I was recently editing a MG manuscript where the protag kids were about 12 or 13 years old and I realized there’s a distinction, in my opinion, between writing as if your characters are actual kids and writing your characters for kids. So actual 12 or 13 year olds are using some pretty colorful language (even including all the more nasty 4 letter words), experimenting with kissing and touching (I know! Shocking, right?!) and they are basically just walking bags of smelly, emotional hormones. Yes, 13 year olds are already hormonal! Often, middle grade stories, whose readers are between 8 and 12 years old, feature older kids. It’s natural, because kids want to read about older kids, they want to look up to your characters. But if you’re writing for a middle grade reader, I don’t think it’s appropriate to be talking about nascent BJs, embarrassing BO, or dropping F bombs, you know? (If you need somebody to explain what those initials mean, ask a 13 year old…) Ok, you can talk about body odor… Now, if you’re writing a YA manuscript and you have 12 or 13 year olds walking and talking like actual 12 or 13 year olds, I think it’s a whole different thing.
What do you think? How true to life do you think MG or YA characters should be? Where do your characters stand?