Romance, violence and internal endless monologue added to teens’s angsts, that is what drives a YA (Young Adult) story along. The secret is often a driving plot with twists and a lot of action, high stakes, powerful enemies, cliff-hanger endings for each chapter and a tough but sensitive main character. A few examples are Vampire Academy, The Mortal Instruments Series (City of Bones) or The Catching Fire Series (The Hunger Games). Mastering the YA voice is not as hard as mastering the MG voice. Adults remember easily how they were when they were teenagers, their desires, disappointments and angsts, but hardly ever remember the MG years.
How to create a youthful voice (tips):
What the main character says and how she says it is crucial for the reader to believe your MC (Main Character) is a teenager. There are several ways you can do this.
- Do not use mature and well-thought opinions. Teens have neither the experience nor the distance to think rationally and wisely. Teens will follow their first impulse, their emotions, instinct and what their friends tell them, what strangers tell them. Teens are quick to judge; they judge harshly and wrongly.
- Use slang. Either make up your own slang words or slang words people use across generations. Use the language of the teen media and references to popular teen movies and TV shows.
- Teens show their frustration and fears through the words they use. They overreact to everything and see the worst coming at them. They often say things like, “He’s going to hate me” or “I’m gonna die of thirst” or “I’m so screwed.” Do not hesitate to sound like a drama queen.
- Teens do not use complete sentences. They cut their sentences, think two things at the same time, stop to analyze and then forget their grammar. Teens would also use repetitive words and short sentences. And they use abbreviations. Example: “She’s like… like… you know like that dudette on MBC. Gosh, she’s hot. We met and she was like ‘excuse boy, can I borrow your smoke.’ I was peein’ in my pants. Ya know…”
- Teens take everything personally. If someone is feeling bad, they will think they are responsible. Instead of saying, “Connor has a lot going on in his life. He is often grumpy for no reason” they would say, “What did I do to Connor? He blows me away every time I get like one mile from him. Such a jerk!”
- Teens are good at spotting inconsistencies and faults in others. They would spot a lie, even a white lie miles away. They would slander others or criticize their parents in front of their friends to boost their popularity or because they are angry. They can say bad things about themselves, but they can’t stand hearing people criticizing them.
- Teens are worried about what people think of them and would do anything to belong to a group of friends, even silly things or things they are against inside their heart. Peer pressure is an important part of their social life.
- Teens are obsessed with their appearance, boys and girls. They watch every pimple and act like their favorite idols. And following fashion is part of this acceptance.
- Teens cannot hold a hobby for a very long time. They are impatient and get bored easily. It’s because they get into hobbies with the intention of trying out things. They tend to procrastinate.
- Teens do not like to admit they made mistakes. They would prefer to hide their mistakes rather than confess them. They would prefer to enlist the help of their friends to solve a problem (with all the consequences that entails) rather than admit they are at fault. Sure, they can solve everything, until they need adults to fix it all.
- Teens’s hormones are all over the place. They get grumpy one minute and nice the next. They do not understand the grownups and look down on them. They often quarrel with their younger siblings or exploit them. They like flirting but have no idea how to do it and they have crushes randomly.
Writing the YA voice is hard because the adult writer needs to go back in time and think, feel and say things like kids. Oftentimes, the adult writer uses a voice that is too mature and tends to react like a parent rather than like a teen.
Dale Reeves, Acquisitions Editor for Teen / Young Adult products at Standard Publishing, said, “Many of the submissions I receive seem to have a more narrative, conversational tone than in the past, and I am in favor of this approach . . . in fact, I encourage it if it gets more young adults reading!” 1
So get out here and get the feel for the tone and flow of the teen voice. Mix with teenagers and get to know them better and wake up your inner teen. And read YA novels almost exclusively.
How do you write your YA voice?