Wednesday, March 3, 2010


The decidedly talented and generous Kathy McCullough, author of DELANEY COLLINS, F.G. (Random House 2011) has graciously allowed her main character to contribute a guest post to my blog on Writing Teen Voice.

You can learn more about this debut YA author by clicking: Kathy McCullough.

Delaney herself will he happy to tell you more about being a Fairy Godmother at her own on-line blog. To drop by, click Delaney Collins, F.G.

                      Writing Teen Voice
                       By Delaney Collins, F.G.

Randy asked me to come up with a guest post about how to write in the “teen voice.” Um, okaaaay.

I’m a teenager – what other kind of voice would I write in?!

But I get it. There’re some authors who’re old but can sound young, and some who’re old and try to sound young and just end up sounding like they’re faking it. And since I like to tell people what to do, especially adults – and especially when adults actually want to hear what I have to say (which is not nearly enough of the time), I’ll give you my opinion on how to be the first kind of writer, and not the second.

To begin with, weren’t you all teenagers once??? I mean, come on. You may be old, but it can’t have been so long ago that you’ve totally forgotten. If you’re anything like the adults I know, you’re always saying stuff like “when I was your age,” which means you do remember.

So think back. Try to relive, in your mind, what it was like. How you thought and felt. Dig up your old journals, diaries, letters, and personal essays from school, if you still have them, and read them. That’s stuff you can use.

I remember my mom once played me this old tape she and her friends made in high school.

They interviewed each other and talked about who they had crushes on and who they hated and which teachers were "adorable" and what their favorite everything was (color, TV show, LP). It was kind of hilariously lame, but even though they did it like a million years ago, they still sounded scarily like kids I know now. The words they used might’ve been different, but how they felt (ecstatic, embarrassed, annoyed) and how intense their feelings came across – that was truth.

Because, you know, teenagers really feel things.

I don’t mean to offend you or anything, and if I do, sorry, but there’s no “Oh, I don’t take it personally,” “I’ve learned to just let it go,” “I take a breath and then move past it” for us.

We might act like we don’t care, or try to be “good little girls and boys,” but it’s not how we really feel, and how a teenage character feels needs to come across in your story, because that’s the voice.

When we’re angry, we’re not “miffed” or “a bit bothered.” We’re nuclear-meltdown-level-pissed-off. And when we’re happy, it’s like we’ve inhaled some sort of bliss-inducing no-side-effects drug that gets us so high we’re literally skirting along the edge of heaven.

Try hanging around some real teenagers, and listen, especially if you don’t have the old journals or can only sort of remember what it was like. Listen close. You’ll get it.

You can try to pick up some grammar and slang too if you want, but if it feels like you’re forcing it when you write it, it’ll read that way, so don’t do it. And don’t worry about it. I read lots of books where the main character might sound sometimes like they’re a few years older and maybe more “sophisticated” than most of the brainless kids at school, but if what they feel seems real to me, then I am in. I relate. I care what happens to them.

I could go on and on, but my ghostwriter Kathy McCullough says I have to wrap it up. (I hope Randy likes the “ghost” reference.) She also wants me to end with a list, in case anybody spaced out during my rant, so here it is:

How to Write in a Teen Voice, according to Delaney Collins, F.G.:

1) Read through old diaries and letters from when you were a teenager and try to remember you. Go there.

2) Hang around teenagers to get a sense of how they talk today. But if it’s not working when you write it, don’t stress about it.

3) Instead, hang around teenagers to help you remember how teenagers feel.

4) How they feel is this: intense, extreme, raw, pure, real – the exact definition of whatever emotion is flipped to “on.”

5) Be yourself – but your teen self. Put your writer self in the head of your character.

6) I just thought of this, so I’m adding it now: read book blogs written by teens. There’s like a zillion of them, and it’s just as good or maybe better than spying on kids (because you won’t be mistaken for some creepy stalker). If you need some blog sites to get started, email me.



Terry said...

Hey, that was cool! I like the character telling us.

The advice on feelings was particularly good. Teens can be intense with a capital T.

It's also good advice for adult writing.

Delaney said...

So Kathy reminded me that most book blogs are written by girls, so for boys' voices you'll have to look around more, but they do have blogs, on music and electronics and fantasy/sci-fi obsessions -- or read some of the other posts like Gae Polisner's on writing about boys. said...

When I was a teen, I didn't talk normally around girls or Fairy Godmothers, Delaney.

I do remember that guys talking to guys can be very different from guys talking out loud in front of girls.

Talking in front of girls was like talking to a preacher at a funeral. said...

I wasn't hiding anything. I mean, it wasn't like I wasn't saying what was on my mind when I talked in front of girls. It was more like my mind when blank.

I didn't have anything to say.

Medeia Sharif said...

I remember those extreme emotions as a teenager. Great list, Delaney and Kathy.

gae polisner said...

Delaney, nice points. Grown ups should listen to teens more.

btw, how can I hire you? I could use an F.G.

and thanks for the shout out.

Amy Holder said...

What a treat to read Delaney's perspective on writing teen voice! And what great advice she gives! Her ghostwriter must be brilliant! :) said...

There's something else going on in Delaney's post that is really a nice touch for YA writers to notice.

List making.

Those of us who are fans of Emily Lockhart (the Boy Book, The Boyfriend List, etc.) know how effective (and fun) list making is for MG/YA readers. It's a terrific technique.

And it's not just for MG/YA novels. Mystery authors regularly use the technique to advantage to keep clues and red herrings in line of thought for their readers (and protagonists).

Then there's the movie Memento, in which the main character tattoos lists all over his body.

Tracy Walshaw said...

When we’re angry, we’re not “miffed” or “a bit bothered.” We’re nuclear-meltdown-level-pissed-off. And when we’re happy, it’s like we’ve inhaled some sort of bliss-inducing no-side-effects drug that gets us so high we’re literally skirting along the edge of heaven.

This helped me SO much! I think in my writing, I DO put someone is a 'bit bothered'. THANK you. I'm going to try and not hold back with the feelings anymore.

Lisa Green said...

I LOVE this! Plus Delaney totally sounds like one of my teen characters, which gives me immense hope. :) I've heard so much discussion lately about, "what is voice?" and so on, but you boiled it down beautifully. Thank you!

Kathy McCullough said...

Delaney is too busy emitting ear-piercing but happy screams at all the nice comments, so I'll step in and say "thanks" for her! And I think there's a good post to be done by Randy, a former teen boy himself, on writing for boys. ;)