I often hear the word thrown around, but I don't have any idea of what it is, or how can it be avoided.

So, what does "juvenile tone" mean and how can I prevent it?

  • 7
    I suspect it means immature writing, not thought through, no layers of subtext. A dialog that is very one-dimensional is more likely to have a juvenile tone than a dialog where is what is being talked about is something other than the words on the page. That is my guess, but it would depend on the context of the comment.
    – SFWriter
    Dec 13, 2017 at 15:02
  • 4
    Aha, I have just been catching up. Juvenile tone could also mean that one is communicating with no filters on. There are certain unspoken contracts in society, and sometimes we dislike that these exist, but if we learn them and learn to live by them we find that we have more agency. Much of it is contextual. I can swear like a sailor at work (science lab, not at all unusual among some disciplines of science) but I will not be swearing in that manner at my children's orchestral recital even if they hit the wrong notes.
    – SFWriter
    Dec 13, 2017 at 15:13
  • 2
    This overlaps somewhat with writers.stackexchange.com/questions/28411/…
    – J.G.
    Dec 13, 2017 at 16:56

5 Answers 5


The overwhelming concern of the child is to be noticed by adults. It is a constant stream of "look at me, daddy", "look at me, mommy", "look at me, grandpa". Kids act out in school, in public, at the dinner table because they want to be noticed. Even being scolded is, apparently, preferable, for the child, than simply being overlooked.

The difficulty for the child is that they are seldom capable of doing something that is worthy of notice in its own right. They simply don't have the skills and experience to do good work that is deserving of recognition for its own quality. However, parents stop giving the kind of exaggerated artificial praise they instinctively give to babies long before kids -- teens in particular -- are capable of doing work that deserves attention and praise on its own merits. To fill the attention gap, kids act out.

A juvenile tone in writing is simply that acting out in written form. The writer is not good enough yet to produce work that is worthy of praise in its own right, and it is intolerable to them to simply go unnoticed. So they do something we see all over the Web, where publishing is free and the barriers to participation are almost nil. They act out in writing. They shout. They use fractured sentence structure and multiple fonts. They insult people. The include lurid and irrelevant gifs. It is all just that childhood cry for attention.

It is a tough slog being a juvenile writer. You don't have enough practice and experience to produce publishable work yet and it can be a very lonely road to get there. It can be very bruising to the ego to have your work essentially ignored for months or years before you get good enough to deserve genuine praise and attention. The temptation to call attention to yourself by juvenile acting out can be strong. But it will do nothing to improve your chances of having your work taken seriously. The only way to make real progress is to accept with humility that you have a lot to learn and a long way to go, and try to be as adult as your experience allows you to be in all you write and in all your interactions with adults. (Alas, a lot of children's entertainment today encourages the idea that children can be brilliant at whatever they decide to do with minimal effort. This is a lie. Excellence takes time and work.)

Mature work tries to call attention to its subject matter. Juvenile work tries to call attention to its author. That is really the whole of the distinction. But the attention that you actually want, that is actually worth having, is the attention that comes from having created genuinely good work, not the attention that you get for being a brat.

  • Is it not passable to call a piece of writing juvenile, simple because it is not mature, that is because the writer is not a professional and nowhere close yet? Does the piece necessarily have to call attention to the writer, to be labeled juvenile? Dec 14, 2017 at 8:19
  • Mark, I've purged the comments. Please feel free to adjust the edit; I think you understand what the goal was, and if you prefer a different execution, go for it. I'd like to avoid anybody coming out of this upset. Dec 14, 2017 at 16:04
  • 3
    @AndrewSavinykh - what you describe is better attributed to amateur writing, which is different to a juvenile tone
    – user18397
    Dec 14, 2017 at 21:57

Juvenile tone, is about style, voice and plot. Specially the voice, for as Mark Baker said, it is something linked to your intention with the book and your own personal experiences.

However, do you know what a bad juvenile style and a bad mature style have in common? Their ego.

Here are some of the things that resembles a bad juvenile style:

  • "Shallow" vocabulary with simple and obvious metaphors and symbolism.
  • Using much physical combats in your story without measure.
  • Using too many cliffhangers at the end of many chapters.
  • A plot that does not talk about more "mature" contents. Juvenile plots often involves saving the world, conquer the boy's love, being famous etc. (You must judge for yourself what is mature and what is not.)
  • And some may say that shorter lengths of the paragraphs also resembles a more juvenile style (altough this may not be all that bad. It is just the writer's style.)

Compare some mature book with a juvenile one. Mistborn and Kazuo Ishiguro's books? You see a huge gap of difference between then.

But, juvenile styles ARE NOT BAD AT ALL on their own. Their biggest advantages are their simplistic vocabulary, the action and the emotional involvement in the characters, as we want then to succeed in their journey. Keep in mind that this can happen in mature stories as well, but juvenile stories have their own charm with this.

How a "mature style" can be bad for your book:

  • Mature books can be boring, confusing and hit a small portion of people.
  • The writer may use erudite words and use certain words just to sound "inteligent."
  • They aim for certain classes who only them can understand the book and enjoy it.
  • You want to read a good story and you end up with some scientific-artistic-crazy-philosophy book that you will only understand if you read it ten times.

Instead of being imature, you end up being too complex or inside your own ideas that does not compact with reality, nor anyone may understand it well. Remember that a story tells an idea for it's readers. It adds vision and essence to the reader's life.

If you act like an immature child or an arrogant writer, you are not being a true Writer.

You have to ask yourself what kind of story you want write and WHO is going to read it. With both advantages and disavantages considered, you may decide that easily.

  • 6
    There is a few authors here who have shared their work in which sounds juvenile to me. It's not so much that it lacks mature details, it's the way the wording is. Using language more appropriate for a text message and hipster memes with flavor of the year slang than a literature piece. I agree with your assessment otherwise!
    – ggiaquin16
    Dec 13, 2017 at 17:09
  • 1
    To be fair, a badly executed juvenile style will be no less boring and confusing than badly executed mature writing. In essence both styles are aiming for a certain market ("classes") - even when done well (though I think you've covered this in the last paragraph). Dec 14, 2017 at 9:35
  • Somebody may consider to make a question specifically about the advantages the disadvantages of the mature and young-adault styles. I was approching an answer about that, but I saw that the comments and answers wanted to know what is a bad young-adault style. In my language (portuguese) young-adault and juvenile are almost identical.
    – Hanilucas
    Dec 14, 2017 at 12:37

"Juvenile tone" means writing like a kid --or, to be more precise --like a young teenager (usually). This is excusable in a young writer, but less so in a writer who should know better. There are writers who have perfected a juvenile tone in the service of a mature book (Catcher in the Rye, or, less seriously, Youth in Revolt) but it's a tricky feat to pull off.

The positive characteristics of juvenile writing are usually enthusiasm, authenticity, innocence and freshness. The negative characteristics of juvenile writing are usually melodrama, unoriginality, shallow characters, a lack of empathy, superficial irony, an unearned sense of superiority, an attempt to shock people just for the sake of being shocking, pretentiousness or precociousness, and a lack of craft, leading to bad or amateurish prose.

As you might have noticed, however, one could have either of those sets of characteristics at any age.

  • 1
    To Kill a Mockingbird is not written in a juvenile tone. In fact, it is written in a very mature tone. It is actually a fantastic illustration of the degree of artifice involved in writing a successful novel. No child of Scout's age could have written like that. But Harper Lee still manages to have us accept the narrative as hers despite a maturity of thought and diction that could only be found in an adult. The novel is not a naturalistic form.
    – user16226
    Dec 13, 2017 at 17:46
  • 1
    @ChrisSunami: Maybe I'm misunderstanding you, but To Kill a Mockingbird also ended up as a book narrated by the adult Scout. It begins: "When he was nearly thirteen, my brother Jem got his arm badly broken at the elbow. [...] When enough years had gone by to enable us to look back on them, we sometimes discussed the events leading to his accident." The narrator avoids explaining things to the reader that her young self didn't understand, but she doesn't pretend to still be young.
    – ruakh
    Dec 14, 2017 at 2:24
  • @ruakh It's been years since I read To Kill a Mockingbird --that's why I removed it from my answer, my memories of it are obviously less than accurate. Dec 14, 2017 at 2:40

A juvenile, in human terms, typically refers to a post-pubescent child that is too young for adult responsibilities.

In our culture such people are aware of adult themes (sexuality, pornography, politics and political philosophy, some business practices perhaps, religious philosophy, crime and criminal enterprises, war and the military life, race relations, homosexuality, alcohol, tobacco and drug use and addiction, how marriage works) but have little or no adult experience with any of it.

Yet this lack of deep knowledge does not prevent them from thinking they know everything they need to know about it and how it should work.

That is betrayed in their simplistic writing, and in their crass humor and what they think is "logic" but ignores what the vast majority of adults would consider important caveats, exceptions, or nuances.

There is a psychological theory of humor that "what is funny" depends heavily on what a person knows are "the accepted rules" of society. It is why very young children find bathroom humor hilarious, and political or sexual situation comedy opaque: They understand the rules about not farting or pooping your pants, they don't understand politics or sex in the least.

That applies to juveniles, too. A juvenile may think a joke about homosexuals is hilarious, while an adult is offended, because the adult knows such jokes demean and endanger actual people, and the adult may have friends (as I do) that ARE homosexuals that would be offended, so the adult (through greater life experience) is also offended on their behalf.

Frequently to adults, juvenile humor just seems stupid and uninformed, but is to some extent forgiven if the humor comes from an actual juvenile. They will grow out of it.

If it comes from an adult of normal intellect, it is much less forgiven, it indicates a willful failure to grow up and understand the real world, and if they DO understand, a willingness to be mean and uncaring about others. That is not good friend material.

Your final words "... and does it taste nice?" are juvenile, they treat a serious subject as a joke and imply you don't really give a shit about the answer, you are really just looking for a laugh and seeking attention. Those are more juvenile traits, resorting to derision and jokes and dismissive commentary to cover up their lacks of understanding. They naively think by turning something into a joke (offensive or not) they can always take it back as "just joking," but adults understand that juvenile ploy and don't buy it.

Many juveniles cannot ask a serious question and are reluctant to admit their lack of experience, so they bluff, or try to use humor as a cover (that adults just think is stupid), or they make claims that are obviously mistaken or based on misunderstandings to people with experience.

All of those things together contribute to "juvenile tone," it is something an adult will roll their eyes at as overly simplistic and an uninformed pretense at a sophisticated understanding.

  • I was going to mention the last five words of the original post, too. I hope RR was going for intentional irony - though in a way that would illustrate the point just as well. Dec 14, 2017 at 9:47
  • 1
    I don't really understand the aggressivity of the last paragraphs. Getting mad over a thing like that sounds way too juvenile for a mature person such as yourself. :^) Dec 14, 2017 at 14:12
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    @HorriblePerson This poster is frequently juvenile and often makes posts that, to me and others, are simply attention seeking or trying to start a debate with some nonsensical question, like "how can I do X without doing X" or things to that effect. In this post, they are once again unable to avoid being juvenile, even for a two line post. So if you sense some rebuke you are right, it is based on previous encounters in which I believe this poster abuses the site with non-serious questions for their own entertainment, not enlightenment.
    – Amadeus
    Dec 14, 2017 at 15:17

DPT's comment on the original post mentioned a very important thing - context. The way to demonstrate an understanding of context is to be able to switch between different tones where appropriate - if the writer is going to use a juvenile tone, it becomes particularly important to establish the difference between a writer using a juvenile tone and a juvenile writer.

My user name on this site is a piece of juvenile humour. If I was to look at the tag on this post and suggest you moved towards breaking bad writing habits and away from Breaking Bad writing habits, that would be juvenile (and unfair to a fine TV show which cleverly demonstrated an ability to switch tone to deal with serious subjects).

It will be a matter of the taste of the intended audience but, if that's taken into account, there's nothing inherently wrong with using a juvenile tone where the context fits. That said, it's worth making sure the readers know it's a writer using a tone, and not a tone using a writer. A skilful writer will want to show that they have more than one trick up their sleeve.

  • Michael - thanks for the suggested edit, but this side of the pond it's spelt with one "l" (consistent with "humour" at the beginning of the second paragraph). Dec 15, 2017 at 8:13
  • [...two if you count the one at the end...] Dec 15, 2017 at 11:23
  • 1
    Fair enough if you want it that way. Mostly, don't hesitate to roll back my edits if you disagree with them; everyone makes mistakes, and I'm absolutely not infallible myself.
    – user
    Dec 15, 2017 at 12:37

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