Finding the Elusive MG Voice


I had the opportunity last week to attend a webinar hosted by Kristin Nelson, President of Nelson Literary Agency.  While the topic focused on first pages across an array of genres, a comment she made stuck in my head.  She mentioned that capturing the MG voice is the second toughest thing to do in writing, hardest is writing a picture book.

This comment has stuck in my mind and has been pestering me, much like my MG son pesters his little brother.  I have been working on the final touches of my MG novel and have been paying very close attention to voice.  I received a critique by an editor during a recent conference and she mentioned that while I did a nice job with my main character’s voice, there were a few times that I slipped back into an older voice.

In order to correct the slips, I had to really put myself into the shoes of my character and try to find the appropriate dialogue and responses to situations.  The 9-12 year old is the time where a child crosses over from the wide eyed innocence of a little kid to a  finding their way into being a teenager.  Perfect!  This means they may react with an innocence at times, but other times they don’t.  They have an extended vocabulary, but also don’t understand some of the more complex words used by adults.  They crave independence, but secretly still hold onto their stuffed animals for comfort at night.

Nothing like ambiguity.

I have found the best option for me is to take the Jane Goodall approach and quietly observe.  I have started listening to how kids talk with each other, how they interact with grown ups that aren’t their parents, how they play and how they deal with conflict.  I am taking what I see and weaving it into my story.  I am finding what best represents my character’s voice and, as Matt de la Pena says, stealing it.

My advice to those who are taking on this monumental task is to find the words that reflect your character’s age and take notes.  Find that kid who might fit your character’s personality and take mental pictures of mannerisms, facial expressions, and other non verbal communications.  When do they act like the little kid and when do they try on their teenage attitude?

Hopefully, I this will help me capture the 10 year old voice in my story and I hope it helped you with finding your character’s voice as well.  Good luck!


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