by Kurt Dinan
Ask any agent and they’ll tell you the trick to nailing young
1. Time travel.
To sound like a teenager, you need to become a teenager again. Here’s what I want you to do: Spend a week or longer solely writing out your teenage memories. Start it as a list at first—naming friends, enemies, teachers, adventures you had, successes and screw-ups, choices you had to make, etc. Next, choose the memories that stand out the most to you, and write about them. The important part here is to focus on how you felt during these experiences. This is definitely a dam-opening type of exercise of memories and feelings.
2. Relive the terror of your yearbook.
Yearbooks are essentially monsters collecting dust in your closet. Open one up and you can’t escape seeing people who didn’t want to see ever again, reliving moments it took a team of therapists for you to forget, and being filled with all of the confusing emotions high school fills you with. But it’s also a great way to get in touch with those emotions, which is essential to writing authentic voice.
3. Listen to the music.
I got this trick from fellow YA author Josh Berk who once told me when he needs to return to thinking like a teenager, all he has to listen to is Green Day’s “Dookie.” For me, I use my youthful
4. Contact your old high school friends.
This is a simple one: Get in touch with old friends and you’ll be amazed at how quickly you’ll revert back to sounding like you’re a teenager again. Failing that, eavesdrop shamelessly on teenagers. It’s not hard—they’re not usually the quietest bunch! Plant yourself at the places they hangout—the mall, coffee shops, school sporting events, etc.
5. YouTube it.
Teenagers broadcast their lives these days to the nth degree.
6. Find a picture and make it talk.
Once I have a clear image of my character, I have a good idea of
7. Write for plot first.
More so with YA writing than with other genres, I suggest writing the complete story out first, then worrying about revising the voice later. This is so you can focus on one thing at a time, instead of plotting and getting the voice right at the same time. Try to write it in a voice close to what you want, but focus on getting the story down first with no pressure of getting the voice right.
8. Loosen up.
Something about being an adult just tightens you up. To write YA with authentic voice, you need to loosen up. With Don’t Get Caught, when I knew I had the story I wanted, I revised (and revised and revised) with a relaxed, devil-may-care attitude—one that eventually helped me find my MC’s real voice. Do this: Take a paragraph you’ve written and are unhappy with voice-wise. Now, stand up, walk around the room maybe while chewing a piece of gum (always good for loosening up!), and type the idea of that paragraph again, but faster and looser, telling yourself no one will ever see it but you. When you’re finished, do it again, maybe after some jumping jacks this time, or blasting a pop radio station. (Really. Try it.)
When you’re doing your voice revision(s), it’s the asides, apparently meaningless observations, and throwaway conversations that will help you hear your characters. Teenagers have opinions on everything, so put them into your draft. Don’t worry about word count at this point; that’s for later. You can trim back an overwritten passage much more easily than you can add voice to a sparse one.
10. Shorten It Up.
OK, so your novel-in-progress is now full of lots of teen thoughts
Culled from Writers Digest