This week I’m in San Francisco at the Ypulse Mash-up -- a conference on reaching teens via media and technology. This year is particularly interesting because there was a pre-conference “mini-conference” on YA (Young Adult) books and publishing. As Editorial Director of a network aimed at teens, I’m always eager to learn the best -- most effective, most creative, most interesting – ways to speak to our audience. What do they respond to, what breaks through the clutter, what is persuasive without setting off cheese alarms? What language is resonant and entertaining and not cliché nor reeking of trying-too-harditis?
I’m frequently frustrated in this latter curiosity because editorial voice is really never addressed, beyond the obvious warning not to overly use teen vernacular. I try to get around the argot issue by not mirroring what teens say so much as mirroring what they do when it comes to language.
For example, rather than rely on slang, I encourage our writers/producers at The N to 1) convey the unique passion, excitement and hyperbole teens use, 2) be playful with language the way teens are (especially girls and gays), and 3) use a teen lens – “teen goggles” - on whatever we’re talking about so we can best understand, describe and promote. We strive to understand and convey the “electricity of teen experience.” This is easier and easier for adults nowadays as many of us (in media in particular) don’t have to wear the grown-up masks our generation would have felt it necessary to adopt in years past. We get to remain young and playful in behavior and language well into adulthood. Personally, I do not find maturity and the elasticity of language to be mutually exclusive. This is only an issue when one needs to gain the acceptance or approval of those who judge or disdain playful language because they read it as frivolous and silly rather than clever. But anyone who’s enjoyed the writing on so-called teen shows like Buffy the Vampire Slayer, Veronica Mars or My So-Called Life know that when teens communicate with creativity and no filters the results can be especially witty or poignant.
Back to Ypulse: While I didn’t get to hear abut “voice,” language or story-telling as much as I’d liked, I was really intrigued by what the YA Publishing speakers had to say about the future of reading in digital age. I’ll go into a bit of detail later; right now I need to go mingle (my least favorite sport, but since it will be coupled with caffeine and cookies I will soldier on.)