For Halloween this year, I made a CD mix of some of my favorite spooky-themed songs. As I was listening to it today (yes, I realize Halloween is over), “The Time Warp” came on. And suddenly I had a major flashback. When I was fourteen, I was a huge fan of The Rocky Horror Picture Show. Most of my friends – a group of eclectic, theater-types – were fans as well. During tenth grade, we somehow decided that we should act out the entire show (in costume) and then film it. This was before YouTube (before the Internet, actually), so our ambitions were pretty humble: one of the kids would film it on his dad’s home video camera and then we would screen the finished product for our friends.
I took it upon myself to write out the entire script by hand (based on a photo-book of the movie), which I then xeroxed and handed out to my friends. We cast the show, dredged up costumes, and started in on rehearsals. Never mind that we were probably breaking a ton of copyright laws or that we were all pretty innocent (none of had ever worn fishnets and we had no idea how we were going to film that sexy swimming pool scene in “Don’t Dream It, Be It”). We plowed ahead, fully enjoying every goofy moment, until the two of the actors (who had once dated) got into such a huge fight that we had to scrap the project.
Even now, as I recount this, I can’t help but cringe. Especially when I remember that I was cast as Janet (and I wanted the part!). And this isn’t my only cringe-worthy act as a teenager. When I was nineteen, I went to Tunisia on my own, to study Arabic for six weeks. On the flight there, I was seated next to a cute Tunisian guy, about my age. After chatting with me for an hour, he invited me to his family’s house for the weekend, because his older sister was getting married. I was like, ‘Why not? What a great cultural experience!’ Never mind that the guy was a complete stranger and that I was going to a foreign country where I knew no-one. I came out of the weekend unscathed (the guy was actually pretty decent), but it was still a horrible lapse in judgment.
So what’s my point? When we write young adult fiction, we have to remember that teenagers are prone to these lapses in judgment. Even if they’re good kids who stay out of trouble, they still act impulsively and do stupid things that are hard to justify. When we write as adults, we have the benefit of hindsight. We have already lived through our teenage mistakes, and (hopefully) learned from them. But our characters haven’t. We can’t judge them by the same standards we would use for older protagonists. We need to allow them the same freedom we had – the freedom to make crazy mistakes and enjoy every moment of it.