So you want to write a (YA) book: Voice

 In So you want to write a book

By Tammy McGary from Sulphur Springs, TX, USA [CC-BY-2.0 (], via Wikimedia Commons

The art of writing young adult fiction might seem trivial to those who stick to reading adult fiction and literature, but nothing could be further from the truth. Although the often shorter stories may appear simplistic and formulaic (which, often times, they are), YA actually requires writers to tap into a very particular teen voice and create a world that appeals to youngsters.

Have you tried talking to a teenager?

They are riddled with insecurities and bottled up frustration, angst, dreams and lust…lots and lots of lust. They are brash, closed off, irate, irrational, and oftentimes overtly righteous and arrogant. Hormones pump angrily through their veins. Trying convert that into written word so that this nonsensical demographic can connect to the characters, is tough stuff people. Since fads change so quickly in youth, matching the voice to the decade, without dating your work might be next to impossible. From clothing styles, music trends, to verbiage used in everyday conversations, being able to understand and recreate a situation that connects with teens is, in fact, extremely complex and often poorly devised, making truly great young adult novels rare. It is also explains why there are only a handful of writers who pen a majority of the novels.

For me, (the reader, not the writer) when the authors age slips in via their characters, I check out. It’s a literary death knell. For instance, I constantly read books where the 16-year-old protagonist references Star Wars or 80’s rock bands. Teens are, for the most part, narrow-minded creatures that wrap their worlds around them, forming a tight cocoon insulating them from the adult world. They live in the now, blind to anything that doesn’t directly affect their sensibilities. Further, with the advent of cable and the internet they are able to avoid anything that seems “old”. Gone are the days of watching The Brady Bunch, because there is nothing else on. Teens can instantly tap into what interests them and barricade off all that antiquated propaganda the parental unit tempts them with. They don’t usually venture beyond the end of their nose, instead they immerse themselves in recent trends as a way to protect themselves from the looming adult world. It’s what keeps them cool and most kids want desperately to appear cool.

So keep this in mind when trying to draft an authentic young adult voice. But don’t just try to recreate their vernacular, instead tap into their spirit.

Sara O'Connor
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