I watch what they watch, read what they read, and visit places where they shop, play, and study.
Most of this is aided by the fact that I’m being dragged into Justice or tugged onto the couch for an Austin and Ally marathon by my own young kids. As much as this is family time, it's also priceless source material. On Sunday, I cuddled on the couch with my seven-year-old, watched the Ramona and Beezus movie, and saw something that helped me make a breakthrough on a plot point that had me stymied. Each Monday, I read to my twin eleven year-olds’ sixth grade class so I can be a fly on the wall in a middle school classroom. I often linger (you say spy, I say linger) to listen to the kids chat as they put away their lunches and get ready for recess. I know the ins and outs of the Rainbow Loom and which Magic the Gathering cards are rare. I have been well schooled on the fact that middle school kids DO NOT make phone calls. If they can’t text it, it isn’t being communicated
I thought I was all set.
But none of that is helping at the moment because I’m writing a YA. And the only teens in my life are the babysitters who just want to be paid already thanks, so they can slip quietly into the night and swear off children until the next time they need gas money.
So I have to get creative.
Once again, pop culture is my friend (Oh, Friday Night Lights, you always steer me straight) and I’ll happily work my way through any YA to-read pile, but I’m taking it a bit farther these days. This week I started reading an ARC of The Owner’s Manual for Driving Your Adolescent Brain, which is described by the Huffington Post as “a riveting, reassuring, and plain English guide to what is going on in adolescents’ heads between the ages of ten and twenty.” I also signed up for a seminar called “Understanding your Teen” at my town’s high school. I’m sure the other parents will wonder why I’m the only one there not pulling out my hair and sobbing into my coffee (kid stuff is great, but I draw the line at strawberry milk). I will listen in and revel in the fact that at least I have complete control over the teens who will live on my pages. I will also try hard to ignore the fact that in a few short years I’ll have bald patches of my own. I guess when that day comes, it'll be a fair trade off for appropriately-aged source material.
So spill: how do you get to know your kid characters?