People often question what defines “voice” in writing. What I’ve learned is that voice is the element of style that makes us sound unique and offers the reader a deeper view into each characters perspective. Voice comes through as you create multidimensional characters, infuse your story with realistic dialogue, and choose words that are authentic to each character’s personality. Now that may seem like a mouthful of malarkey, but it is my understanding of what constitutes “voice”. As always, take what works for you and leave the rest.
One of the reasons I began writing contemporary YA stories is that I found it best suited my voice. My editor, a literary professor who was a high school English teacher and who shudders at the idea of reading romance novels, told me that I write at a ninth grade reading level. I might have been insulted if she hadn’t mentioned that most best-selling authors these days write at that level. But it got me thinking, and since I found writing in first person came very naturally for me, and I had a whole lot of youthful indiscretions and foibles to write about, I figured YA was my genre.
The most difficult part of writing YA for me was getting out of my adult head where I have things like experience and retrospection mucking up my teenage writing brain. To have an authentic YA voice, I needed to put myself back into those situations that my teenage girl characters are experiencing—no easy task since that was thirty years ago for me and I only had experience raising sons. I still find male characters easier to write–something I will explore in the near future.
The other difficulty is balancing realistic dialogue with proper writing technique. Teen-speak is fraught with colloquialisms such as, ‘like’, ‘ya’ know’, ‘really’, ‘seriously’, ‘get out’, and the always annoying, ‘whatever!’. Loading up your prose with such verbal diarrhea can kill a manuscript, but you want to sound authentic at the same time. You also have to be concerned about how quickly slang and vernacular change. Words like ‘cool’ and ‘dude’ seem to come back around often. However I believe, ‘gnarly’ and ‘totally awesome’ are hit or miss. I consider my characters, their personalities, their quirky word choices, and I try to give them something of their own without making the reader flinch every time the character says, “oh, crap!”
Scribes secret to writing the YA voice: Use the above terms sparingly, avoid the creeping in of adult perceptions, keep the million dollar vocab words to a minimum, and write from your teenage brain. It doesn’t mean to dumb it down, because kids are pretty brilliant and will spot a phony a mile away, but tell a great story, get the emotions right, and be true to your characters. Tap into your teenage brain. We all have one. We just have to dig a little to find it and be willing to go back there and re-visit (or in my case—re-write) history.
Join me next week to welcome multi published author Jo Ramsey as she talks about her lessons learned along the way in writing YA. Jo will also be a guest on my personal website at www.pjsharon.com on Friday the 9th if you want to come over and hear how she made it into the publishing world with her REALITY SHIFT SERIES and her DARK LINES SERIES. Book 2, WHEN DARKNESS FALLS, comes out this month.