The Wrong Questions

This post, from Gallagher Girls series author Ally Carter, originally appeared on her Ally’s Diary blog on 9/11/08.

I attended a couple of writers’ conferences last summer. I enjoy conferences. I like notebooks and name badges and having an excuse to wear the three cute outfits I own.

But this year it felt like I gained less from the sessions themselves than I usually do.

This is probably due to a lot of things, not the least of which is that I’ve been doing this for a while now and I’m simply farther along the learning curve than I used to be.

As a result I spent a lot of time twisting in my chair, wanting to shout out the things that I’ve learned so far. But I couldn’t. Because shouting is a good way to get escorted out of the Hyatt or the Marriott.

So instead I’ll do my shouting here–in the comfort of my own blog.

Please note that what follows is my HONEST opinion about the differences in writing for teens and adults. If you don’t want my honest opinion, stop reading. If you continue to read, consider yourself warned.

One of the sessions that I attended was a session on the differences in writing for teen and adult audiences. But two minutes into the session I wanted to stand up and tell everyone in the audience that they were asking the wrong questions.

Now don’t get me wrong, they were no doubt very common questions, but in my opinion if you want to be successful in the YA market, they were the wrong questions.

So here is my lame, Thursday-morning-just-got-back-from-the-gym-and-I’m-too-lazy-to-go-upstairs-and-do-some-real-work attempt at answering the wrong questions and steering people toward the right ones.

WRONG QUESTION: How do I develop an authentic teen voice?

THE RIGHT QUESTION: Do I have a voice that’s appealing to teens?

After all, would you ask "how do I write in a voice that mystery readers would respond to?" Or "how do I sound like a science fiction reader?" No. You wouldn’t.

Your voice is your voice is your voice. Period. And frankly, either you’ve got a voice that teens will enjoy or you don’t.

Furthermore, all teens don’t sound the same and neither do all teen novels.

There are very successful teen authors who use long sentences and huge words and very complicated sentence structures. And then there are teen authors like me.

There is no such thing as a "teen" voice. And no amount of hanging out in shopping malls and eavesdropping on the kids at the next table is going to teach you to write in a manner that will appeal to those kids.

Furthermore, trying to mimic those readers is an almost surefire way to make those kids hate your book. They know imitators when they see them. They don’t take kindly to pandering.

Trying to write like you think teens want you to write is the fastest way I know to fail in this business.

Write how you write. Either it’ll work for the YA market (or the horror market, or romance market, or scifi market, etc) or it won’t. At the very least, teens will respect you for it.

Read the rest of the post (it’s quite lengthy, so there’s still much more to learn from it) on Ally Carter’s Ally’s Diary blog.