Let's Ask the Right Questions About YA Voice (Joy Preble)

A frequent scenario when I teach writing: An aspiring YA writer will ask if a particular word or phrase is something a teen would say. On the surface this seems a solid question. Certainly we don't want our characters to sound stilted or inauthentic. And honestly, that happens a lot when I critique manuscripts for conferences. Some writers haven't honed their ear for voice -- teen or otherwise--and the result is characters who don't sound like real people. The sentence structure is off, the rhythms aren't there, the flow isn't working. Which brings up another question that I think is legitimate: If you aren't around people younger than you very often or you can't tap into the intense feelings you felt when you were sixteen or seventeen, if you're not keeping up with industry and what is being published and why it's garnering teen readers, then perhaps you aren't quite ready to write YA. Perhaps it's not the best fit.

All that said, I think the real question is not if a teen would say x, y, or z, but rather: What would this particular character I've created say? Who is she? What are her passions, her fears, her desires? What's in her closet? What was she like as a little girl? In middle school? How does she fit into her family, her community, her friend circle? What's in her pockets or bag or backpack? What does her room look like? What did she read when she was little?  And on like that.

Once you know who your character is, you'll know how she talks. You'll know what words she uses and her tone and her intention and her voice. You'll understand that behind everything she says is both a confidence and a fear that she's getting it wrong. You'll see what confuses her and overwhelms her and how she can go from happy to tears in two seconds flat. How her identity is forming even as she tells the world she knows exactly who she is.

And remember that dialogue in novels is like real life chat but not exactly. Everything has to move the plot forward.

Some authors who are doing a fabulous job of this? Well it's a long list.

David Arnold is one. Check out his MOSQUITOLAND and the forthcoming THE STRANGE FASCINATIONS OF NOAH HYPNOTIK.

Nic Stone's forthcoming ODD ONE OUT nails a specific teen's voice so hard that I want to hug that book!

Tiffany D. Jackson's ALLEGEDLY and her forthcoming MONDAY'S NOT COMING.

There are three to start with.

Which YA authors do you think get voice exactly right?


Post a Comment