When writing a book for young adults, as I am, there comes a point where you have to deal with the inevitable: the truth of the matter is that teenagers have relationships, and a difficult issue when it comes to depicting modern teen relationships is sex.
So what do you do if you want to write a book for young adults, that appeals to the realities of their lives, whilst avoiding the pitfalls of making more chaste teens feel alienated? Basically, an issue I ran into a few months back, like a solid brick wall, was; should teen characters have sex?
My two characters are hardly even teens (they’re both almost twenty) but in the end I decided to take a route for them that walks a subtle line between an actual real-world physical relationship and something less overtly sexual. I definitely don’t want the two of them to be ‘just friends’ but I also have to be careful not to make things too intense for younger readers. I only recently realised that my books might appeal to a younger demographic and keeping them in mind has forced me to make some pretty hefty changes.
One of the key issues I’m having to deal with are the difficulties in plot points that are dependent on their sleeping together. When I say ‘sleeping together’ I don’t mean anything sexual, I simply mean that on a number of occasions a key plot point is dependent on them staying over at each other’s houses.
I pondered this problem for a long time. Originally my main characters had a physical relationship and back then I planned out chapters and chapters of plot based around the two of them being present at the same houses at various times of the day and, importantly, I just assumed that they would be sleeping at each-others’ homes.
However, through the course of time (and after having my wife proof-read my first few chapters) it became clear that if my characters’ sexual relationship remained as overt as it was in earlier drafts the book(s) would be unlikely to be appropriate for/appeal to the teen/pre-teen demographic I’m now hoping to reach.
This is a difficult decision and it’s meant that so many different things have had to change. Though the plot of my book is still very similar to what it was when I started, I’m still having to traipse back through old material to make sure that it doesn’t refer to what was previously a much more overtly physical relationship.
I definitely need them to be boyfriend and girlfriend, however the nature of this relationship has changed significantly. This can sometimes weigh a little heavy on me as I’m not sure if this makes me a dishonest author, pandering to preferred reader, rather than writing what I originally set out to do. That said, I have to be realistic about this. I want people to read my books and it’s no use writing a book that will only appeal to me. If my primary aim is to provide an entertaining reading experience for a wide range of readers, I have to at least avoid writing about things that are either inappropriate or unappealing for those readers.
To be honest I’m actually pretty comfortable with my characters the way they are now. This change in how I define their relationship means I can concentrate more on the day-to-day aspects, rather than trying to pay too much attention to the nature and language of their physical encounters (I have to confess, I’m not the best at writing sex scenes, I’m just going to have to leave that to Anne Rice). Changing their physical encounters, from being overtly described to simply existing as subtle hints, actually seems to have allowed me to explore a more realistic and believable relationship for my two main characters.
Despite this, I’m still concerned that there may be something less ‘literarily honest’ about the way I’ve written my redraft. Of those of you who do write I’m very interested to see what you have done (if anything) to alter your characters, and/or plot, to make it more readable for your target demographic. Am I alone in doing this or do other authors think (even occasionally) about their target readers when sitting down to write? As always thanks for reading and I welcome any comments you have in the comments section below, Cheers, John