-student MC fretting over the answer to a question... which turns out to be from a gossip magazine rather than the exam you'd assumed she was sitting during class.

    In a little while Something Happens, and the rest of the work is about how the character responds to this: this is your chance to show the character's true colours. The first Animorphs book began with the characters hanging out at the mall, then deciding to take a risk (... sounds teenagery...) by cutting across an abandoned construction site as a shortcut home. At least 9 times out of 10 aliens wouldn't land in the middle of an abandoned construction site, but this time they do, and that's when the characters' personalities really start to shine. In the real world, there are so many different personalities out there that you get a lot of scope to hit upon 'realistic' - as long as you're consistent in your characterisation (or consistently inconsistent, as the case may be). I'm not saying that the personality only develops in response to Something Happening: just that you'd chosen not to reveal it until the reader was already aboard.

    The longer you stick with the 'blank slate' character the more the reader finds common ground, but you run the risk of the character being boring. I feel this is the case with Bella Swan: IMO she never had much personality, but maybe that allowed readers to substitute in their own (personally, I wasn't interested enough to read beyond the first Twilight book). To some extent I feel Harry Potter was even a bit like this, but the setting and plot offered enough to keep me interested (and I think his personality did grow later on).

    The converse of this is that if you assert their individual personality too early on, the reader may not yet have a personal connection, so feels alienated for the rest of the work. Imagine if Harry Potter had started in media res with a magical throwdown between him and Malfoy. It would feel completely foreign, as the reader wouldn't have seen how he'd come from a (reasonably) relatable background. 'Boring' and 'foreign' can both come off as 'unrealistic'. (As a sidenote, I hold a similar view for songwriting: repetition gives strength but gets boring, experimentation/progression is interesting but less solid).

    I suppose by what I've described, the challenges for the writer are: 1. Staying in tune with the teenage zeitgeist so as to accurately portray 'everyday life'; 2. Being able to portray it entertainingly enough that the reader keeps reading until Something Happens and then cares when it does; 3. Portraying the character's responses so that they are interesting and memorable. As many have already pointed out, everyone has different preferences: some will lie closer to 'boring, everyday', some will lie closer to 'strange and exciting'. You can't please everyone.

    Anyway, hopefully people are able to glean something from my gibberish! Sorry for the length of it.
     
  19. Mike Hill
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    Mike Hill Natural born citizen of republic of Finland.

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    Yes I think they are too generic , well some teens are like generic characters so they might relate.
     
  20. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    Most of us like to think we're unique. Generic characters don't do well, so I've seen. It's the cancer survivor, the impovershed teen fighting a totalitarian government, the girl trying to break out society's boundries, the mythical creature's friend, etc.
     
  21. Sifunkle
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    Sifunkle Dis Member

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    I think it's important to make a distinction between intrinsic and extrinsic though. Is the character generic/unique because of how s/he is on the inside, or because of the events that the story throws at them?

    You can have a character faced with everyday problems respond very uniquely, and you can have a character faced with outlandish situations respond in a totally predictable and understandable way.
     
  22. Mike Hill
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    Mike Hill Natural born citizen of republic of Finland.

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    @Ulramar "Most of us like to think we're unique." That's just what I believe. That's truly why generic characters get so much hate. We don't like to realize that we are quite generic ourselves in many cases.
     
  23. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    We don't want to be generic, so instead the writer (in some cases) creates a bland MC that's still unique because of their situation, and then the MC is thrown into different scenarios and they react how we all THINK we'd react. Do you think you'd survive the Hunger Games? I know I wouldn't. I'd die of dehydration 5 hours in. Well I don't want to read about the tribute that died first, I want to hear about the one that WON. We're generic, but we don't want to read generic characters.
     
  24. Mike Hill
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    Mike Hill Natural born citizen of republic of Finland.

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    @Ulramar "We're generic, but we don't want to read generic characters." That is very true. But if you think about it, the main characters of Harry Potter series are all three of them quite generic. And still very successful.
     
  25. Ulramar
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    Ulramar Contributing Member Contributor

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    They're generic for their world, yes. But to us they're all foreign. Harry Potter is the most generic in himself being raised by muggles. But we're in his PoV (sort of) so we get to discover this new world with him. He might react how we would, and that's the point. Hermione is a mud-blood (I think??), so she's a hybrid. She's the weird one, kind of like "GOSH MOM ITS MAGIC COME ON". Then there's Ron, and he's the most foreign to us. Their personalities are VERY generic, but the world they are in makes them not as generic. That's really the only way I see generic characters working.
     

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