On Writing the YA Voice

Photo credit: Fey Ilyas on Flickr
It's no secret that nailing a great voice is absolutely essential to YA. Whether lyrical or quirky, casual or full of gorgeous imagery, voice can make or break the reception of a manuscript.

An issue I frequently see with unpublished YA manuscripts is the attempt to make a voice sound YA is there, but it falls short and ends up sounding like an adult who is trying to sound like a teen (I'm sure you've all seen this at some point; it's noticeable). I understand why this happens—getting the voice right can be especially challenging in why—so today I'm sharing some tips on getting the YA voice to sound authentically teen.

  • Read (a lot) of voice-y YA. There's a reason it's essential to read what you write—and this is a big part of it. The best way to get a sense of voice in a category is to read—a lot. A while ago I asked Twitter for recommendations for YA with especially good teen voices, and this is what they came up with:

  • Listen to teens (and keep listening). TV shows and movies can help, but even better is listening to actual teens in your life, because they'll be way more up to date with how teens actually speak today. (Remember, it often takes over two years to make a movie.) Don't have any teens in your life? Go to your local mall, or park, etc. and listen to people speaking around you.

  • Don't rely on outdated clich├ęs or stereotypes. Teens don't really text like "R U going tonite? C U l8r!" anymore. I'm not entirely convinced most teens ever did, but now in the age of autocorrect, it takes a lot of extra effort to text like that and it's lost its cool shine, so most don't. That's just one example, but basically, pay attention to the changing world and don't rely on stereotypes.

  • Pay attention to word choice. Remember to ask not only "are these words a teen would use" but "are these words this particular teen would use?" An art student might know that bike is cerulean blue, but one less oriented in the arts probably would just say blue (or bright blue, or intensely blue, but blue nevertheless).

So those are just a couple tips on getting YA voices right. What would you add to the list?

Twitter-sized bite:
Struggling to get the voice right in your YA? Author @Ava_Jae shares some tips. (Click to tweet)

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