Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Finding My YA Voice

Lately, I’ve been working hard to find my YA voice.  But as we all know, voice is a slippery thing to pull off or even explain. Having spent a good bit of my time working on my recent middle grade, I’m finding it a challenge to get in touch with my 16-year-old self. But one of things my agent (the awesome Marie Lamba) suggested I do was write as if I was telling the story as my grownup self. It’s been helping. The way I “speak” and “see” things is a lot different now that I’m not trying to sound like what I think a teenager sounds like - but just sounding like myself.  

Here’s the original version of a scene where my 15-year-old MC is at the end of a secret date and debating whether or not to call her mom for a ride (note: AJ is the MC’s friend): 
Once outside the store, I checked my phone for the time. I suddenly felt like Cinderella. Only instead of running out of time at the ball, I was running out of time at the mall.  “I should probably call my mom for a ride,” I told Wil. 
“I could give you a ride,” he said. “I parked over by the food court.”
Did I dare? Maybe Mom and Dad wouldn’t look out the window when I pulled up. But what if (oh please, please, please) Wil wanted to kiss me goodnight? Mom and Dad would definitely notice if I didn’t come in right away. 
I decided the risk was worth it and texted Mom that AJ was giving me a ride home.
It was so much easier to lie when it wasn’t in person. 
  Okay. Notice the reference to Cinderella? How about the “Did I dare?” and the “oh, please, please, please” ? All very junior-high-ish. A young girl playing dress up. A romantic version of a date. (Don't judge me - I'm still learning! lol) 
Here’s the updated version of the same scene: 
I don’t really want this maybe-a-date to end but I check my phone for the time. “Crap,” I say. “I should call my mom for a ride.”
“I can take you home,” Wil says. “I’m parked by the food court.”
It’s a huge risk. If Mom or even Dad is looking out the window when I pull up, I’m dead. 
But then I think, what the hell?
  I text Mom that AJ is giving me a ride home and that I’ll be back soon.
It’s so much easier to lie when you don’t have to do it in person. 
My MC is now 16-years-old (and you might have noticed the change in tense) but   see how her attitude is also more daring? No fairly tales and more realistic language. She’s still calculating the risk of having the boy drive her home but she’s more impulsive. (I cut 32 words to help convey this.) As a 16-year-old, of course she’s planning on a goodnight kiss. And even though she’s still worried about being caught, I don’t come out and *say* that - it’s simply implied by her thinking about Mom and Dad looking out the window. 
I still have a long way to go, of course. But I think I’m making progress. What tricks do you use to find your young adult voice? 


  1. Carmella, you might wish to put her thoughts about the kissing in the second version. I like the ..oh, please, pleas, please .. showing her yearning for the kiss. I didn't get from the second version that a kiss is implied, it was too short. Maybe other people who will comment here got the implied kiss. It's impressive how many published MG books you have already, so hopefully the transition to YA will be smooth.

  2. Hey, Car, wanted to let you know your voice is so distinctive that I can tell it's *your* MiG Writer's post just by the title in my Google Reader feed. The second take is way better and it sounds like your grown-up self, for sure.

  3. I like the second version a lot better, too, especially her wondering if she's on a date or not. Because teen boys are that suave about asking girls out. :)

  4. Such an important element to character development, yet so hard to nail down. And hard to do switching between MG and YA. Good luck.

    I'm sure "crap" is a common YA word, but unfortunately there are plenty of little girls in my daughter's 2nd grade class who use it all the time as well. My daughter has started using "poop" which my husband prefers she not use (just b/c it is a potty reference I think)... hmmm now I am wondering what would be a good equivalent for a younger MG or Chapter book?


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