Tag Archives: technology

YA Female Protagonists in STEM

7 Aug

We need more female protagonists in STEM fields, especially in YA. For those of you who don’t know, STEM covers science, technology, engineering, and math. The reason STEM needs to be explored more in YA fiction is to encourage young women to explore those fields in real life more.

Hold the eye rolls.

I get it. I know that there are real-life role models to look up to in those fields already. But a lot of younger people—myself included—enjoy looking up to fictional role models, too. When I was a kid, fictional characters strangely felt more attainable, more inspirational, more…like me.

Sometimes, it’s easier for a fourteen-year-old to look up to a fourteen-year-old scientist rather than Marie Curie. (And more fun.) This is why I’m advocating for a bigger emphasis on STEM in YA fiction, but there’s another, more personal reason as well.

Oh, hey there, science.

Here’s the deal. I hated science in school. Loathed it. Biology was the hardest course for me in high school and college. I hated biology…but I loved chemistry. I also love math. I also love technology and engineering. But as a young girl, I hit a couple roadblocks while studying it.

In school, for instance, I signed up for Tech 101 instead of Home Ec. I was immediately approached by an office clerk who thought I made a mistake. On top of that, one of my teachers actually had to the gall to “make sure” I wanted to take Tech 101 instead of Home Ec since I didn’t have a mother at home. If that wasn’t discouraging enough, I came second place in a bridge building competition later that semester…only for the teacher to pull me aside and tell me I should’ve won. (The winner, it turned out, had cheated. But did the school correct it? No. I just got a secret pat on my back.) If I could tell you what it felt like to then see that boy congratulated, to hear my fellow classmates say “You almost lost to a girl, dude” like that was the worst thing ever, I would. But I still don’t have words for it.

STEM didn’t exactly welcome me.

I recall these moments in my life where I loved science, technology, engineering, and math—and I was good at it, too—but numerous adults in my life discouraged it anyway. Granted, I’m not saying I would’ve chased an engineering degree if these things hadn’t happened. In fact, I’m pretty sure I would’ve chased English no matter what. Why? Because my university asked me to become a math major after I scored 100% on one of their harder exams…and I still turned it down.

Now I’m an author…and authors are engineers of stories. So, I set out to write a book where my protagonist is involved with science.

Kalina came to me that night. She’s sixteen, a botanist, and she invents machines that help water her plants when she’s too busy studying them. Botany takes on a huge role in my book. So much so that one of my critique partners asked an interesting question: How are you going to get readers to sympathize with plants instead of people?

Well…I’m not.

I’m not asking readers to sympathize with plants over people. I’m asking readers to see how interesting plants can be. To see an awesome, smart, and talented young woman studying her scientific passion. To open their minds to science.

Kalina opened my mind, and I love everything she taught me. Granted, I still can’t grow a flower to save my life (especially with cats in the house), but I have a deeper appreciation for botany. Above all, I have a deeper appreciation for science.

YA readers deserve more of that, too.

~SAT

Writing Tips: Technology

2 Sep

I promised I’d post more writing tips today, and I am following through with that promise. (Thank you for being patient with my hectic schedule.) So on to it:

I wrote Minutes Before Sunset (the entire trilogy actually) when I was in high school (2005-2009) so I’ve had some funny things happen to me during the current editing process that I thought would make for an interesting and fun post: technology. It’s a gift as much as it’s a curse. It’s constantly changing, and it’s changing rapidly, and if you’re lucky, you’re able to keep up with the latest and greatest. I have to admit that I’m not one of these people. I didn’t get my first touchscreen until a year or two ago, and I was really sad to see my flip phone go. (Who doesn’t enjoy the little slam of the plastic device when you hang up?) But I’ve found out something about my characters from 2005: they also miss this technology.

In the original version of Minutes Before Sunset, I’ve come across scenes and scenes of technology that have since been outdated. Here’s just a little list:

  • Flip cellphones, let alone who carries them.
  • AIM (AOL Instant Messager)
  • No Facebook, Twitter, etc. (Now I have to clarify Facebook did exist at the time I was writing this, but it was strictly for college students, and my young-adult characters are in high school)
  • Laws have changed in the Kansas setting (now, this isn’t technology, but I find it to be easily adapted into what I’m going to talk about)

I had to deal with this scenes with care. How was I going to get my characters to communicate over AIM or any other social media? And laws. They’ve altered dramatically since I was 14, and now the lives of my characters are altered as well. This is where I’m faced with a decision: do I use the current technology, knowing it will also be outdated in a year (or maybe a few months) or do I find a way around using it completely?

I went with a mixture of both, and this is where the writing tips come in. Granted, please keep in mind that using today’s technology isn’t necessarily a bad thing when it gets outdated; however, I want readers to be able to relate to it for years instead of weeks, so I decided to use it as little as possible. This was a personal decision and not necessarily the right one for everyone who writes. I’m merely sharing my solution as a way to bring this debate of technology dependence to light:

1. Cell phones: When I was writing A Timely Death trilogy, most of my friends in high school didn’t have cell phones. It wasn’t standard. But, in 2013, most young children have them, so I couldn’t completely take them away. They had to be present, but I didn’t want to rely on them. If you’ve read Minutes Before Sunset, you know my protagonist, Jessica, has a bad habit of forgetting to take her cell phone wherever she goes (to the horror of her parents and friends trying to reach her) and Eric doesn’t need one (although he has one that he barely pays attention to. He has telepathy with other Dark members, after all–though there is one scene he uses it at the beginning.) You will, however, see Crystal, Robb, and other characters flip through theirs.

2. Social Media: So Facebook is used every day by millions of people. Same with Twitter. But MySpace was once used and so was Xanga, and they are practically as obsolete as AIM. I was so frustrated with this that I knew I didn’t want to have to deal with it again. This is why I cut AIM scenes out completely, incorporating them elsewhere. I left out Facebook and Twitter, and I don’t even regard it as something that exists. This was completely a moral decision for me: I cut it out on the question of why should I bring this up as an importance to teens? I want young adults to spend more time outside (or reading) and putting an emphasis on social media didn’t sit well with me any longer.

3. Laws: It’s hard to guess what will change. I’m sure there are books out there with a kid texting and driving, and look how much that has changed (for the best, of course.) I can’t guess what my setting (a small town in Kansas) will be like years from now, but I can adjust to what it is like living in Kansas now. For instance, I had a restricted license when I was 15. It was 2006, but the laws changed in 2010, and my characters’ lives had to as well. Originally, they all had licenses they used on a frequent basis. Although most of my characters still have a license or a permit, Eric, Camille, and Robb are the three who use it frequently. And the smoking. That was a big law change here, and the smokey bar, (spoiler) something you’ll see in Seconds Before Sunrise, is no longer smokey until you step outside where it is allowed.

As I said, it’s hard to guess what will change, but so is technology, and we, as writers, have to edit with care in regards to our characters and setting. 

So here’s a writing prompt: go back and read something you wrote a long time ago. Search for aspects of life that might have changed over the years. Is it something small or something that changed overall lifestyles? How can you adapt to this?

Have you used technology in your stories? How do you feel about it changing as rapidly as it does, and how does it affect your style of writing? I’d love to hear other writer’s stories when it comes to this ever-changing subject. Comment below!

~SAT

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