Wednesday, September 22, 2010

Teenage Dream: How To Hone Your YA Voice

Yep, I'm starting another weekly feature. But this one will be for a couple of weeks, though. Don't want anyone to get sick of my rambling :)

Okay. Teens. They're awesome. Why else would we write for them? 

If you're an aspiring YA author, you face the same issues plaguing every other writer: plot, pacing, tension, setting, world-building, blah, blah, blah. But there's a little something extra that might give you a harder time than all those elements combined. 


Confession: I am not an expert. I'm just someone who refuses to grow up. Vehemently. So I guess I can shell out some advice on how teens think and sound. 

Tip #1: Music Is Your Boyfriend (or girlfriend)

You know those artists who win those music awards and appear on the covers of those teen magazines? You've sort of heard about them, but can't really name their first single, or their latest. Well, not all of those artists deserve your attention. As far as honing your YA voice, only two artists are worth your time.

a. Katy Perry- You don't have to listen to pop music if you don't like it. You can simply Google her lyrics and read them. This girl writes all her songs, which reflect both her adult life and her high school years. There's a reason she's so popular. People--most importantly, teens--can relate. Humor, rebelliousness, and honesty are her secret ingredients. She's never the same character in all her songs--they're all a different layer of her whole persona. A very weird, funny, and unapologetic persona (my favorite).

Some songs I suggest you study are: "Teenage Dream", "Ur So Gay", "The One That Got Away", "Lost", "Pearl", "Thinking Of You", "One Of The Boys", "Hot And Cold", and "Not Like The Movies".  

b. Taylor Swift- This is the "duh!" artist. She's still young, so her perspective is fresh and untainted. Heartbreak is her specialty. And kissing. Lots of heartbreak and kissing. But she writes about it in unconventional ways. For example, her song "Mine" explores her perspective on love, how her boyfriend changes it, and what he thinks about it himself. Say it with me, people: "depth". I always like to remind writers to go deeper with their character arcs, and I blame Taylor Swift for that. There's a bittersweet innocence to her writing that won't ring true to every teen out there, but her message about not giving up on yourself, or on love, is universal. 

I suggest you check out: everything. Seriously. Read all her lyrics, if you can. Some might even spark a story idea. It totally happened to me :)

That's part one of my YA voice "workshop"--find lyrics with meaningful teen stories. Absorb them. Then write. 

Now tell me, friends: have any favorite songs about teens you'd like to share with me? 


  1. Great post, Amparo! As far as songs about teens, I just know that music was really important to me as a teen, so important that I still smell summer when I hear certain songs from those years. It's like a total flashback, and I only listened to the radio and my parents' cd's, so I didn't know any group or singer names...well, maybe a few. I loved Truly, Madly, Deeply by Savage Garden.

    Teen years=passion

  2. I'm a huge, huge LYRICS fan and I listen to them LOL. I am stunned at how many people don't. This is good point for people to find teen voice, which we do lose as we refuse to grow up. Or tune into MTV. I'm with you, no expert, but I just try to share what works for me. Great ideas

  3. Great post and good advice. Voice is an elusive thing sometimes. Very hard to nail down. :)
    Lisa ~ YA Literature Lover

  4. You nailed it with Taylor Swift and Katy Perry. Especially Taylor Swift, her songs are so simple but I think every teenage girl can relate to them. I was in the car the other day and "Mine" was on THREE radio stations at once. When her first song Tim McGraw came out I was pretty sure she had written it specifically for me, lol

  5. What a fab way to find your teenage voice - not just for those writing YA but if you have a teen as part of your ms too!.

    Take care

  6. I agree with the music. I loved music when I was a teen. Plus now that I listen to the words, it's even more cool. =)

  7. Great advice. This is so going into my Cool Links Friday post. Can't wait for your next post. :D

  8. Awesome idea! I've never thought of reading the lyrics before.