Key Essentials for An Authentic YA (Or Adult) Voice

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



Purchased from Fotolia by Jordan Dane



On Oct 17th at the KILL ZONE blog, I critiqued the first page of an anonymous author’s work –A Game of Days. Some interesting comments on the YA voice came from this post and I wanted to share more on what I’ve learned from writing for the teen market. My personal epiphanies.
 
Writing for the Young Adult (YA) market and capturing the voice of YA is less about word choices (and getting the teen speak down) than it is about getting the age appropriate decisions and attitude right. Urban fantasy or post apocalyptic plots can build on a world that is unique and unfamiliar. Books like the Hunger Games by Suzanne Collins or the Divergent series by Veronica Roth can have its own voice, so teens are familiar with reading books like this.
 
When I went looking for solid examples of teen dialogue or introspection to share at a workshop, I searched some top selling YA books, only to find the voice I expected wasn’t there. Sure there are YA books where authors can sound authentically teen, but to keep up the realism for a whole book can be a challenge and an overabundance of “teen speak” can date the banter or be too much for adult readers to catch. (Yes, adults are HUGE readers of YA.)

As you read through this list, think about how each of these tips might also apply to writing ANY voice, even book intended for adults. Many of these tips work for cross-genre writing.
 
Key Essentials for An Authentic YA Voice:
 
1.) Use First Person or Deep Point of View (POV)—This technique of “deep” POV, or “close third” person, is used in fiction writing as a glimpse into the head of your character. In YA, I think of deep POV or close third as conversational thoughts deep inside your teen. First person POV is like reading someone’s diary.

2.) Don’t be afraid to mix POVs—You can mix POVs (for example, first person for your storyteller and third person for other characters), but since it’s your story, only you can decide how you want it to be told. Many YA stories are in first person, but more authors are exploring a mix. By adding in the element of third person for other characters, you can let the reader in on what is happening outside your character’s head and add twists to your plot more effectively. Plus if you have secondary characters or villains who may threaten your protagonist, letting the reader in on what’s in their head can make the reader more fearful for your hero/heroine. (Most adult books are not in first POV, but first POV is very intimate and fun to write. My current adult book project has first POV for the main character, but third for everyone else. Very liberating.)

3.) Don’t worry about your vocabulary. Today’s teen reader can handle it. There’s no need to simplify your choice of words or sentence structure if the character warrants it. Just be mindful of the experience level and education of the teen in your story. A homeless kid without much education won’t have an extensive vocabulary unless there’s a good reason for it. If you’re writing a futuristic dystopian book, you’ll be world building and perhaps coming up with your own vocabulary or teen life choices or social customs that would be different from a contemporary YA.

4.) Character first or story first? In my adult fiction thrillers, characters usually come at me first, but in YA I think it’s important to conceive a plot then fit the best characters to the premise. This may help you conjure the most fitting character and voice for the story, without creating a cookie-cutter teen that follows you from book to book.

5.) Don’t force it. As many kinds of teens there are, that’s how many varied “voices” you can create. As long as the story is compelling and the characters draw in the reader, the voice of YA only needs to match the tone, age, and character of that story. Don’t force voice or language that doesn’t seem real to you. Your protagonist’s voice should come naturally from the story premise and the conflict, filtered through your head as the author. If you force it, it will show.

6.) How does the story and character motivation affect your storyteller’s voice? One of the biggest mistakes writers make in YA usually has to do with the sarcastic voice. Biting sarcasm alone does not make a YA story. Without a reason for this behavior, the author runs the risk of making their character unbearable, unlikeable and a real turnoff for the reader. The manuscript must have a cohesive story with solid character motivation to go along with the attitude. Even if the voice is great, what happens? Something needs to happen. And if your character starts off with a good reason to be snarky, give them a journey that will change them by the end of the book.

7.) Know your character’s motivation. Sarcasm, voice, and maturity of your character must be driven by a reason in your story to add depth. Provide a foundation for the “attitude” your character has and don’t forget a liberal dose of poignancy. A reader can tolerate a sarcastic teen if a scene ends with brutal honesty or catches the reader off guard with something gripping to make the whole thing come to a real point.  

8.) Beware of stereotypes—Avoid the cliché character (the geeky nerd, the pretty cheerleader, the dumb jock). This doesn’t only apply to YA.

9.) Can you relate to your storyteller? Peer pressure, dating, zits, kissing, sex, being an outsider, not fitting in—these are teen concerns that, as adults, we have to remind ourselves about. With each of these words, what pops into your head? Does it trigger a memory, good or bad? Sometimes the best scenes can come from these universal concerns that haven’t changed for decades. Filtered through your own experiences, a scene can carry more weight if it’s still relevant and relatable.

10.) What is your storyteller like emotionally? What effect can raging hormones do for your character? Is everything a drama? Not all teens are like this. Some are withdrawn in front of adults or in social situations. It’s important to ask yourself: What are they like around their friends and who are their friends? I would resist the urge to create a character based on a teen you know if it’s at the expense of your plot. Certain aspects or perceptions of “your teen” can influence your character, but your book is fiction. That’s why I recommend devising your plot first before you place the right teen in it.

11.) Who or what has influenced your storyteller most? Like in the movie, JUNO, the teen girl had a dry wit that sometimes referenced an older person’s humor. Not everything was “teen speak.” She was influenced by the adults in her life, using references she heard from her dad and step-mom. Her pop culture references were peppered into the humor of another generation. She still sounded young, but her dialogue appeal was more universal. Don’t be afraid to make up a word or phrase to suit your character’s world.

12.) What journey will your storyteller take in your book? Getting the voice right is only half the challenge. Your YA book must be about something—a plot, believable world building, and the reaction and journey of a real teen amidst it all.

13.) Don’t forget the imagery. Teen readers have great imaginations and can picture things in their heads like a movie. Give them something that triggers and engages their imaginations. Picture your book scenes on the big screen and write them that way, but don’t go overboard and slow your pace. Teens get it. Give them a glimpse and move on. They’ll roll with the imagery.

14.) Turn off your parent switch—If you’re an adult and a parent writing YA, you may find it difficult to turn off your mother or father switch, but you should consider it. Kids can read between the lines if you’re trying too hard to send them a “universal parental” message about conduct and behavior. Simply focus on your story and tap into what your teen experiences were—without censorship—and without the undertone of sending kids a special message. Your story will read as more honest, without an ulterior motive.

HERE is a link on a video about one teenager’s story from The Onion News (DISCLAIMER: I had nothing to do with making this video):


 
For Discussion:
1.) Any other writing tips to make your YA voice read as authentic?

2.) What books have you read where the teen voice seemed very real and please share why you thought so?

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The Trilogy Trick – Guest Spot with Michelle Gagnon

Jordan Dane
@JordanDane

I am very excited to have Michelle Gagnon as my guest, but she is definitely no stranger to TKZ. Many of you know Michelle was a former contributor extraordinaire to our blog and I’m excited to hear her thoughts on trilogies and her latest release. Welcome, Michelle!

Don't Look Now HC C

Hi folks, I’ve missed you! So good to be back on TKZ.

With the success of The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo and The Hunger Games, trilogies are all the rage these days. In fact, when I first pitched an idea for a young adult novel to my publisher, they specifically requested a trilogy. I agreed, because hey, what author wouldn’t want to guarantee the publication of three more books? Besides, I’d written a series before. How much harder could a trilogy be?

The first one, DON’T TURN AROUND, turned out to be the easiest book I’ve ever written. The rough draft flowed out of me in eight weeks; it was one of those magical manuscripts that seemed to write itself.

I sat back down at the computer, confident that the second and third would proceed just as smoothly; even (foolishly) harboring hopes that I’d knock the whole thing out in under six months.

Boy, was I wrong.

Here’s the thing: in a regular series, even though the characters carry through multiple books (and occasionally, plotlines do as well), they’re relatively self-contained. In the end, the villain is (usually) captured or killed; at the very least, his evil plan has been stymied.

Not so in a trilogy. For this series, I needed the bad guy—and the evil plot—to traverse all three books. Yet each installment had to be self-contained enough to satisfy readers. 

Suffice it to say that books 2 and 3 were a grueling enterprise. But along the way, I learned some important lessons on how to structure a satisfying trilogy:

  1. Each book has its own arc. Well, that’s obvious, right? But what this really means is that book 3 can’t feel like a mere continuation of book 2. Even if your villain/evil plot spans all three books, you need to provide resolution at the end of each installment. This is a good place to employ what I’ve dubbed, “The Henchman Rule.” At the end of each book, someone needs to be held accountable; otherwise your hero/heroine won’t seem to be making any headway. And the best solution for this? Get rid of the main baddie’s number 2, his right hand man. My favorite example is the stripping of Saruman’s powers at the end of The Two Towers. Sauron must wait to be dealt with in The Return of the King, but his main wizard is handily dispatched by Gandalf (suffice it to say, I didn’t have much of a social life in junior high school). 
  2. Avoid “Middle Book Syndrome.” What I discussed above is particularly challenging in the second book of any trilogy. This is the bridge book, the one where the characters need to move forward in their quest, but not too far forward. Traditionally, this is also the book that concludes with your main character (or characters) beaten down, exhausted, and uncertain of the possibility of success. Which can be a pretty depressing note to end on, unless you also provide them with a key: something that will help them surmount obstacles in book 3. That key can be any number of things: more information about the evil plan, the villain’s only vulnerability, etc. But the main goal is to set the stage for book 3, while still wrapping up enough threads to keep your readers happy.
  3. Character arcs need to span all three books. In a standalone, the main character faces some sort of incident that jettisons her into extreme circumstances (ie: Katniss’s sister losing the lottery). An escalation of events follows: the character is forced to confront her own weaknesses, and to discover her hidden strengths. At the end of Act 2, the character is usually at a low point, facing potential failure. Then, in the final act, the character rises to the occasion and ends up saving the day. In a trilogy, these same rules apply: but the conclusion of each book corresponds with the act breaks. Example: at the end of The Girl who Played with Fire (#2 in the trilogy), Lisbeth is horribly injured; she needs to overcome that incapacitation in order to finally vanquish her father in book 3.
  4. Avoid information dumps. Always a good rule, but trickier with trilogies. While working on the final installment, I kept butting up against this issue: when characters referred back to earlier events, how much background information was necessary to keep readers from becoming irrevocably lost? In the end, I provided very little. The truth is, it’s rare for people to start with the third book in a trilogy; I’m sure it happens, but it’s the exception, not the rule. So what you’re really doing is giving gentle reminders to people who might have read the last book months earlier. Provide enough information to jog their memory, without inundating them. It’s a tricky balance to strike, but I’d recommend erring on the side of giving less, not more.

So those are my tips, earned the hard way. Today’s question: what trilogies (aside from those I mentioned) did you love, and what about them kept you reading?


Michelle_Gagnon_color_09_optMichelle Gagnon is the international bestselling author of thrillers for teens and adults. Described as “The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo meets the Bourne Identity,” her YA technothriller DON’T TURN AROUND was nominated for a Thriller Award, and was selected as one of the best teen books of the year by Entertainment Weekly Magazine, Kirkus, Voya, and the Young Adult Library Services Association. The second installment, DON’T LOOK NOW, is on sale now (and hopefully doesn’t suffer from “middle book syndrome.”) She splits her time between San Francisco and Los Angeles.

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World Building – Indigo-style

by Jordan Dane
@JordanDane



My young adult novel, Indigo Awakening, launched two days ago on December 18. It is the first book in the Hunted series with Harlequin Teen. The inspiration behind this book came from researching Indigo children. Query “Indigo Child” on the Internet and you’ll get over 8 million hits. Real life and headlines often inspire my books and this time is no exception. For the purposes of fiction, I took liberties in my portrayal, but Indigo kids are generally described as highly intelligent, gifted teen psychics with a bright “indigo” aura and a mission to save the world. They have high IQs, see angels and commune with the dead. Are Indigo children real or are they manipulated by adults to believe they’re special? Are they dysfunctional misfits or mankind’s evolutionary savior? You decide, but I find the notion of man’s evolution intriguing. Here is the synopsis:

Because of what you are, the Believers will hunt you down.

Voices told Lucas Darby to run. Voices no one else can hear. He’s warned his sister not to look for him, but Rayne refuses to let her troubled brother vanish on the streets of LA. In her desperate search, she meets Gabriel Stewart, a runaway with mysterious powers and far too many secrets. Rayne can’t explain her crazy need to trust the strange yet compelling boy—to touch him—to protect him even though he scares her.

A fanatical church secretly hunts psychic kids—gifted “Indigo” teens feared to be the next evolution of mankind—for reasons only “the Believers” know. Now Rayne’s only hope is Gabe, who is haunted by an awakening power—a force darker than either of them imagine—that could doom them all.

They are our future—if they survive…

Five Key Ways I Built my Indigo World

1.) I triggered my premise with a “What If…” question that had conflict – The most important question in a writer’s arsenal is “what if.” What if Indigo kids are the next evolution and their psychic abilities are evolving and escalating? Who would fear this and feel threatened? I had to have a larger than life villain with a universal reach to terrorize these children. (Yeah, that’s how authors think.)

2.) I created conflict through a powerful enemy – The Church of Spiritual Freedom (specifically, a covert operation of overzealous “Believers”) use their faith as justification to persecute those they fear, believing God is on their side. They fear that Indigos and Crystal children threaten humanity’s existence with their “unnatural” superiority. That’s the basic conflict, a David versus Goliath storyline with an abundance of potentially evocative themes.

3.) I did research to add depth and dimension –I blended my research on Indigo kids with the topic of psychic abilities to create a different kind of world that wouldn’t be formulaic. I wanted the reader to “feel” these powers and how they erupt or evolve within each character. I didn’t want to simply describe traditional psychic capabilities. I wanted readers to understand how these kids feel as their power explodes or how their gifts morph into something far greater after they make contact with the “hive mind.”

4.) I provided a cultural context and hierarchy to my world that added to internal conflict for my characters – There is a hierarchy of Indigo Children/Indigo Warriors/Crystal Child. I made Indigo kids the base level with the status of a Crystal child more unique, powerful, and elite. Indigos are highly intelligent intuitive teens who “feel” their way through life, trust their instincts above all else, and can often see angels and the dead. Some Indigos are warriors with a fierce fighting spirit and a rebellious nature. This difference fuels future conflict between the cultures as Crystal children tend to be more peace loving and innocent. They are our future, if they survive, but what kind of world will they build?

5.) I built in consequences for wielding power – There is a dark side to having these powers—a duty and responsibility—and when the Believers tamper with science and human nature, they battle something they should have respected more. In book #2, Crystal Storm, There are consequences on both sides when power (of any kind) becomes abusive.

1.) If you could have a secret Indigo power, what would that be?

2.) Have you ever experienced a psychic moment or do you know anyone who you think is a real psychic?


“Dane’s first offering in her new series, The Hunted, is sensational. Indigo Awakening has strong characters and a wild and intense story, matched only by the emotions it will generate within you. Readers will love this book and eagerly await the next adventure. Fantastic! A keeper.”

~Romantic Times Book Review Magazine – 4.5 Stars (out of 5)

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YA Scavenger Hunt!


Hi folks! In my new role as a YA author, I’m participating in a very cool online scavenger hunt today. The winners receive a whole stack of free books–and as an added incentive for participating, I’m posting a deleted scene from my novel DON’T TURN AROUND on the page where I’m being hosted! (This was the only scene in the book told from the POV of an adult, which apparently is a YA no-no. But this scene gives insight into what really happened to a fan favorite character in the book, Cody).
It’s a lot of fun, so dive in if you have the time and inclination…
Welcome to YA Scavenger Hunt! This tri-annual event was first organized by author Colleen Houck as a way to give readers a chance to gain access to exclusive bonus material from their favorite authors…and a chance to win some awesome prizes! At this hunt, you not only get access to exclusive content from each author, you also get a clue for the hunt. Add up the clues, and you can enter for our prize–one lucky winner will receive one signed book from each author on the hunt in my team! But play fast: this contest (and all the exclusive bonus material) will only be online for 72 hours!

Go to the YA Scavenger Hunt page to find out all about the hunt. There are TWO contests going on simultaneously, and you can enter one or all! I am a part of the RED TEAM–but there is also a blue team for a chance to win a whole different set of twenty-five signed books!

If you’d like to find out more about the hunt, see links to all the authors participating, and see the full list of prizes up for grabs, go to the YA Scavenger Hunt homepage.


SCAVENGER HUNT PUZZLE

Directions: Below, you’ll notice that I’ve listed my favorite number. Collect the favorite numbers of all the authors on the red team, and then add them up (don’t worry, you can use a calculator!). 

Entry Form: Once you’ve added up all the numbers, make sure you fill out the form here to officially qualify for the grand prize. Only entries that have the correct number will qualify.

Rules: Open internationally, anyone below the age of 18 should have a parent or guardian’s permission to enter. To be eligible for the grand prize, you must submit the completed entry form by DEC 2nd, at noon Pacific Time. Entries sent without the correct number or without contact information will not be considered.

SCAVENGER HUNT POST
Today, I am hosting Ednah Walters on my website for the YA Scavenger Hunt! 

She’s the author of The Guardian Legacy series, and her latest novel is BETRAYED:

Lil isn’t just an average teenager. She’s one of the Nephilim–the descendants of humans and angels–which gives her some serious psi skills and a mission for redemption. Just when Lil thinks she’s found a balance between her normal life with human friends and her training to become a Guardian, someone starts to manipulate the people she loves… and won’t stop until she’s been lured to the dark side.

Ednah’s Bio:

I grew up reading Nancy Drew and Hardy boys mysteries and fell in love with books. I’ve written picture books (unpublished), contemporary and romantic suspense (under the pen name E. B. Walters), and finally YA fantasy under Ednah Walters. AWAKENED (2010) is the prequel to the YA series about the Nephilim, The Guardian Legacy series. BETRAYED(book # 1) is now available wherever books are sold, HUNTED (book # 2) will be released in April 2013. I’m working on FORGOTTEN, the next book in the series. My adult contemporary, the Fitzgerald books, includes SLOW BURN, MINE UNTIL DAWN, KISS ME CRAZY, DANGEROUS LOVE and FOREVER HERS. When I’m not writing, I do things with my family, five children and my darling husband of 20 years. I live in a picturesque valley in northern Utah, the setting for my YA series.

Find out more information about Ednah and her awesome books by checking out the author website or find out more about BETRAYED here!


And don’t forget to enter the contest for a chance to win a ton of signed books by me, hosted author’s name, and more! To enter, you need to know that my favorite number is 6. Add up all the favorite numbers of the authors on the blue team and you’ll have all the secret code to enter for the grand prize!

CONTINUE THE HUNT

To keep going on your quest for the hunt, you need to check out the next author, VICTORIA SCHWAB!

PS…I’ll also be giving away EXCLUSIVE add on content–sections of DON’T TURN AROUND that were deleted from the completed manuscript! So be sure to check it out on Myra Mcentire’s blog!

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Books To Films

Do you read a book and then go to watch the movie, or vice versa? Have you enjoyed a film and then rushed to buy the book for a more in-depth experience? I am more of the latter persuasion. I’ve bought a number of books based on movies/TV shows I’ve seen first.

For example, I became a fan of Legend of the Seeker, a fantasy series on TV based on Terry Goodkind’s Sword of Truth books. It interested me enough to try his first title, Wizard’s First Rule. What’s it about?

        Wizard's First Rule (The Sword of Truth)

Richard is a simple woodsman until his father is killed and he learns of his destiny as The Seeker of Truth. Reminding me at times of Star Wars (Episode IV) due to the hero’s journey structure of the novel (see Christopher Vogler’s The Writer’s Journey), I didn’t want to put the book down. The world building is so detailed that you feel you’re there. What keeps you turning pages, aside from the evil Darken Rahl’s attempts to kill Richard and the other nefarious creatures he encounters, is the forbidden love story between Richard and Kaylan. This weaves a spell on you to see if they can defeat the magic that keeps them apart. Their love is the driving force throughout the entire series. I’ve read everything Goodkind has written to date and eagerly await the next installment in his newest series.

I am happy to be a fan of some YA shows, too. Both my husband and I were enthralled by City of Ember, a YA scifi story and book one in The Books of Ember by Jeanne DuPrau. Twelve year olds Doon Harrow and Lina Mayfleet live in a mysterious city that depends solely upon a generator for light and power. When the lights begin to flicker and the city experiences blackouts, they know something is terribly wrong. They discover an old document that may provide clues to the city’s origins and an escape route beyond the forbidden boundary.

 City of Ember                       The City of Ember (Books of Ember)  

The Alex Rider series by Anthony Horowitz is another one my husband and I both got hooked on after seeing the film, Alex Rider: Operation Stormbreaker. Alex Pettyfer was cute as the teen spy in this action flick reminiscent of James Bond. Teenager Alex Rider is recruited by British Intelligence after his uncle, a spy, is murdered. Coerced into completing Uncle Ian’s mission, Alex proves his aptitude for the job. With his martial arts training, language skills, and courage, he is more than worthy of the role. We ran out to buy Stormbreaker, the first book in the series, after seeing this movie and now have all the rest of the books on our shelves.

 Alex Rider             Stormbreaker (Alex Rider)

After a glimpse at The Hunger Games, I am tempted again to read the book to fill in the thoughts and emotional reactions that are not evident in the film.


So which comes first for you—the movie or the book?

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