Friday 11 January 2019

Writing for Young Adults – creating the young adult protagonist

General definition of a young adult

         They tend to be post- puberty
         They may or may not be sexually active but are capable of producing a viable child
         They are often referred to as “adolescent” but in fact this term covers puberty and post-puberty.
         However the young adult still has other changes going on.
         Changes happen at different times for individuals. 
         Males become more sporty, females become distracted    

Changes in the brain

There are lots of changes going on:
      Neurons and synapses grow rapidly and cut back rapidly also.  
      The frontal cortex is the last to finish this process. Is this where “common sense” resides and therefore there is no common sense?
      These young people tend to reason with amygdale, the seat of raw emotions.  
      These processes are usually complete by 17 at the latest. As puberty is normally complete by 14, we define young adult as 14-17.
      Several confusions in thinking processes arise because of these changes.
         This all leads to chaotic, despairing and impulsive behaviour.
Recommended reading: Blame My Brain by Nicola Morgan, 2007 Walker Books. Nicola Morgan has consulted the scientific research and presented this in a book that is easy to read.  

Effects of dopamine

         In addition higher levels of dopamine exist in the adolescent brain. Dopamine triggers the desire for pleasure and can increase related risk-taking. Food, sex, alcohol and drugs further increase dopamine levels.
          This can lead to such extreme activities as joy-riding and drug-taking. 

The young adult and sleep

         All the extra activity means they need more sleep – as much as a toddler, in fact.
         Melatonin, the sleep-inducing chemical, arrives later in the adolescent brain than in the adult brain. In adults it starts about 9.00 p.m. and in young adults 11.00 p.m. or later.
         Often therefore young adults do not get enough rapid-eye-movement sleep – they do not dream. This can often lead to mental health problems.
         This one trait often lasts until early 20s. There are implications here for higher education.  
         Many High School in US therefore do not start until 10.00 a.m.    

Examples of young adults staying up late in literature

You find this in the works of:
of Judy Blume, Ann Brashares, Kate Cann, Douglas Coupland, Hazel Edwards, Monika Feth, Catherine Forde, Cathy Hopkins, Christine Nöstlinger, Tabitha Suzuma and Judy Waite.

In summary, general characteristics

      They have to take charge of the world but are not so sure of themselves as younger teens – they see the shades of grey
      They often become head boy or head girl at this time.
      They may become interested in religion.
      They begin to hypothesise and can think abstractly. They can and tend to use and understand symbols. They are capable of theorizing
      They have a distorted image of themselves.
      They are hypersensitive and suffer from mood swings.
      They don’t recognise facial expressions and often misinterpret them.  
      They tend to reason with the emotions rather than logic.
      They need a lot of sleep but probably don’t get it. They stay up late and get up at the normal time when they actually need at least 9.25 hours sleep a night.
      They need bigger thrills to obtain gratification. They are big risk-takers. 
      They are prone to the onset of mental illnesses.
      They are socially and emotionally clumsy.
      They are disappointed with what adults have done with the world though are afraid of taking responsibility for it. They know they have to reorder their world.
      They feel peer pressure.
      They are beginning to make choices that may determine the rest of their lives.
      They are at best curious about drugs and at worst become addicted.      

Creative writing exercise

Young Adult Character Questionnaire

The young adult faces a lot of pressure:
  1. Physical – hormones, sexual development, brain, growth spurt
  2. Mental – thinks with emotions, not logic, pressure to do well at school, has to make decisions
  3. Emotional – relationships, peer pressure, loss of parents, need for other mentor
  4. Main motivation – need to create their own world.     

Answer the following questions for two friends in a story you might create:
  1. What do they look like?
  2. How sexually active are they?
  3. How used are they to their own height and strength?
  4. How are they doing at school? What are they good at, what are they bad at?
  5. What sort of thing might they want to do later?
  6. What do they worry about most?
  7. Who are they getting on well with?
  8. From whom do they feel peer pressure?
  9. Who has replaced their parents?
  10. What are they most concerned about in this scene? 

Now write a short scene between two of you characters.  

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1 comment:

  1. Great information, Gill. I'm working on some YA fiction right now. This advice is well appreciated.