YA KNOWHOW Release your inner teen

Girl in hat skateboarding

In the first of a series on writing YA, Tracy Darnton shares some ideas about how to write with an authentic teen voice.

Writing a teenage voice when you may be, ahem, considerably older, isn't something that might come naturally. As writers, we’re competing with an array of devices like never before. Your book has to grab attention and hold it. Your writing needs to be tight, your subject matter interesting and relevant, but, most of all, the voice must be clear and unique. The good news is that we can bring experience and context to those years and that your teenage memories are usually more acute because of the emotions attached to them. So use those memories to help you to connect to your teenage self. 

Teenage girl lies down listening to music on headphones
Music, food and big issues are the
key to remembering your teenage years. Credit: Pixabay

Make a list of the things around you in your teens: a Curly Wurly bar, the Communards, a ra-ra skirt, Impulse body spray, a Duran Duran poster - whatever they may be. 

Listen to the music you loved. Tap into your inner teen and those intense experiences like first love and exam pressure, or an overwhelming feeling of unfairness, the belief that you could change the world, or how out of touch your parents seemed. 

Think back to when the world seemed against you one day but was your oyster the next. YA deals with the big ideas and issues in life because that’s when we’re first thinking about them. What were you passionate about? 

Read like a teen. The books you read as a teenager may not have survived changes in taste and attention. So read current ones. Start a book journal and work your way through the recent shortlist of the YA Book Prize. Get a feel for what’s out there now. But don’t forget to release your inner teen too because although the world has changed, those feelings haven’t. 

If you find the right voice, everything else will follow. Slam a few doors, sing along to Morrissey or party like it’s 1999. 


Tracy Darnton’s YA thriller The Truth About Lies was published by Stripes in July 2018. She has an MA in Writing for Young People. You can follow her on Twitter @TracyDarnton YA Book Prize shortlist: https://www.thebookseller.com/ya-book-prize/shortlist

Helen Liston is KnowHow editor, if you have any ideas about what you'd like to read about here, send them to knowhow@britishscbwi.org

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