Peeling Back the Onion Layers

If you want to find your teen self (see last post) and let that person inform your writing voice, I think the best way is to free write scenes from your past.

Remember Anne Lammott’s advice in BIRD BY BIRD in the chapter about school lunches? She starts by writing what foods went in those school lunches and ends up remembering the emotional ties—what kinds of things you might have in your lunch that could lead to you being popular or getting beat up, your head smashed against the chain-link fence at recess.

That’s what I go for when I free write the details from my past—the emotional memories.

You could write about defining moments or the most ordinary. Like, What do you remember about driver’s ed? Your first time getting behind the steering wheel? Who else was in the car with you besides the teacher? Peers who gave you more confidence? People who made the whole experience more nerve-wracking? What was on the radio? Was the A/C too cold?

This isn’t to say fiction should be totally autobiographical, but I find as I conjure up details, the authentic emotions reach the surface too. And that is where you’ll find your authentic teen voice. Teens experience life much more intensely than adults, partly because their emotional centers mature before their impulse control, but also because everything is so NEW for them. If you can remember the exuberance and despair of being a teen, and especially the vulnerability, I believe your YA writing will always ring true.

So now you tell me. How do you get your voice right when writing for people younger than you? Does the voice come first or is it something you have to hone? I’m still a fairly new writer, so most of my characters reflect shards of my own past, but I’d like to move beyond that one day and eventually write not only characters who are younger than me but also much different than me. If you’ve been successful in this, please share your tips in the comments!



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2 responses to “Peeling Back the Onion Layers

  1. I’m not good with characters who are very different from me, yet–my current MC and I have a LOT in common. I’m dredging up and inflating a lot of my worst high school memories to help me with her experience.

    Still, I would think that, because we all experience a huge range of emotions, that writing a different character is made easier by accessing a different type of experience and inflating that. A generally content character could arise from our happy moments, and a snooty, entitled character could be informed by the memory of our moments of misplaced superiority (not that I EVER felt superiority that was misplaced). I really doubt that there is a character out there who feels an emotion that is completely foreign to us–perhaps they feel it with greater frequency or greater depth, but none of us are strangers to the range of human emotions.

    Pretty sure. šŸ™‚

  2. I’m actually reading Bird by Bird this year, so I know the passage. I’m not great at sitting down and writing a random peice of my history, but I find that they pop up on their own. For example, there are certain themes which come up.

    In my writing group I put up a post about fears, and a memory of what caused that fear.