Thursday, 12 January 2012

No Faking Allowed

The elusive YA voice—when done right it's effortless to read (Judy Blume). But done poorly it's as awkward and ineffective as parents trying to use slang to talk to their teens.

You can't fake voice in YA.

It's essential to keep you MC's voice contemporary yet timeless.

FOREVER, by Judy Blume, was published in 1975 but Kathy and Michael still sound and act like teens today.

I hit pay dirt the other day when I found my diary from high school. I remember being a fairly happy, well adjusted teen, but holy sweet fancy molasses!

Imagine my surprise when I read my sixteen year old self begin each entry with I hate ___. The blank was usually filled in with one of the following: hair, clothes, parents, school, my nose!, and basically life.

At sixteen I was convinced everything in the above list would be solved by having a boyfriend. I also drew a lot of a lot. Weird. I don't remember them being that important to me.

Some parts of the diary are hilarious. Take my word for word account of my secret crush actually asking me out. I transcribed it exactly, including all the exclamation marks and poor grammar.

I was at my locker getting ready to leave for Halifax, thinking I had to hurry because my mom would be there to pick me up soon, when I heard someone behind me say hi. I turned around and it was HIM!



“Why all the books?”

“Oh, I'm leaving early with my mom.” Oh my God, I can't believe he knew where my locker was. I hope my hair looks okay.

“Are you doing anything Saturday night?”

Oh my God! He's asking me out!! I wonder if we'll go see a movie, I wonder if he'll pay, I wonder if we'll go out for supper, I wonder if I'm if I'm taking too long to answer.

“Oh yeah,” I say. “I am. I have to babysit at nine.”

“Oh gosh, that's too bad.”

STUPID BABYSITTING!!!! Wait! We have Wednesday off.

“Um...we have no school on Wednesday, there's an in-service.”

“Oh, I didn't know that. Want to do something Tuesday night?”

Oh no, my first date, my first kiss, my first boy I bring home to mom and dad. I can't put myself and (name has been removed to protect the innocent) through all that agony. Save yourself while you can!!!

“Yeah, sure,” I say.

“Okay, talk to you Monday.”



Not exactly riveting dialogue, but that's exactly how I wrote it, so I'm sure it's close to the real thing.

As I continued to read my diary, I found some parts upsetting. I was so selfish and cruel in my opinions. I wanted to reach into the pages and give my teen self a shake and say, “Snap out of it!” like Cher in Moonstruck.

But that's the reality of being a teenager. I'd forgotten how even the most inconsequential event (he didn't even look at me during History class!!!!) was earth shattering.

When I was young, I felt everything to the tenth degree. I was spontaneous and irrational. Logic and patience were rarely practised. I made my choices based on emotions embedded in insecurity...which sucks to live through, but makes great diary reading.

Find your YA voice by remembering how it FELT to be a teenager. Look at your yearbook. Go to the perfume counter and try and find the scent you used to wear (Ruffles by Oscar de la Renta.). Listen to the song that was on the radio when you broke up with your first boyfriend—that's where you'll find your voice.

Writing YA isn't about using the right slang, it's about remembering what it was like to be young.


Next Monday I'll be blogging the latest episode of Once Upon A Time.


Jenny Kaczorowski said...

"When I was young, I felt everything to the tenth degree. I was spontaneous and irrational. Logic and patience were rarely practised. I made my choices based on emotions embedded in insecurity."

So true! I've heard readers complain about YA characters being irrational, but that's how I remember my teens. EVERYTHING was the end of the world and I did everything in my power to keep it all to myself. I was a well-adjusted teen with a very supportive family, but to read my journals, you'd think I was a train wreck with the worlds most dysfunctional family! Glad I survived (mostly) unscathed!

Thanks for sharing :)

BR Myers said...

Thanks, Jenny. That's what makes YA so interesting.

No One said...

Thanks so much for sharing your diary with us! Well, one entry, anyway. It actually sounds like something from a book. I hope the date went well. =)

BR Myers said...

I'll save that for another post... ;)

Jen Downey said...

Auggh. Bethany, that's so painfully funny. And so wild that you were writing out dialogues even then! I made a similar find last year, and entertained by kids for days with excerpts. My fifteen year old son's response to my expressed angst and emotional spasms? "I feel so together now."

Ruth said...

I don't dare look at my teen diary! But I do remember the very first entry and the reason I started my diary. I scrawled I LOVE _______!!!!!! across the top of the page. And he was my best friend's older brother. Yeah, I was a walking cliche :D

BR Myers said...

SQUEEE!!! I'm blushing for your teen self.

LisaAnn said...

What an awesome post! Thank you for this... I'm feeling all inspired and whatnot right now! :)

Kimberlee Turley said...

My journal was mostly filled with homework assignments and what I hate for breakfast that day. Totally boring.

Alice Kaltman said...

Yes. Great Post, Bethany. Young adulthood is a spiral going through time, a series of ups and downs and all around towns. There's no one way to read it, write it, or LIVE it. And thanks for sharing your riveting (ha!) diary entry. I wrote angsty poetry in high school, which I secretly thought was brilliant (though I never shared it with anyone) and universally profound. Oh boy was I ever deluded, or just young.

Mary Vettel said...

Thanks for sharing your teen self diary excerpt, Bethany. You had the gift for writing even back then. Good advice for all writers - get the feeling not just the contemporary slang.

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