Today I wanted to write about voice because it seems to be the most elusive element of young adult fiction. Most YA writers, including myself, have said: what exactly is voice? The concept of voice is really a lot simpler than I made it out to be when I first started writing.
Words are what the character says. Voice is how they say it.
See? Pretty simple, right? How a character says something tells a lot about who that character is.
Here’s an example:
Sentence number one: “You’d better step out of that gosh, darned car,” Molly shouts. “Or I’ll lick you upside your head!”
Sentence number two: “Please get out of the car,” Molly pleads. “Or I’ll—I’ll hit you, I swear it!”
Both sentences say pretty much the same thing, right? But in the first sentence, Molly sounds pretty brash. And, judging from the words she uses, she sounds like she could be from the South (like me!). The Molly in sentence two comes off much more timid and apprehensive. Molly #1 is afraid of nothing and Molly #2 is very fragile.
The thing that makes YA a bit tricky is creating an authentic teenage voice. You want to capture the essence of a teenager, but you don’t want you character to sound like this:
“Hey yo, I like went to like the freakin’ mall today and like bought these hella-cool kicks.”
I don’t know if many of us could make it through even one chapter of that! And it’s hard for readers to make a connection to the character when their voice doesn’t sound authentic. Teenagers want (and deserve) characters they can truly relate to.
Another thing I’ve seen a lot lately is characters who are incredibly snarky. Sarcasm can be used in small measures to get across how a character feels. But using sarcasm as a character trait can cause the character to come off annoying, rude, and immature.
Mom: “You need to clean your room today, okay?”
Daughter: “Yeah, whatever,” I say, crossing my arms and rolling my eyes. “I’m totally on it.”
I don’t know that I can relate, or even want to get to know, someone who talks like that through 300 pages.
Just to cement the idea of an authentic, compelling YA voice, I’ve picked a scene from one of my favorite YA novels, Paper Towns, by John Green:
Margo Roth Spiegelman (just before sending Quentin into the grocery store for supplies): “So, right. I made you a list. If you have any questions, just call my cell. Listen, that reminds me, I took the liberty of putting some supplies in the back of the van earlier.”
Quentin Jacobsen: “What, like, before I agreed to all this?”
Margo Roth Speigelman: “Well, yes. Technically yes. Anyway, just call me if you have any questions, but with the Vaseline, you want the one that’s bigger than your fist. There’s a Baby Vaseline, and then there’s a Mommy Vaseline, and then there’s a big fat Daddy of a Vaseline, and that’s the one you want. If they don’t have that, then get, like, three of the Mommies.”
Margo’s voice just explodes off the page, and you can tell, just from that short conversation, what kind of person she is. She’s assertive. She knows what she wants. She’s confident. And she has a plan.
So, as you’re writing your YA novel, keep in mind who your character is and how you want he/she to come across to readers!
|So who is Holly L’Oiseau, anyway? |
I'm a larger than life, hilarious (at least my cats think so),
closet girlie-girl who loves to write, read, and blog about
all things YA. I live in Tennessee with my extremely
handsome hubby, nine-year-old genius son, two cats,
and some fish. You can check out my website at: