Perfecting Your YA Voice (Part 2)

In Part 1, Editor Krista Marino explained how YA Voice is related to diction, perspective, dialog, interior monologue, and character. In this second section she explains what makes a young adult voice unique and different from an adult writing voice.

Let’s Talk about the Teen/YA Voice in Particular:

  • YA is specific in terms of voice.
  • YA is teen experience, outlook, and their limited life experiences.
  • YA is about teen beliefs, likes and dislikes, etc.
  • Think about how small your life was when you were a teenager. Remember when you believed in Santa? What did you believe when you were in high school? Did you think you were going to marry your high school boyfriend?
  • An adult looking back on the teen experience is an adult book.
  • “When you’re young everything feels like it’s the end of the world.” – movie quote. Teens have no reference to know that things will get better in their lives, where as adults bring life experiences with them.
  • Teens are not making stupid decisions. They are making their decisions because they have only been on the planet for 16 years and don’t have any life experience.
  • Teens have nothing else to compare their experiences to.
  • When you are writing you need to erase the worldliness you’ve experienced over the years.
  • Your protagonist can’t be simple.
  • Every teen is questioning how other teens view them.
  • Your character must evolve. Voice can change as a character grows and learns over the course of the book. Voice must change with the evolution and movement of the book.

Exercises to Get to Know Your Character:

  • Exercise: List three character traits about your protagonist (i.e. sassy, romantic, uptight) then push yourself to go deeper and find out who they really are under those traits.
  • Exercise: Write two pages that tell you something new about your character. These pages do not need to go into the manuscript. See what they will tell you.
  • Exercise: Go to a public place and eavesdrop on teens. Write down their conversations exactly as you hear them. Now try to use that conversation in a scene you are writing. Watch how your characters interact.

Telling about Character in the Writing:

  • Weave info about your character into the story, but make it invisible.
  • In the writing insinuate how a character looks without listing everything they are wearing. Pick a particular trait to embody a greater image of the character. Example: A character wearing skull rings.
  • You can’t assume the reader knows what is going on inside your character. You need to clue them in. Is the character tired? Excited?
  • Layer your characters actions. Stomping could mean a character is angry, but they could also be embarrassed. Sometimes more is more.
  • It’s better for someone to tell you to cut than add.
  • Beware of too much telling, it will sound like you (the author) are speaking to the reader rather than the character.

Krista Marino is a senior editor at Delacort Press where she edits and acquires young adult and middle grade novels. Books she has edited include King Dork, The Necromancer, The Maze Runner, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth.

Perfecting Your YA Voice (Part 1)

Editor Krista Marino spoke at the 2011 SCBWI LA Conference and shared the following insight on how to perfect your YA voice:

There are Two Types of Voice:

  • Authorial Voice – this is when you know a book is by a certain author. For example you know when you’re reading a John Irving or Meg Cabot book.
  • Narrative Voice – This is the voice invented by the author and the voice of the protagonist.

What is Voice?

  • Voice is illusive and hard to define.
  • Marino’s says voice is made up of: diction, perspective, characterization, and dialog.

Diction as Voice:

  • Diction is vocabulary choices and a style of expression.
  • Think word choice!
  • Marino used an example from The Forest of Hands and Teeth by Carrie Ryan. She pointed out how the author does not use contractions in the novel to reflect the “old fashioned” sensibility of the town/people, but when a scene started to pick up in pace the author would begin to use contractions (Cannot vx. Can’t).
  • Focus on your character’s distinct vocabulary or expression. This doesn’t mean slang. This will reveal how the protagonist relates to the world.
  • Does your character use cultural references (X-men, animal planet) to define how they relate to the world? This is part of his or her diction.
  • Beware of leaning on cultural references too much for your voice. That will become a crutch. Take a look at Frank Portman’s King Dork as an example of teen voice that feels current without using specific cultural references.

Perspective as Voice:

  • This is the mental view of the character and how it affects the storytelling.
  • This is not point of view.
  • How does the limited teen experience influence how they view the world and the way they speak? For example look at the movies BIG and 17 Again. In Big you have a kid in an adult body. How does this “adult” act and speak to reveal they are really a kid? Or in 17 Again you have an adult in a kid’s body, how does action/speech reveal that they are really an adult with an adult way of thinking?
  • How does the setting (historical fiction or futuristic) change the experiences of your character?

Character as Voice:

  • Voice can convey info about character, age, gender, hobbies, religion, motivation, ambitions, looks, etc.
  • You must know everything about your protagonist.
  • Everything in the book with be filtered through the protagonist.
  • Character driven books are amazing because the character feels real and you (the reader) will follow them anywhere. The secret is to have an amazing character and a plot to sell to a larger audience.
  • Think about the protagonist in your favorite book and write down reasons why you like them. Why did they come to life for you? Was it their speech? Actions?
  • A solid 3D character will come to life and have a believable voice.
  • You need to know your characters and you want to know them emotionally.

Dialog as Voice:

  • This is about the verbal exchange in the book (not interior monologue).
  • Dialog directly reflects a character’s voice and personality.
  • This is about more than just the words.
  • Dialog needs to feel real, not like on a sitcom.
  • Dialog doesn’t exist just hanging there in space. If they just say something but there is no context for it, the reader won’t understand who they are and what they are thinking.

Interior Monologue as Voice:

  • Interior monologue is what the character is thinking and gives context to the dialog.
  • The #1 thing that Krista Marino finds is missing in manuscripts is interior dialog or interior monologue.
  • Interior monologue is important, if not most important to conveying the feelings, reactions, and judgments of your character.
  • Interior monologue shows a character’s perception of a scene and their feelings.
  • Without interior monologue we lose the inner emotional stakes of the scene.
  • All dramatic irony is lost without interior monologue.
  • You need interior monologue to create empathy, rather than having the reader observe and make guesses about the character.
  • You loose back-story, sarcasm, and emotion without interior monologue.
  • We always want to know what a character (on the page) is thinking.

Stay Tuned for Part 2 – Coming Soon!

Krista Marino is a senior editor at Delacort Press where she edits and acquires young adult and middle grade novels. Books she has edited include King Dork, The Necromancer, The Maze Runner, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth.