For the past five years, I’ve been blogging for teenage fiction writers. As the editor-in-chief of an online magazine for teenage writers, I’ve alternately approved and rejected many articles targeting teenagers and have gained a lot of experience on what works. While the prospect of writing for teenagers may seem intimidating, as someone who wasn’t a teenager all that long ago, writing effectively for teens is very doable if you follow a few simple steps:
- Get to the Point. We live in an era where a lot of different opportunities are pulling on people’s attention. This is especially true for teenagers. I don’t believe that means we need to write short pieces for teens (most of mine tend to be between 1,500 and 2,500 words). But it does mean you need to get to the point immediately and not waste time rambling. If you avoid writing fluff and hit your points hard, you may be surprised at how many committed teens will keep reading your writing. If you avoid writing fluff and hit your points hard, you may be surprised at how many committed teens will keep reading your writing. Click To Tweet
- Don’t Try to Sound Sophisticated. In my experience, teens can handle complicated topics just like anyone else. But you need to know how to phrase it—and you can’t put it in sophisticated terms. Teens aren’t looking for someone who sounds smart and educated. They’re looking for someone who communicates effectively without putting on any airs. You’re not doing yourself any favors by using words that sound intelligent. Instead, learn how to speak their language, explain complicated concepts in simple terms, and reach them where they’re at.
- Be Personal. Teens value authenticity and relatability. The more personal you can be in your writing, the more effective you’ll be in writing for teens. Perhaps more than any other group, teens want to read about someone who sounds like them and who can communicate to them in relevant ways. Don’t be afraid of revealing a bit more of yourself than you would otherwise, or sounding a bit less professional in your blogging style. The more personal you are, the more teens will trust you and care about what you’re saying. Remember: a little humor can go a long way!
- Connect Complicated Concepts to Practical Examples. As a high school English teacher, I often have to explain complicated literary concepts to teenagers. Breaking concepts down into simple terms helps, but relating these concepts to practical examples—like a current event or a current trend—can make a world of difference in the classroom. The same principle applies to blogging. When I’m helping teens with complicated writing concepts, showing applications of those concepts in popular books and movies makes them a lot less complex. The more you can connect what you’re saying to what teens are familiar with, the better.
- Writing for Teens Isn’t Much Different than Writing for Adults. Sometimes, writers get too concerned about changing their writing for teens. But at the end of the day, teens can handle a lot more than we think they can. Speaking as someone who wasn’t a teen that long ago, we don’t like it when people dumb stuff down for us. Many of the principles I’ve already described apply when writing for adults as well! The only difference is how you apply these principles. If you assume that teens can’t understand important concepts, you’ll reap what you sow. But if you treat them as intelligent adults while tweaking your style appropriately, you may be surprised by how much they can rise to the challenge.
If you write high-quality content that hits teens where they are, you’ve already won the main battle; everything else is in the details. When I was a teen, I was consistently frustrated by how shallow most books and blogs targeted at teens were, and ended up reading many books targeted to adults if I wanted to learn anything. There’s a huge untapped market for reaching teens effectively with writing that’s actually helpful—particularly in the fiction writing sphere. Treat teens like anyone else while keeping their idiosyncrasies in mind, and you’ll be well on the path to writing effectively for teens.
Bio: Josiah DeGraaf is a high school English teacher and the editor-in-chief of http://kingdompen.org/, a site that equips teens to write for Christ with proficiency and purpose. When he’s not working at either of those pursuits, he spends his free time reading fantasy novels and trying to break into the fantasy market. You can follow him on Twitter at https://twitter.com/JosiahDeGraaf