Saturday, April 17, 2010

Teen Voice: THE FOUR L's - Ruta Sepetys

Nashville author Ruta Sepetys debut Young Adult historical novel, BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, will be published in Spring 2011 (Philomel/Penguin).

Winner of an SCWBI work-in-progress award, Ruta’s novel features a courageous 15-year-old protagonist, Lina Vilkas, a Lithuanian who is arrested by the Soviet Secret Police and deported to Siberia with her mother and younger brother. Her father is sentenced to death in a Soviet prison camp.

Between 1940 and 1953, Stalinist Russia imprisoned and deported more than 300,000 Lithuanians. They were shipped in cattle cars across Europe and into Asia to die in the forests of Siberia. Ruta’s family members were among them.

In BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY, Lina Vilkas struggles to survive, to retain her dignity and to keep from losing all faith in mankind. So that the world may know and to honor her family and the thousands like hers, Lina writes her story, which she buries in a jar.

You may discover more about this exciting new author by clicking: Ruta Sepetys . Or by clicking here: BETWEEN SHADES OF GRAY .

Ruta is an incredibly talented writer (and reader!) and I am absolutely delighted she is has agreed to provide a guest post here on Writing Teen Voice.

And let me tell you, I love Ruta’s Four L’s and have found this post one of the most helpful yet in thinking about my own writing. Thank you, Ruta!

                      Writing Teen Voice: The Four L’s

                                            by Ruta Sepetys

In reading young adult novels I’ve found that voice often falls into one of the four “L’s”:

• Leader
• Loser
• Laugher
• Loner

All four “L’s” can make for a distinct and compelling voice. Below is the loose association of the “L” to the voice and main character:

Leader. Voice has a commanding presence. Main character has a strong internal compass or is popular.

Loser, Voice is succinct or terse. Main character has low self-esteem or is ridiculed by peers.

Laugher. Voice is snappy or humorous. Main character is self-effacing but may be hiding true emotion or using humor to cope.

Loner. Voice is introspective and sometimes poetic. Main character is an observer and often feels misunderstood.

When I read a YA novel I’m always curious how the voice relates to the author’s personal experience as a youth and teen.

For example, let’s say a certain writer (I’m not mentioning any names but maybe her initials are RS) had a big fat wart on her face as a child that caused a lot of ridicule. Perhaps she uses humor to band-aid her trampled heart. She writes with the voice of a Laugher and identifies with characters who are a bit broken or humiliated.

So my question for you writers is: Does your voice reflect your experience as a teen or do you write from a perspective outside of your personal experience? Perhaps you were a Loner in school but now you write from the perspective of a Leader?

Do you fall into any of the “L” categories above? Are you a combination of a couple? Or are you a category all your own?


TinaFerraro said...

Hi, I have three YA's out with Random House, the most recent being The ABC's of Kissing Boys. And for the most part, my main characters DO represent who I was (or thought I was) in high school, just with the elements exaggerated. They are funnier, more athletic, braver--and their problems are way bigger because they tend to say and do the things that, given the same scenarios, I probably only would have THOUGHT to say or do.

Interesting perspective here on writing YA characters here. Thanks!

gae polisner said...

I think my female main characters (in my debut The Pull of Gravity, the MC/narrator is a boy) are a mix of who I was in high school and who I wished I could be. And, of course, like Tina, my MC's deal with family problems I never had - at least not to any degree they do (we all have family angst and dysfunction, if only to a mild degree, don't we...).

Thanks for the post, Ruta. Look forward to your book!

Kathy McCullough said...

Good question! My latest character is a laugher, though I was a loner. I've written characters who are loners, but I tend to get frustrated by them. ("Snap out of it, already!") Perhaps some therapy going on there...

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Really interesting way to look at things! I'll have to read with this in mind.

A.L. Sonnichsen said...

Thanks for this. I've never thought about characters this way before. Definitely gives me something to ponder, because I'm not sure I have an answer and that may be a problem! :)


Medeia Sharif said...

I fell mainly in the loner category as a teen, but my MC's tend to be more humorous, confident, and outgoing than I was at that age.

TerryLynnJohnson said...

Nice summary Ruta. And I can't wait for your book to come out!
My characters usually have some element of me in them. So far, they all run sled dogs, so a little of me slips in there. But, like Tina, I get to think of wittier things to say than I ever can think of in real life.

Faith E. Hough said...

Thank you for posting this! It's really helpful.

Terry Stonecrop said...

Great observation about teen characters.

Scotti Cohn said...

Excellent post! I tended to see myself as a Loner when I was a young adult. Although I certainly knew how to function in a large-group setting, I didn't enjoy it (still don't). My main characters tend to have that Loner voice. One concern I have heard others express related to the "Loner" voice is that it can seem self-indulgent or self-centered to the point where some readers just don't want to put up with it (as Kathy McCullough said, "Snap out of it, already!").