Some years ago I read the following article on CNN and bookmarked it because I found it so intriguing:
My favorite line from the article, written by Elizabeth Landau: “Neuroscientists confirm that teenagers do have brains.” Lol—that’s good to know! I know a few parents of teens who have wondered about this from time to time. And even though this article is about how teen brains are more wired for risk than adult brains, and how teen emotion will often win out over logical thinking, I think it’s a good reminder to middle-grade writers, too, that kids think very differently than adults.
One of the great challenges of being a middle-grade writer is getting into the mind of adolescent characters. Adult writers are writing for other adults, but writers of middle-grade are writing for a target audience to which we don’t personally belong. It’s a unique challenge—we have to constantly ask ourselves how a tween would react to a certain situation, how he/she would act when faced with this set of circumstances, what he/she would say to a parent, teacher, or friend during this conversation.
I’m someone who tends to be pretty practically-minded, so this article was a good reminder that some of my tween characters might need to react a little more emotionally to a situation than I might. It also made me think about risks, and about how some of my tween characters would likely be a lot more comfortable taking risks than I do.
A relative of mine likes to tell the story of the time he encountered a small brown bear rooting through a dumpster when his family was camping in a national park. (This was before the days of bear-proof dumpsters.) He was about 12 years old. Now if I was by myself on the outskirts of a campground at twilight and encountered a bear, even a small one, digging through a garbage bin, I would have been out of there faster than you could say, “bear bait.” Instead, his 12-year-old self thought it would be cool to try to get as close to the bear as possible for a good look. So he inched forward and forward, little by little, watching and taking note of the bear’s clumpy brown fur and how its enormous head and tiny ears bobbed up and down as it prodded through garbage with its snout. Only when the bear finally lifted its head, narrowed its beady black eyes, and growled did he decide that maybe it was a good idea to leave, after all.
Personally, I inch away from wild animals with teeth, not toward them, lol. I guess I really do think differently than a 12-year-old. But such things are a good reminder to me that my middle-grade protagonists are not necessarily going to think like me, that they are probably going to be more emotional and less introspective and probably more comfortable with risk than I would be in their situations. Luckily for us, while taking risks might not always be the best course of action in real life, it makes for great storytelling.
What do you do to get into the heads of your middle-grade characters?photo credit: Tambako the Jaguar via photopin cc