My current manuscript began as a third-person narrative.  But when I realized that I was losing the thread of the plot and central conflict, I shifted to first-person.  I feel like I’ve picked up that thread again.  I feel like the story is stronger; firmer; right.

One of the main obstacles in this change is the struggle to establish my protagonist’s voice as authentic and believable.  She’s a 15-year-old girl, and it’s clear that my former omniscient narrator used vocabulary that may not occur to a teenager.  Some critique partners pointed this out, and I agreed with their assessment.  So I began to adjust my diction to fit the voice of an adolescent girl, which turned out to be yet another challenge.  I use those big words naturally; removing them from my vernacular isn’t easy.  I don’t even notice them most of the time, and when I do I wrestle with how to remove them.  What words do I use instead?  What would Taylor think here?  Say there? 

My research–primarily reading young adult novels and watching popular teen soaps–would indicate that kids actually appreciate the big words.  They respond to them.  The witty, intelligent teen banter is engaging and clever.  Granted, teenagers may not truly talk like that on a daily basis, but there’s no questioning the popularity of Twlight, Hunger Games, Dawson’s Creek, The Secret Life

So I wonder:  Should I force my own hand to make different word choices?  If my character speaks to me using these words, should I force her to stop?  Or is that, in fact, condescending to my audience?  Kids are so much smarter than we often give them credit for.  Even if these words don’t come naturally to the average teen, kids can follow the lingo.  They understand.  They appreciate it and they grow from it.  Maybe that’s my job–my obligation–to let my character speak for herself in the way that she speaks to me.   Or perhaps I just need to make clearer choices about who my protagonist is.  Regardless, Taylor’s voice is a work in progress.

2 Responses to “Voice”

  • Sandi Reinardy Says:

    Question for you Colleen: This might have been implied, but do you think the book is targeted toward a teen audience? Or are you trying not to have a targeted audience at all? The reason I ask is that I think you made a really good point about the vernacular that shows up in books, movies and shows geared toward teens. In fact, I think teens in television shows for adults might also show a bit more ‘verbal prowess’ than everyday teenagers do. But, as an adult reading a book, I might be less willing to suspend belief or buy into a character who seems overly mature for her age. A teen reader probably feels good to be challenged or inspired by a strong vocabulary in a character they want to relate to, while an adult reader might find it inauthentic.

    As an adult, I think I don’t mind age in-authenticity in television as much as I mind it in books because I’m automatically looking to TV to be a little more purely escapist. A little more glamorous. But a really fantastic book, for me, is really true to life and reveals some truths I can I relate to. That’s just me tho… 🙂

  • Colleen Conrad Says:

    Very good points! I definitely appreciate the input. The novel is definitely intended for young adult audiences, so I don’t want to condescend to my reader. But, as you mention, I also don’t want to have my protagonist feel inaccessible or inauthentic. Ideally, the reader feels that she could be a friend, but also someone he/she would respect. Hmm.

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