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YA versus Adult voice
Posted: Thursday, May 12, 2011 4:46 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

Okay, so my conundrum is this: I read almost exclusively YA.  (This is for various reasons, most of which are because it's historically been on the cleaner side, very little sex or violence, etcetera.)  Given this you'd think I'd be able to write YA, but I can't.  Every character under the age of mid-twenties that I've tried to write comes off too old.

So, I'm just curious.  Am I the only one who struggles with this?  Is there really that big of a difference between a young adult voice and an adult voice or is it something I'm imagining?  Any comments about YA and adult voice are welcome.

MB Mulhall
Posted: Monday, May 16, 2011 8:56 PM
Joined: 3/14/2011
Posts: 81

I also read mostly read YA but find I have no issues sound young I think a lot of it lies in the dialog. Using slang. Some fragments, etc. Read the dialog out loud. If it sounds "old" replace some words. Remove some as well.

I'd say to watch some TV shows or movies made for teens, but if you are already reading YA then I don't know if shows will help. Do you have something I can read? Maybe I see where the issue lies.
Posted: Monday, May 16, 2011 10:05 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

That's the thing, I don't have anything YA. Not really. I mean, my steampunk story I've got the first chapter of here is probably YA, but with teh victorian setting, the voice is definitely a bit more formal.

I'm just more finding it interesting that I can't write what I read.
Posted: Thursday, May 19, 2011 7:27 PM
Joined: 3/13/2011
Posts: 245

I'm only 26. That query line is so grating.
Colleen Lindsay
Posted: Thursday, June 2, 2011 9:03 PM
Joined: 2/27/2011
Posts: 356

Addley -

I was at DFWcon when that query was read out loud; I was sitting with five agents and editors in the back of the auditorium. Each of us lost it, started laughing so hard I thought we would choke. When the voice is forced, you know it. All you have to do is read it aloud.
Posted: Thursday, June 2, 2011 11:25 PM
Joined: 5/12/2011
Posts: 241

I wrote two novels that I intended to be adult novels before I realized that but for characters who were a titch too old (19 in the first chapter and aging from there) I had actually written young adult novels.

They are historical novels so it's not about the correct slang in my case. (I never talked like that as a teen, myself, so I don't think slang is the ticket to the teen mind, frankly). In my case it's more of the overall tone of the book, as well as a certain kind of plot--youngish girl pursues love and adventure, finds self, matures in unexpected ways, yadda yadda.

I may go back and rewrite one of them someday and age the character down and repitch it as YA, but I'll probably just keep moving forward with new projects. My most recent novel (among my beta readers at the moment) is an intentional YA and I am hoping I finally figured this all out.

All of that was digression though, What about the "tone" of those first books turned out to be more YA than adult? It's hard to put a finger on. The intentionally YA I wrote has sex, violence, crime, drunkenness, drug addiction (all set in the Old West) so it certainly isn't a lack of those things. I think it might partly be a tone of hope that only comes with the naivete of youth. And a happy ending in spite of it all.

But these days, plenty of YA doesn't necessarily have a happy ending, so that's not it either.

I'm going to have to keep thinking about it. Following this discussion to see what others say!
Danielle Poiesz
Posted: Monday, June 6, 2011 1:23 PM
I actually have the opposite problem, Steph! I read a fairly equal amount of YA versus Adult, but whenever I write--unless I'm working on literary short stories--it comes off sounding YA!

I'm going to keep at it, but voice isn't something you can change or something you can teach. It's an element of writing that just IS. I don't think you can force it one way or the other. The way I see it, if your voice comes off more adult, than you are probably meant to be writing adult books, and vice-versa
Posted: Monday, June 20, 2011 7:22 PM
Joined: 6/15/2011
Posts: 10

I completely understand the difficulty of finding that YA voice.

Unfortunately I'm a fairly new writer so I can't really offer any help - but I can say that the other comments seem pretty helpful to me too.

That query by the way - I'm almost certain it's on queryshark....

Sharon Johnston
Posted: Saturday, July 2, 2011 12:19 PM
Joined: 4/26/2011
Posts: 5

I think it's important to be around your target audience, even if it's online. I'm lucky I've got a teenage son, but I also have a lot of younger friends that I've met through a YA writing site (though I'm not professing to have it down pat). Another good option is to look for teen quoters on Twitter.

It's also important not to put too much in that can date easily too. Make sure you don't think too much about when you were that age because you'll end up writing a historical fiction (I know you're not really THAT far away from it, but things can change rapidly in the teen scenes.)/

Posted: Sunday, July 10, 2011 8:20 PM
Joined: 3/16/2011
Posts: 27

steph, is writing YA something you want to do? I ask this question mostly, I think, because I love a good historical mystery. In a million years I wouldn't dream of writing one : ) The thing is, sometimes what you enjoy reading is not what you enjoy writing, or not what you're best at writing.
If you truly want to write YA, remember that some YA is "lower" YA and some is "upper", so there is a bit of leeway. And sit with some of your favorite YA books and take a careful look at what makes them YA -- beyond the age of the characters, that is. For some books, it will be the story issue, for others it will be sentence structure, still others character movitations, and so on. Identify what that "YA something" is in the books you love and see if you can't work it into some of your own writing -- not necessarily on a first or even subsequent drafts, but more in a revision stage. It's not necessarily something that will flow easily from your pen (or keyboard) but something that may require massaging in at revision stage -- and that's okay! But the first question to ask yourself is whether you truly want to write YA -- or have a story that is best told for a YA audience -- or do you truly want to write adult and read YA?
hope any of this helps : )
Posted: Thursday, August 25, 2011 1:39 AM
Joined: 8/7/2011
Posts: 6

I sometimes wonder if writers (and publishers and agents) aren't selling our kids a bit short. As a teen, I loved reading "older" books. I was into Poe, Tolkien, Asimov, and Ambrose Bierce.

I agree that sentence structure shouldn't make your eyes cross (Poe), and make your YA readers put down your book. But I've heard it suggested that the story issues should only address "issues teens are facing today," as if teens are somehow divorced from the rest of the world we live in, and wouldn't care about issues larger than: dating, drugs, and fitting in.

Posted: Tuesday, July 23, 2013 5:25 PM
MrSteve wrote:
I've heard it suggested that the story issues should only address "issues teens are facing today," as if teens are somehow divorced from the rest of the world we live in, and wouldn't care about issues larger than: dating, drugs, and fitting in.

This drives me nuts - as a writer and a reader!

Toni Smalley
Posted: Wednesday, July 24, 2013 5:43 PM
I'm in the same boat of confusion. My character in one of my WIPs is 19. Is it YA or Adult or maybe NA. Is NA a new genre? Teenagers today are dealing with issues that I never thought about when I was a teenager (I'm in my late 20s) and I think YA is largely about incorporating the type of issues teens are concerned about or placing them in adult situations and having them handle them like a teenager would. I agree with what everyone else has said about structuring your novel for YA, especially becoming familiar with the teenage community. PC Cast taught high school English, which greatly influenced her House of Night series.
Jean Reinhardt
Posted: Tuesday, July 30, 2013 5:49 AM
Joined: 7/30/2013
Posts: 1

I attended a writer's workshop where we were told that for YA the protagonist should be a little older than the intended readers.  So if you think your book will appeal to 14 to 16 year old teens, 17 and 18 is good, maybe 19 is okay too, depending on the story.  I'm writing a YA trilogy and I've finished the first book where the main characters are 17, in the second book they are 18 and for the third they will be 19.  These are coming of age characters and I wanted to bring them up to late teens because of the story line.

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