|Ooh, side ponytail!|
The YA voice is an elusive and difficult thing to get right. As a writer you need to know what young adults are wearing, what they're NOT wearing, what they're saying, what they're drinking, eating, THINKING! All the while keeping that magic thread that is you as a writer and that is your character's voice, because that's what makes your writing unique.
If you slip up, even if you don't notice, young adult readers will. I notice, and I'm not even a young adult for genre defining purposes anymore (I'm 24).
As writers we're always talking about avoiding things that are going to jolt the reader from your story. Well, this is one of those things. If I'm engrossed in a story and next thing I know the YA protag is whipping out her hot rollers (yes, this just happened in a book I was reading) instead of GHD hair straightener, or saying 'bloody' as a swear word* instead of using any number of other options that YAs actually say (or if you're avoiding the swear words, at least use 'damn' or 'crap'), I'm going to be yoinked right from the plot and thinking, "Wait a second..." And then, because I'm a nitpicky reader, I'm going to be noticing every little thing that doesn't sit right from there on out.
If you're really unsure how young adults dress and talk then it's time to do some spying. We writers are good at this. Visit places teens like to hang and you can watch without looking like a stalker. Malls are a good place to start. I've also discovered recently that the train at around 3:30pm is perfect if you can handle being stuck for an hour with a hundred or so teens crammed in and discussing who's dating who at the moment and awkwardly flirting with each other. Another good place to check out, Authoress Anon's new blog Write On. It's for teens, and there's a forum full of teens. I'm sure they wouldn't mind if you wanted to pick their brains.
Also, find out what movies, tv shows, actors and bands teens are interested in today. A big cliche I see in YA books is the character (or characters) who are obsessed with something from the past (like maybe when the writer of said book was young), like an old band (The Beatles) or old movies. Yes, this happens. No, it doesn't happen as often as the YA writer world seems to think it does. I don't know anybody my age or younger who is obsessed with The Beatles. I would struggle to name more than two of their songs (no judging zone, ok?).
Last thing: READ. Read. Read. Read.
Read as much YA as you can get your hands on. Read the good stuff and the bad stuff so you get a feel for both (gotta love Amazon ratings for that).
If you want an awesome example of contemporary YA voice, check out 'Anna and the French Kiss' by Stephanie Perkins. Amazing. Finished it in a day. So gutted that it's over and I want more. Admittedly, the book does have two characters who are obsessed with something old (where I got the two examples from actually - old movies and The Beatles) but the rest of the book is so great that I forgave it ten times over.
* Unless they're British, but even then I'm not sure a British teen would say that. And besides, it's cliche.
How do you feel about YA voice? Do you read YA? Do you think getting the little things right is important, or would you not notice them at all?