Writing Tips: Finding your teenage voice, Part 1

Writing Tips
                              teen voices

Young adult is a huge genre now, in case you missed it, but the funny thing is, it's adults writing about adolescents.  Yeah, we were teenagers once, but sometimes I think people forget what teenagers were really like.  What they talk like, especially.  I can't tell you how many times I've read a supposedly fifteen-year-old protagonist who sounds like a wizened old woman.  So yes, there are precocious fifteen-year-olds, but they're still fifteen-year-olds.  Today, I'm armed with some tips (and very bad emo poetry) to help you find a realistic voice for your teenage characters. 

This will be part 1 of a two-parter, since the diary part got so big on its own.  

Bonus: you get to meet high school C.J.  Oh, dear. 

Names have been changed to protect what's left of my pride. 

Remember Xanga?

If you're a writer, chances are you have sometime in your life kept a diary.  I had several because I never kept up with it, but they are the inspiration for this entry.  When I want to get into the mindset of a teenager, I go back and read what I wrote when I was one.  What I find is often cringe-worthy but also, on occasion, surprisingly profound.  And it helps me to remember how I talked, what I talked about, what made me feel insecure, what I loved.  (How many different guys I had crushes on...seriously.)  So go dust off your old diary and immerse yourself!  There's gold there for getting yourself in the teenage mindset.  Not only how it sounds, but what was important to you.  What you obsessed about. 

To give you some laughs (and hopefully inspiration), here are some snippets from my own diaries, indexed by age.  Predictably, a lot of it is about boys. Also apparently I reported my life in excruciating detail.

Thirteen, Freshman in High School

Now, here's the cool part: Jack and Frank sat at our table!!! Now, of course I was really quiet at first, but Kate kept making me talk and Jack was talking really easily [so was Frank, but whatever] so I actually talked to him, like, in a real conversation!

That was pretty fun. It was just Jackie's and my subdivision, which is rather small, but we had fun walking around and getting candy. One lady even gave out little religious pamphlets. I wanted to say to her, ""I'm already a Christian. Please stop trying to resave me. o.O"" But, obviously, I didn't.

Had to go to school today to promote Latin during open house. We barely got anyone walking by. Stupid Spanish. It wasn't even so bad if the people said they would take French, because French is in the same boat as Latin, but everyone wanted to take Spanish. Honestly, people are like cattle. If one does it, they all
do it. Siriously. (HP joke)

Fourteen, Freshman to Sophomore in High School

So, you may be wondering, why do I sound so bitter? Simple. My mother got her wallet stolen today. It was two guys, we think. ... Those men better be thanking their lucky stars that this falls under police jurisdiction. Were I in charge of what to do with them, so help me God they would receive no mercy. 

As for the rest of my day- when I wasn't horribly angry -it was alright. Jack called Kate and I his groupies, joking obviously. I thought that was amusing. And he was only kidding. He didn't mean it. If he did, Kate would have strangled him with his tie. ;)

Obviously, if you know me and have been reading my journal, you'll know that I have had a crush on Jack for the entire year; a fact which he does not, should not, and will not know. Ever. Well, maybe he does, but then again maybe not. He is a guy after all. They aren't the most perceptive of the lot. 

Really, I don't know why it's such a big deal.  It isn't as if I ever had a chance anyway. Hello, I'm a nerd, remember?? Guys don't notice nerds. Well, maybe other nerd guys do. But Jack's not a nerd, and that's not the point. I should just stop whining and give up already. I should have gotten over this a long time ago. No sense in being naive about it. 

I do hope that we get to do archery for the rest of the year. I like archery. It's fun, so far. Even though I've only gotten to shoot one arrow. My arrow made it right under the target! I was the closest person to the target besides the one or two people that made it on the target. Fun!

We were talking, then went kind of quiet for a minute while we thought of other problems. Then, out of the blue, Chase looks and me and goes, ""You have really pretty eyes, you know?"" Except, I couldn't hear what he said the first time because I was kind of zoning out so he had to say it again. I swear that my cheeks were on fire. Thankfully, my hair had kind of fallen over my face so you couldn't see too much...I think... So I'm like, ""Oh, thanks"", really softly. Then Courtney came back, thank God, and really quickly I started continuing the discussion about the names. I really have no tact whatsoever, do I? 

But what is even more awesome is that Friday, after school, I am driving (being driven, rather) up to Shannon's house and am going to spend the night until Sunday!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! I CAN SO NOT WAIT!!! THIS IS SO FREAKING AWESOME!!!! I FINALLY GET TO SEE SHANNON AFTER TWO YEARS!!!!!!!!!!! WOOHOO!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! 

We went to the teen dance. Sarah really wanted to go. I kind of wanted to go, just to meet a few new people or something. No one danced and first and it was kind of awkward until they played the Casper Slide and everyone got up. Then, people started dancing. Except, everyone (almost) was grinding! It was disgusting! Apparently, everyone dances that way now.  
Sarah and I decided that we wanted to be like Reggie Rocket and are going to skateboard in the fall [Sarah is going to do BMX instead because she doesn't want to learn how to skateboard as much], snowboard in the winter, and surf in the spring in California [Sarah will have 7 hot guys to teach her. I said I'd stick with just one].

I talked to Bryce, who is even cuter with his braces, even though he hates them with a fiery passion [they're new]. He's not in any class with me but Chemistry, and neither is Mike, which sucks, especially since we don't sit by each other. I hope we'll still get to talk to each other. I miss Mike. 

I felt kind of depressed for no reason at all. It was strange. Maybe back-to-school sadness? All I know is my stomach was all fluttery and sad. 

Got a 56/60 on the Constitution test. Woohoo.
Yeah. Right. 

Okay, I'm gonna shut up now. I'm such a dork. Oh, and Corey doesn't hate me! We spoke. That's good. I really do like being friends with him. FRIENDS.  

Caitlin . . . who still hasn't gotten Kate L, to tell her the whole secret thing, and who should just give up on Bryce since there's no way it would ever work at all, and who needs to stop feeling all light-headed when she sees Mike in the hall, and who is just pathetic in general

Fifteen, Sophomore to Junior in High School 

Guns Germs and Steel again. That books is evil. I spent a whole day reading The Turn of the Screw too. I hate that book!

Parents won't let me paint my room black or dark blue. *sniff* 

Mike's chin was swollen and he grabbed my hand and made me touch his chin. I was like, ""Mike, that's sick."" Him: ""Isn't that gross?"" Me: ""Duh."" 

I'm getting better. Hardly anything about Bryce! Maybe I'm just giving up. There's no way in Heaven, Hell, or Earth. Not a chance. 

After history, Mike came up behind me and pushed me through the hallway. He almost pushed me into a kid with crutches. I punched him in the arm. 

New Kate development! She has mostly moved on from Tucker (sadly; they were so cute together. god...did I just say cute? gak!) and now likes a freshman on the volleyball team named Dan. I can't look him up in the yearbook because we don't get them until the beginning of next year. Gr. 

I think that Nick might like me. He's always talking to me and waving and smiling and it's creeping me out. No. Bad. Stop it! 

Whatever. I'm going to run off and be cynical while still kind of hoping now. 

Stefani says its the way I talk to him, like flirting. I do not flirt with Bryce! I don't even know what flirting is or how to do it! I was furious, of course, but said nothing. 

I just can't stop thinking about him. Whenever I see him, it makes my stomach flip and I start rambling uncontrollably, as though I'm just listening to someone else talking out of my mouth. To him, I probably seem kind of outgoing; does he even realize that I'm almost as shy as he is? He's so amazing. What's wrong with me?

I mean, I just feel so empty, so stretched out. I feel this strong urge to cry, but I can't. I've cried all my tears, poured all my sorrow out through those little salty drops. Now I have nothing left to cry about. 

Jasper died. That was the worst part. He wasn't in his stall when I went to visit Elliott after Florida, and then I found out about him colicking. I hate it. I miss him. Even if he never seemed to like me that much. 

I'm not the kind of girl that people notice. Sure, they might notice me when I raise my hand in class and give the right answer, and the teacher says, ""Oh, good Caitlin."" Or when I win student of the month and the award is handed out...twice. But this is only passing interest that never really was interest in the first place. When it comes to guys, I've learned one thing: brains. don't. matter.

And I feel so depressed right now. Like I'm going to cry. Damnit, I'm such a wimp. Someday, I'm going to be reading all this feeling disgusted with myself. Maybe it's just one of those passing teen things. Probably. 


Sixteen, Junior to Senior in High School 

So, this was the start of a lot of other shit. 

I tried to be happy for her, even though I was a little ticked that she wanted to kiss the guy that had ditched me. 

 Then we all went in and braved the cold.  I was pretty adventurous, and even got everyone to dunk under all the way.  It was frigid at first and chilled me a little in the head when I first dove under, but it felt good after a while and made me in the Uglies series would say, or Zane. 
Okay, so I’m a little jealous that she had talked about doing something with me for her birthday and ended up rather spending it with Jamie and some eighteen-year-old guy.  Psh. 

What if she gets paralyzed, or killed?  And she sounded so unconcerned, so normal, talking about how the doctor was a “stupid-butt” for making her go to the neurosurgeon just so that guy could tell her she needed a CAT scan.  And she was actually trying to make ME feel better because she heard about how shitty my day was!  I seriously love her.  I don’t know what I’d do if she died.  She’s like my sister, practically. 

Oh god, this whole entry has been about Bryce. Why are all the highlights of my day about Bryce!?!?!?!? I'm going CRAZY!!!!!!!

Tuesday, my great-grandmother died. 
Yes, my great-grandmother. My Italian, ""be a good girl"", ""stay away from those boys"", Bruschetta-eating, pasta-making great-grandmother. Clorinda Cassano. At age 96. 
I know it was time, but I just can't get over it. It's...weird. I mean, we only went to see her once in a while, but she was always there. Now, she's gone. It's...weird. 
 It doesn’t help being a shy person myself.  I just hope that I can at least have my first boyfriend and first kiss before graduation, as superficial as that sounds.  I don’t want to be completely starstruck if my first boyfriend is in college and I have no idea how to act. 

I’m living in fear of my own thoughts, of going to sleep and letting them sneak up on me. 

Seventeen, Senior in High School to Freshman in College 

So then we went to Keenan because Billy invited us and we hung out a party there with him and John and Eric from philo and other Eric and we danced and sang "Don't Stop Believing" and "Sweet Caroline" and "Crazy Bitch" and talked and it was a lot of fun, except that Billy was plastered and kept trying to put the beer can to my lips and I was like uh, no, and pushed it away. Emily and her sis left early which I felt guilty about, but whatever.

It was amazing!  I love ND!  AND Ryan and Steph and I are meeting to study bio on Sunday, so I get to see him more! 

This past week, I talked to Kasey a lot too.  I really like him, but he is a little shorter than me and as shallow as it sounds, I know that's probably a bit of the reason I am not so sure about making a move.  But it's also that I love talking to him and I don't want things to get weird...and I'm afraid of a relationship.  And there's still Ryan lurking in the background, and until I square with that, I can't fully devote myself to someone else (sounds melodramatic, I know!).  

Eighteen, Freshman to Sophomore in College 

So I kind of have a little crush on Jeff.  I mean, I still like Kasey, and there's pretty much no way I'd have a chance with Josh, or even that we'd be compatible.  He's basically a conservative, designer-dressed version of Tom.  Very flirty, lots of girl friends, very huggy and touchy, sort of knows how to make you feel special all the time, drinks, smokes a little but not often (I think).  And he's pretty cute, which doesn't help.  It's just bad because if anything happens between me and Kasey I can't have this little nagging crush making things weird!

That was really fun (except when Mo asked if I found Jeff attractive because she in trying to quell his ego had told him she didn't find him attractive and all I said was "He's kind of annoying" which is sort of inconclusive and then I was saved when Mo asked Jenn and she was trying to be diplomatic because she is nice like that), except then suddenly there was a weird loud noise and a bump, and the train stopped.

Jeff thought we'd hit a body and everyone was freaking, and then they announced there had been an accident, and everyone was looking around to see what had happened and we were all really scared, and annoying Sarah was freaking about zombie attacks.  And then we learned that we had hit a car or it had hit us, and everyone was in confusion, and this lady was angry at Jeff because he asked if there had been a fatality and she thought it would scare her kids (like they knew what that meant).

So yeah, it was sheer insanity.  One of the best and worst days of my life.  But, despite all the bad parts, really great.  Except now I have to get over Jeff... 

What tools do you use to find age-appropriate voices?  What's your most cringe-worthy diary entry from youth?  

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