Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Like, This IS My Voice! Totally! (Mary Strand)

This month’s theme is about the YA voice, including how to find it as a writer.

I write both adult and YA fiction, but right now I mostly write YA.  I love YA:  the voice, the feelings, everything.

Years ago, I took an online writers’ voice class, at a point when I’d written five adult novels and was struggling with my sixth.  In the class, we did writing exercises designed to help us discover and/or define our voice.  After several exercises, other students in the class asked if I wrote YA.  I was startled.  No, I wrote ADULT fiction.

The unanimous reaction:  “Mistake.  You talk like a teenager, you write like a teenager, and you act like a teenager.”

Way harsh.

Believe it or not, I’d never noticed, even though I startled people at my old law firm when I said “As if!” and even though the words totally, actually, definitely, like, and even DUDE! make frequent appearances in my speech.

One writing exercise called for us to type out the first few paragraphs of a book we loved, as originally written, then retype them in our own voice.  I grabbed Pride and Prejudice.  Those paragraphs ultimately turned into my first YA book, Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras, which begins almost exactly as I first wrote the words in that class:  “According to Jane Austen,  a guy who’s rich and single should definitely be looking.”

The reaction of my voice class: “Yep, that’s you.”

Some YA authors give talks on how to write in a YA voice.  Honestly?  I think it’s one of those things that comes naturally ... or doesn’t, much like humor writing or playing musical instruments or, actually, most things.  I write YA because it’s natural to me.  Yes, I practiced law for many years, and I wrote like a lawyer.  Yes, I wrote and still write adult fiction, and it sounds like adult fiction.  But when I started writing YA fiction, I felt as if I’d come home.

The second book in my Bennet Sisters YA series was Being Mary Bennet Blows.  Easiest and fastest book I ever wrote, because I simply channeled how it felt to be a loser: rejected, friendless, clueless.  On the surface, I wasn’t at all like Mary Bennet of Pride and Prejudice in high school:  I was brainy without being a geek, I lettered in two sports, and I had friends and dates and all the usual good stuff.  But it didn’t keep me from FEELING like Mary Bennet.  I think almost everyone felt that way from time to time in high school.  I may just remember it better than many.  It remains a vivid part of my soul.

I love teen movies, too, both old and new.  I’m still in love with Jake from Sixteen Candles.  (Who isn’t? Right?)  I wish I’d written Easy A, and Adult Me falls for its teen hero, Penn Badgley, even more than for the adorable Stanley Tucci.  Adult Me also falls for the young rocker, Ian, in What a Girl Wants as much as or more than I do for Colin Firth.  (Okay, close one. Colin plays air guitar in leather pants in the movie.)  I know exactly which character I’d be in The Sisterhood of the Traveling Pants, and anyone who knows me at ALL would know, too.  I particularly love movies in which an adult character gets a second chance at being a teen, like 17 Again or Never Been Kissed.
A blog without a pic of a cute guy? Ha! (Penn Badgley, with Emma Stone, from Easy A.)
Actually, that might be it: some part of me would love a second chance at being a teen, even though my first time as a teen was pretty decent.  In a significant way, writing YA books lets me be a teen again.  But in truth?  I never really stopped.

Mary Strand is the author of Pride, Prejudice, and Push-Up Bras and three other novels in the Bennet Sisters YA series. You can find out more about her at marystrand.com.


  1. This is really true--what you naturally gravitate toward (as a reader, movie-watcher, etc.) is often what you naturally write the best.

    1. Yes! I think your voice is more than what you write: it's your worldview, your style, everything that makes up YOU.