I apologize in advance for this EPIC of a blog post.
A while back, I was told my writing “read too young.”
I tried to brush it off, but I couldn’t figure it out. I often have scenes featuring “adult” topics: death, sex, drinking, college, etc. But then I have scenes where my characters roll around on the floor and laugh together, talking about what kinds of tattoos they want to get. In the book I’m writing now, my main characters go swing on a playground and splash around in a fountain, and another character (who’s 19) plays with action figures in his tree house. So yeah, I guess the stuff I write can be very silly.
Yesterday, I finally figured it out when I was importing old CDs to iTunes. In high school, I was totally into making mixed CDs. From the amount of CDs I found in my attic, you’d think that’s all I did when I was a teenager. Some of these CDs are 14 years old, so you can imagine my surprise when I played them and realized not only has my taste in music not changed, but neither has my silliness factor!
I found I named some of my CDs things like:
• Minutemen, Mosquitoes and Australia
• Food is Good
• Gumdrops and Toothpicks
• Ode to Manboobs
• Kool-Aid and Manboobs
And the best one of all…
• Ode to Myself
When I found the CDs, I giggled and laughed, and showed my husband, and giggled and laughed some more, and he stared at me, shaking his head, wide-eyed.
Back in high school, I remember giving such CDs to my friends and they would giggle and laugh and say, “Yuck! Manboobs!”
So after remembering all this, it clicked: When I was 16, I was making these stupid CDs, but my friends and I were all still very much obsessed with things like guys and sex and drinking and going to crazy field parties.
That’s just what teenagers do.
Then recently, I was over at a fifteen-year-old girl’s house. She had three friends over, and they sat in the kitchen for, I kid you not, two hours, giggling and laughing about NOTHING.
NOTHING HAS CHANGED
In BEFORE I FALL, a girl keeps re-living the last day of her life. She keeps dying. That’s a pretty deep topic for a 14 year old to read about. Also, the main character drinks and obsesses about sex and worries about gossip, among other “mature” things. But then there’s this scene where she and her friends cook dinner together and dance around the kitchen and laugh.
It brought everything full circle. I liked that, even though this girl keeps facing the harsh truths of her life and her death, she still acted silly with her friends.
Then I was reading TWENTY BOY SUMMER, and while the book features a death, there’s a cute scene involving two teenagers smearing each other with cake.
Maybe this is why I like the ALICE books so much – Alice faces all sorts of tough scenarios: sex, drinking, friends getting pregnant, but in the end, Alice is still Crazy Alice, doing stupid things like stealing an orange cone from the highway in the middle of the night.
But then I read other young adult books featuring tough situations involving death and suicide and cancer (I could name fifty books off the top of my head), and yes, they are deep and moving and make me think, but sometimes I wish the teenage characters would do silly things like roll around on the floor, laughing about NOTHING. And it doesn’t happen – the characters are serious the ENTIRE book.
I loved SOME GIRLS ARE. It was a great book. But damn was it serious. I kept thinking, why are these 17-year-olds so serious and mean and not having any fun? Isn’t this the time of life when teenagers are supposed to be going nuts?
IN REAL LIFE
Yes, teenagers will face things like whether to drink or have sex, or they may have to deal with someone having cancer or being in a coma or dying, but I’m sure they’re still being silly.
I remember when I was 15, my good friend Ragan and I were managers of the boys’ soccer team. We spent several afternoons a week being surrounded by 30 guys (some of them were very very hot), so sure, we were thinking about hooking up like a dehydrated person in the desert thinks about water.
But you know what? We didn’t sit around thinking deeply about hooking up or being jealous of other girls or anything like that – we were coming up with ridiculous pick-up lines and testing them on all the soccer players. And then we’d giggle and run away, and then we’d go back to her house and make popcorn and watch the Austin Powers movies and roll around on the floor.
Two of my best friends in high school were guys. I remember my mom said to my dad, “Those boys only want one thing. Miranda shouldn’t be spending so much time with them.” And my dad replied, “But all they ever do is talk about nothing and laugh for hours.”
KIDS MATURE AT DIFFERENT SPEEDS
In one of my books, my main character and her best guy friend often share a bed, sleeping “head to toe.” One reader told me, “I don’t buy that at all. In high school, I never would’ve shared a bed with a guy.” But then I mentioned this to my mother-in-law, and she said, “I had absolutely no problems with any of your scenes in your book. Those kids acted like teenagers through and through.”
And it’s not because the parents are stupid or neglectful, it’s because THAT’S WHAT TEENAGERS DO.
One of the best books I’ve read in a long time is A MATCH MADE IN HIGH SCHOOL. There’s no death. Nobody’s in a coma. It’s a bunch of teenagers acting silly, acting like teens. And yes, there’s discussion of sex and drinking.
I’m not completely sure what I’m trying to say here except I think young adult literature could use a whole lot more silliness and less seriousness.
In leaving out the silliness, are we forcing kids to grow up too soon?
What do you all think?
16 thoughts on “The Importance of Being Ridiculous”
I think we force teenagers to be adults too soon. Yes they face hard things, (harder than I ever had to), but they are still kids and they deserve to act like kids. I’m making a vow to put more of the sweetness and yes, silliness that makes up the greatest memories of teenagehood.
I SOO love this post. It reminded me of how much fun I had in high school just being silly. I totally agree with you, and it’s a good reminder for my own writing. Time to bring the silly back! 🙂
E. Kristin Anderson (Emily)
Miranda I love love love love love this post. We have often talked about how we are sort of completely the same person. For the second Austin Powers movie, I hand made invitations and handed them out to my lunch table and invited them to “A Swingin’ Shindig” and then we all went to my house, watched the first one, and went to the new movie together. THOSE are the kinds of parties I hosted and went to. The year I didn’t run cross country, I managed the team. Did I end up dating a freshman (I was a junior)? Yes. Did we ever get past holding hands? No. Did everyone on the team giggle about it every time we got together? HECK YES.
I recently read FOREVER by Judy Blume and while I loved this book as an adult, I think I might have been scandalized by it as a teen. And that’s okay. I think the books I write have parts that would have scandalized me as a teen, but they also have parts that would have made me laugh. And now I want to have more silliness. My next book will face the tough issues with a spoonful of giggles. <3<3<3!
(PS I made about eighty jillion mix tapes when I was in high school. EIGHTY JILLION.) I still have a bunch, too.
YES!! I love this post. Teens do still act silly (thank goodness), even in the midst of really heavy stuff going on sometimes. And yes they think about sex (or have sex), they drink, and they go to parties. Just because they mature into the partying and sex phase doesn’t mean they never have another lighthearted moment.
Totally agree. I had the same comments made about my books while on submission, but I just kept writing my characters the way they are. I see teenagers in my neighborhood being silly all of the time. I was also that kind of kid, and my senior year of high school my group completed a project for our advanced history class by using my old Barbies and another friend’d GI Joes. It was hilarious, and it was pretty much what I did my entire high school experience. Sure I drank and did, ahem, less than smart things, but I was never that serious.
And I agree about your opinion of Before I Fall. That scene is what made the characters real for me. That book is one of my recent favorites.
Who has that kind of attention span for all of that seriousness? Even as an adult, I don’t. 🙂
My husband has been working with teens for 15+ years now and he has a brilliant observation about this phenomenon: They can think and argue like adults and the very next second they can be rolling around on the floor and acting like babies. Sooo true! My favorite YA books (yours included) capture the manic pendulum of adolescence in all its ins and outs.
Your husband is definitely right, Sara! Right before my fifteen-year-old friend and her friends dissolved into a two-hour giggle-fest about brownie mix or something, we had a philosophical discussion about ENDER’S GAME. I mean, really? 🙂
I am so with you on the silly factor. And not just with books, but in adult life. It’s a life saver. It helps us process.
Such a great post, and so true!! When I was in high school I wanted to think of myself as deep and into art and indie films and maybe in some ways I was, but I also just wanted to watch “Lois & Clark” with my friends on a Sunday night and laugh and do silly things and have fun. It’s not childish — it’s teen-ish!!
A few weeks ago I was making a life map with my creative writing kids, and I told them about the HT Picard. Now they won’t stop saying HT about everything. I’ve created monsters. Also, I miss you!
I completely agree with you! In fact, in my own writing, I go by this motto: Silliness first, drama second, then more silliness. 😛
Sometimes I worry that people will think my stories are too childish because of that, but then I think, so what? Silliness and immaturity is what feels true to me, especially back when I was a teen, so surely it’s relatable to someone else!
I totally agree. My friends and I acted so stupid, but we did sort of discuss things like sex, drinking. I mean we never actually did these things, but it’s not like we don’t think about it. Even in college, we act stupid, but we also have our serious moments.
This is the problem I had with YA books when I was a YA, not so very long ago (six years since high school). My friends and I didn’t drink – didn’t even contemplate it, because well…it was illegal. We didn’t have sex. We didn’t even really talk about it because we just wanted to have a boy ask us out. Only one of us had dated anyone upon graduation, and the rest of us were just dying to hold a boy’s hand.
We spent most of our times watching movie marathons, making up the most ridiculous video projects for schools, and doing extra curricular activities.
Sure we had deep discussions, but usually about religion (since we had a Christian, an atheist, a Hindu, and a Jewish friend) or philosophy or science.
And by golly we were silly. ALL THE TIME.
I have slept in a bed with one of my guy friends plus my BFF Regan a girl! And we sometimes just roll around laughing. XD It’s one of my favorite things to do with them.
This is an exquisite post. Reading it felt like a shot in the arm. Glad to know that I am not the only one who believes in the importance of silliness. I am in my mid-twenties but I still act silly when I’m around my close friends. Nothing has changed after all.
So yes, teen characters should be allowed to giggle, squeal, roll on the floor, kick their legs wildly into the air and grin in the dark. I sound like I’m trying to justify the behavior of my characters which is probably true to a certain extent xD
I was like that as a teen, and I’m still like that now. My settings were mega-serious, serious, and off-the-wall. Even if I don’t have whol scenes of fun, there’s always least a character who’s hilariously sarcastic or something. Because life is fun. Even when it’s tough.