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Being that I read a lot of YA submissions, this post is largely centered on voice-related problems I frequently see with YA submissions. But many of these issues can also apply to NA by looking at the points with a slightly older cast in mind.
YA Voice Red Flags:
- Lack of contractions. This can actually be a problem in any category, but it’s especially important in YA manuscripts—a voice without any contractions always sounds stiff. This is one of the easiest (and often one of the first) voice-related red flags I pick out. Why? Because we speak and think with contractions, so when they’re absent, the writing becomes stilted and loses a great deal of flow, making it extraordinarily easy to pick it out. “I am not feeling well so I can not go,” for example, doesn’t sound nearly as fluid as, “I’m not feeling well so I can’t go.” Agreed? Good.
- Outdated slang. If you’re writing YA, you need to be current with the language—no exceptions. For examples, teenagers today don’t really say “talk to the hand” or “phat” or “what’s the 411” anymore. (Note: those weren’t taken from actual submissions, I’m just giving outdated examples). Outdated slang, to me, is an enormous red flag and tells me the writer isn’t reading enough YA.
- Forced (current) slang. This is an equally problematic, but harder to spot problem. Sometimes I see submissions that use current slang, but the way they use it feels…off. This is a little harder to describe, but the easiest way to ferret them out of your manuscript is to have critique partners and/or beta readers who are up to date with the current slang read your manuscript.
- Corny curse substitutions. This is a biggie. While not all teenagers curse, many of them do—and when they don’t, they don’t often use corny substitutions. “Frickin’” for example, could work as a substitution for a particular four-letter word, but “french fries” probably won’t.
Note: UNLESS your character makes a point of being corny, or it fits with your voice. I won’t say this never works (because I’m sure there’s a book out there that can make it happen), but to be honest, I’ve yet to see it work successfully with exception to “D’Arvit” in Artemis Fowl, which mostly worked because it wasn’t corny—it was a made up gnomish word.
- Teenager stereotypes. This is huge. When I see teenager stereotypes blended into the voice or the characters, it almost always puts me off. Teenagers are not a sum of their stereotypes, and relying on them in your writing, quite frankly, is lazy. You can do better—and teenagers deserve better.
- Listen to teenagers talk. A lot. Don’t have a teenager in your life? That’s fine—watch YA-centered TV shows and movies. They tend to feature teenagers who are effortlessly up to date with current slang, references, etc. Or go to your local mall and do a little (subtle) eavesdropping. Yes, really. It’s research.
- Read YA. By and large, the YA that’s published today (especially if it’s relatively recent) have great examples of successful YA voices. Read them. Learn from them. Write your own. (This step by the way? Not optional if you’re writing YA).
- Get critique partners. This is so ridiculously important—make sure you have beta readers and critique partners look at your work. I personally recommend having several rounds of betas and CPs, so you can see if the changes you made in the first round, for example, were as effective as you hoped.
Would you add anything to either list? Unmentioned problems? Solutions?
Editorial intern @Ava_Jae shares some YA voice-related red flags. Does your MS have any of these issues? (Click to tweet)
Working on a YA MS? Writer @Ava_Jae shares some voice-related red flags to look out for in your WIP. (Click to tweet)