Can You Hear Me Now – Authenticity of Voice

Many projects sit in their tidy folders waiting for me to pay them attention. All are very different: a picturebook text, a young YA novel, and a full-fledged YA. Yet all are the same in that their respective character/narrative voices echo off the pages. While jotting down what I hear in my imagination is fun and feels true, I sometimes fear an editor, an agent, or gasp! even a reader will say that they are decidedly false.

I try to balance two arguments:

A. Every child is different, and in authors’ attempts to appeal to mythical median, voices either sound the same or fall on deaf ears. Hence my disdain for junior beach reads. As a teen, I was more a Melinda of Speak, less a Gossip Girl. So, I take quick audio files of real kids and teens I know or was and remix them into a unique character signature. Of course, most of these kids are girlish, innocent geeks who are strong enough not to pretend otherwise.

2. Ignoring certain issues or the way 14-year-olds really talk could alienate buyers.And while writing for writing’s sake has its value, for it to have an impact, it has to be read. So I fear being read as that old cat lady who doesn’t get kids today. And instead of the nerds, the “good kids,” or the shy girls getting the shaft, everyone else does.

When I approach revising my works from the voice angle, I need to figure out how to balance creating a unique character and voice, but not so unique as to have anyone think that this book is unrelatable because such a character doesn’t exist.

What do you all think? How authentic should we be? Sacrifice character for market share? Hold out for the one believer?

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