Judy Waite's London Masterclass - Growing Pains: Writing for Young Adults

©John Shelley
What lengths are you prepared to go to in order to tap into your teenage protagonist’s mind and find their voice? Would you:-
  • Run away up to London dressed as a teenage boy?
  • Audition for a part in a boy band?
  • Get locked up in a police cell?
All of these have been tried and tested by award-winning author Judy Waite!

With a confession like that, her SCBWI London Masterclass: ‘Growing Pains: Writing for Young Adults.’ promised to be an interesting and entertaining ride.

And that’s exactly how it turned out.

She took us through a series of fun and thought-provoking exercises in a bid to master the dark art of creating a credible and compelling teenage voice.

An interesting and entertaining ride!

Connecting With Your Own Inner Teenager

Working in small groups, we were set the task of remembering what it was like to be a teenager in ‘our day’. For some of us that meant beaming back to the late seventies/early eighties when Punk Rock and fears of being nuked by the Russians ruled. For others it was more about friends, boys and getting hold of alcohol.

But there was a strong consensus that it had also been about isolation and not fitting in. Or, as one member of the group reflected, is it that writers are just a pathologically insecure bunch?

What Matters to Teenagers Now?

Next, we considered today. Are there things that matter more to teenagers now than when we were growing up? No surprises for guessing that social media in all its many guises topped the list. Then followed material goods, self-image and employment.

...is it that writers are just a pathologically insecure bunch?

In essence though, we concluded that the young adults of today are not so hugely different in their passions and fears, hopes and dreams. The trick, as Judy pointed out, is to get into their heads and understand how they live their lives.

Reinvent Yourself

To try and help with this, Judy encouraged us to reinvent ourselves as teenagers today. So we wrote a couple of paragraphs to bring ourselves bang up to date. This proved a challenge. And some of us weren’t quite sure how to transform ourselves into a new, updated version.

Perhaps we're too much like Peter Pan, never wanting to be teenagers in the first place!

Getting All Cut Up

This exercise is based on a tried and tested approach to writing adopted by the likes of William Burroughs and David Bowie. Judy got us experimenting with a new and creative way into the teenage mind.

Perhaps we're too much like Peter Pan

We picked a selection of short phrases and sentences drawn from Facebook messages posted by real-life teenagers and from published teenage novels – including Judy’s own favourite, The Catcher in the Rye by J.D. Salinger – and used them to conjure up a teenage voice and a setting.

We had a little help from a special extra – a bit of meditative candle contemplation.

The results of this time spent ‘in the zone’ and focussing on our character’s needs and wants, proved both powerful and compelling and gave many of us the ingredients for a new and exciting teenage voice to go away and explore.

And we hadn’t even had to get locked up to do it! (By the way, Judy was quick to confess that the audition and the time spent in jail had been with the collusion of the organisations concerned – phew, that’s a relief!)

Thanks again Judy for a stimulating, creative and fun session – and to Wendy Allen for the pictures.

There are still a few places left on the next Masterclass: Fantasy Writing for Young Readers lead by Robert Paul Weston – Saturday 17 May 2014. For bookings and more information visit https://britishisles.scbwi.org/events/author-masterclass-fantasy-writing-for-young-readers-with-robert-paul-weston/ or email masterclasses@britishscbwi.org

Alison Smith works as a freelance PR and communications professional for part of her week.

For the rest of it she is to be found clamped to her computer – when she’s not busy pursuing the usual writerly diversions of blog-reading, net-surfing and gazing out of the window – wrestling with her middle grade historical novel set in early Jacobean London..


  1. Thanks for the write-up Alison - it looks like a very useful masterclass. All the best with your novel writing!

  2. Great to read an article about my former MA-buddy. When she came to do a workshop with my students at Salford we did some really interesting work on characters ... and lit candles in the Old Fire Station - and no, we did not set the alarms off!

  3. It won't be too difficult for the professionals to seek all those respective guides and essentials which are indeed said to be essential. pronoun corrector


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