… Said No Teen, Ever

Yes, Mom, I’d love it if you came to the concert with us!


… said no teen, ever.

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A strong teen voice is probably the one ingredient most likely to make or break a YA novel. So how does a writer get it?

While “voice” is one of those qualities that can be hard to define and even harder to develop, there are some basic things writers can do:

Avoid overly manufactured “teen talk.” Teens have highly sensitive fake-o-meters. Adult-manufactured “teen talk” sets those meters spinning. Yes, each new generation of teen-age speech has its own slang, its own cadence, its own set of cultural references. But a little bit goes a long way. Overdo it, and you come off as unrealistic at best and grating at worst.

Listen to how teens (and people in general) talk. This is especially important for writing dialog (which is different from voice, but which does contribute to your writer’s voice). People don’t speak in complete sentences. They use contractions. They interrupt each other in conversation. They use shorter sentences when they’re excited and longer sentences when they’re waxing poetic. Your characters should, too.

Don’t generalize. I hope this goes without saying, but … teens are people, too! Not all teens are alike. In fact, no two are alike. So give them their own personalities, dreams, failings, and flaws.

Think like a teen. Writing with a teen voice is less about using the latest “hot” phrases and more about seeing the world and responding to it the way a teen sees it and responds to it. Remember how it felt to be a teen? Good. That’s all you need! Drawing on your own feelings and experiences is the best way to make your teen voice real and believable.

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And now, just for fun, some things teens would NEVER say, as contributed by real-live teens (and a few former teens) from my church’s youth group:
I wish my curfew was earlier.
I wish there was less food in the house.
I wish I didn’t have a smart phone.
I wish my internet connection was slower.
(Kyle Snoich)

I wish school was 10 hours a day.
The school lunches are so yummy! I could eat them all the time!
(Andy Vest)

I wish I had to wake up every day at 6 a.m.
I wish there was no such thing as football.
I wish there was no such thing as summer.
(Thomas Crowson)

Video games are boring.
I wish teachers were super mean.
TV shows from the ’90s are so boring.
I love paying for textbooks.
(Teresa Artigas)

All high school girls are really nice to everyone.
No one is ever insecure.
I just love doing chores.
I’m not attached to my cell phone.
(Emily Gallihugh)

Yes! Another essay assignment!
(Andrew Dietz)

I wish the driving age was 21.
I wish we had year-round school.
I wish texting had never been invented.
My parents need to be more strict.
(Billy Vaughan)

I wish I had more homework.
I really enjoy cleaning my room.
I sure hope I get to wake up early tomorrow!
Let’s go to the library! (Aw, that one makes me sad.)
I hate it when people text me.
(Nick Yother)

I want to be a telemarketer when I grow up.
(Laurie Cummins Morris)