Sunday, February 28, 2010

WRITING TEEN VOICE - MEGAN BOSTIC

Megan Bostic’s young adult novel LOCKDOWN was recently selected to move to the next round by the judges of the 2010 Amazon.com Breakthrough Novel Award contest.

Congratulations, Megan!

Megan Bostic is also the creator of a series of popular videos that chronicle the daily struggles and trimuphs of the writing life.

To view one of Megan's videos from the
Chronicles of an Apsiring Writer,
please click    HERE.

                   Writing Teen Voice
                        By Megan Bostic.

One of the biggest challenges for me in writing is authenticity. I began re-reading the first YA book I ever wrote, about a thirteen-year-old, and saying to myself, No thirteen year old would ever say that.

It helps that my daughter is now thirteen, and if I can’t picture her saying it, it gets cut.

She’s been helpful to have around these days. She was reading my latest book, LOCKDOWN, and she laughed. Considering that the book is about a school shooting and not funny in the slightest, I asked, “What are you laughing at?”

She had read this passage:

Through the blood, and tears, and muck, I began to recognize faces. Tammy, Keisha, Tyler, the band kids. Thank God. I searched the group for Cameron; I couldn’t wait to kiss his handsome face.

She said, “Handsome? No one would say that.”

Er. So then I had to pick her brain for a better word. You can only say “hot” so many times in a manuscript in my opinion. We settled on “gorgeous” and moved on.

In my book MENDING FENCES, I write in the POV of a 17-year-old boy. Very challenging. Even though my character is highly intelligent, and kind of an old soul, I still had to be careful not to add too much description and to make sure he didn’t sound too feminine. Probably the hardest voice I’ve written thus far.

Here’s a short excerpt:

I grab a shoebox that’s been sitting in my closet. It held the new pair of green Converse high tops my mom bought me before the school year started. Cool shoes.

Originally my character, Austin, goes on and on about the shoes, how much he loved them, how he was excited to get them. Now, they’re just cool. I could probably even take out the words “green” and “high tops” as well and it would be fine.

If teens feel you’re either talking above them or below them, they get turned off, or in my daughter’s case, they laugh at you.

I think the important thing about getting a teen voice right is to talk to teens. Listen to how they speak, what words they use, their slang. Have them read your manuscript and give their opinion on the language.

Nothing like getting a rejection letter that says your main character is too precocious, or sounds too old for their age. Get it right before sending it out to the world.

16 comments:

Erica75 said...

Hey, Megan, I just popped over to see if yours was posted yet and here you are! Great post - timeliness is everything! I've been hanging around my teen neice and nephews so much this past year, I'm becoming "Creepy Aunt Erica." Someday I'll admit how many times I've changed my ms with their unintentional help. Congratulations on the ABNA advancement! Good luck!

Tracy Walshaw said...

Megan, it's so true. Getting into the character is hard when you don't know exactly how to use "their" language. Especially when we try to get into the minds of the boys; we want to describe everything in the details we as girls see first! :) But they sum up the "beautiful, luscious green lawn" sometimes as, "cool, I can crash here before football practice". :D I love the start of your novel, Lockdown. I think you have a wonderful gift for the YA genre. BEST of luck at the contest! :)

Scotti Cohn said...

Great post! Vocabulary and slang are difficult areas when writing YA. The internet can be helpful for those of us who don't have kids around us, but not always. I remember using the word "awesome" in something I was writing (in a teen voice), and somewhere on line I came across a post (supposedly by a kid) saying "Nobody says awesome any more!" I still don't know whether to use it or not! Slang can be regional, too. I remember back in the 1960s my cousin in Milwaukee kept using the word "ferny" to mean "odd" or "weird." Nobody used that word in Illinois (that I know of).

gae polisner said...

great job, Megan.

cool shoes! :)

and very good luck with Lockdown advancing in the contest.

Megan said...

Thanks guys. And Thanks to Randy for t he opportunity.

I was listening to my daughter's talk to a friend in the backseat of the car the other day. OMG!! It was all half sentences, inside jokes, and slang. Our work as YA authors is challenging for sure.

Tess said...

great advice! it's interesting how a writers voice can naturally fall within an age range. teens can be a challenge to write.

Alissa said...

Megan, that's helpful having an expert in teen voice at your house to point out your mistakes. Good luck with the Amazon contest!

GhostFolk.com said...

Megan, I'd hang around 13-year-old girls to listen to them talk, too... but I'm afraid I'd end up on TV being wrestled to the lawn by FBI agents. Might be worth it, though, if I could make it to my car and get into one of those hour-long highway chases on the evening news.

Hmmmm... if I painted tht title of my book on the top of my car...

gae polisner said...

again, the key to this is balance. Just because teens say, "like" and "totally" and use whatever slang they use, does not mean we want to pepper our books with it. It's more a subtle thing to try to write in a voice that will read authentically and transcend time, a tough balance at that.

I love these posts. They're very thought provoking and remind me to pay careful attention to where I've gone overboard, and where the story, setting, characters, situations should be teen enough to speak for themselves.

If that makes any sense.

gae polisner said...

and, Randy, stay out of a car full of teenage girls.

Call me if you need some voice. ;)

GhostFolk.com said...

stay out of a car full of teenage girls.

Did enough of that when I was in h.s. :-)

GhostFolk.com said...

"like" and "totally" and use whatever slang they use

Slang keeps popping up in these discussions. I have some things to post about that, but I don't want to interrupt the guest posts yet.

I couldn't agree with you more, Gae (and other posters) on how subtle this can get. It really comes down to developing an ear as much as a voice.

I think that's why some people posting have mentioned trying their dialogue out loud. It's honestly the same, though, for regular ol' narrative sentences, etc.

Megan said...

Regarding Scotti's use of the word awesome, my kids use it. Slang may be geographic in a sense.

I wouldn't hesitate to use the word awesome in an ms. But I agree that it needs to be used subtly. Overuse use of "teen talk" can be as distracting as not using it at all.

Medeia Sharif said...

I made this mistake myself. Now I distance myself from the precocious voice.

Congratulations on going to the next round. The best of luck to you.

Terry said...

Watch out for those teenage girls, Randy. Remember Lolita?:)

I rather like precocious teens. The others are so homogenized. But that may just be me. Like your excerpts, Megan, handsome and all.

Megan said...

Thanks all. :)