Gae Polisner is the exciting new author of THE PULL OF GRAVITY (Farrar Straus and Giroux), a Frances Foster Book for Young Readers, Spring 2011.
Gae noted that “I have written since I was little. Then I went to law school and thought I wanted to be a hotshot lawyer, until the writing pulled me back again.”
Writing Teen Voice by Gae Polisner
When writing teen voice, I have first learned to listen to how teens talk. I constantly check in with my sons and their friends regarding ‘teen speak.’
In a draft of my manuscript of THE PULL OF GRAVITY, I had the kids referring to their friend’s deadbeat dad as a dirtbag. Who doesn’t know the term dirtbag? Suddenly, in a fit of self doubt, I asked my son what he would call a guy who ditches his family, pays no child support, etc. A dirtbag, right? I asked.
He stared blankly at me. Never heard of it, he answered. I had to try ten words before settling on lowlife, a term he had apparently heard.
The other thing I keep in mind is that when kids think and speak, they have a no-holds-barred honesty. Teen boys, especially, rarely mince words. Even when they should. I have 11- and 14-year-old sons. Trust me, I know this first hand.
Brutal honesty is a hallmark in writing authentic young adult voices.
And then there is the endless editing and restraint that must be exercised. Again, especially when writing boys. Boys may have a long, detailed exposition in their heads, but when it comes out in words (or on paper) it’s usually little more than a grunt.
I recently edited a friend’s manuscript for her, the main character being a 17-year old boy. As he watched a girl he liked sleep, the thoughts in his head were along the lines of, “I watched her sleep, her long, blonde hair splayed across her pillow, her soft lips red and heart-shaped. She was beautiful…”
In providing feedback, I wrote, “Take everything out except, ‘I watched her sleep. She was beautiful,’ and even the ‘she was beautiful,’ can probably come out.”
The point is, teen boys are especially limited with both their descriptive thoughts in their own head, and their expressed emotions. Even if they feel it – or, god forbid, think it – they don’t readily communicate it.
[ Please see Part II of Gae’s guest post for additional examples of Writing Teen Voice. ]