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.
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 whales...like 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 today....um 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.
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.