The truth about ‘voice’ in YA fiction…

June 10, 2012

I’ve touched on this before in previous posts, but for those writers beginning their writing journey and particularly those who write for young adults, finding your voice can be a challenge. This is just my take on a hazy concept that you either instinctively get, or you don’t.

For a long time I didn’t get it.

My voice is the way I write, how I string my words together to form a cohesive whole. Some of my favourite authors have a voice as distinctive and unique as a fingerprint. Voice can be a conduit or a circuit-breaker—we’re all attuned to different frequencies in our reading and that’s why one person’s classic is another person’s toilet paper.

So why are so many YA novels written in the first-person? And how does this viewpoint affect voice?

Well, if you have a third-person or omniscient narrator, you can allow your author’s voice to intrude on the story. This is often the case with literary fiction—we know that the author is there, whispering in our ear. But I think this viewpoint leaves the reader with a feeling of detachment—appreciation, wonder, awe, yes—but it can keep the reader at a distance. I can still love a story that’s permeated with an author’s voice, but I rarely feel like I’ve been held underwater and let up for air on the very last page.

That’s how I feel when I read a great story written in the first-person. And detachment isn’t a hallmark of YA fiction. Immersion is. Feeling is.

I think this is the reason behind the boom in YA fiction. Books in the genre are getting smarter, more well-written, more emotional and complicated. And sometimes, darker. Since when were the teenage years anything other than dark and complicated? Anyway, that’s a whole other post. (As a teenager, I cut my teeth on Virginia Andrews and moved on to Harold Robbins because there just wasn’t enough YA fiction out there—Robbin’s books were hidden under the bed so, of course, I had to read them.)

So here’s the thing about writing in the first-person. The rules about finding your writer-voice go out of the window. The way you write, your cadence and rhythm, your foibles with style—your voice—should affect the story in the most subtle way. Because the moment you choose to write in first-person, you’re entrusting your main character with telling the story. And unless your character is you (which can work for a first novel but becomes problematic thereafter) you must find your character’s voice.

It can take me quite a while to sink into character and I’m finding with each new work it becomes more difficult. I think that’s why sophomore novels can be so hard—that’s when the distinction between author voice and character voice is most evident. The first draft pages of my second novel sounded…familiar. But once you get inside your new character’s head and discover their world, it clicks. That’s when you know you’ve found a voice.

I heard Friday’s voice a long time ago, and then Mim came along and blew her away. It’s taken some time for us to get to know each other again. Friday’s quiet, unsure of herself, lost in grief. She’s the opposite of Mim, and the tone of Friday Brown is vastly different to All I Ever Wanted. It’s been described as Australian gothic. I really like that description. From grit to gothic.

I know I’ve probably missed many, but here are a few of my favourite books written in first-person:


How I Live Now – Meg Rosoff

The Messenger – Markus Zusak

On the Jellicoe Road – Melina Marchetta

Graffiti Moon – Cath Crowley

Raw Blue – Kirsty Eagar

Brown Skin Blue – Belinda Jeffrey

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time – Mark Haddon

Walking Naked – Alyssa Brugman

Speak – Laurie Halse Anderson

When You Reach Me – Rebecca Stead (Middle Grade)

Before I Die – Jenny Downham

Notes from the Teenage Underground – Simmone Howell

Please Ignore Vera Dietz – A S King (multiple viewpoint)


Stay tuned for a preview of Friday Brown—I’ll be posting a chapter soon.


Categories: Uncategorized, Tags:

Comments are closed.