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.