Monday, June 2, 2014

Creating a Believable Tween Voice: A Guest Post by Anna Staniszewski

My new agency is a blessing in so many ways. I love, love, love my agent. But I also feel like I've joined a family - her co-agents, her staff, and all of their talented clients. The agency recently held a retreat - a fabulous experience - and it was like the best party of all time.

Some of these gifted writers I'd known for a long time and are old friends, and some are new friends. One of the latter is Anna Staniszewski. She writes for "tweens" and her voice is spot-on. Hilarious, charming, moving, wacky, smart. So I invited her here today to talk about that voice and give us a few insights. 

And I hope you'll check out her new release, The Prank List.

Born in Poland and raised in the United States, Anna grew up loving stories in both Polish and English. Currently, she lives outside Boston with her husband and their crazy dog. When she’s not writing, Anna spends her time reading, daydreaming, and challenging unicorns to games of hopscotch. She is the author of the My Very UnFairy Tale Life series and the Dirt Diary series. Her newest book, The Prank List, releases on July 1st from Sourcebooks. You can visit Anna at

Here's Anna:

Don’t worry. I will not be writing this post in “tween speak.” Why? Because if I wrote it that way purely to make a point, the voice would feel fake and cliched. And that, I think, is the key to writing a believable tween voice--you can’t force it. But there are some things you can do to help the voice along.

First, it has to fit the story you’re trying to tell, and it has to fit the characters, as well. Not all young people sound the same, so if you’re writing what you think a thirteen-year-old sounds like instead of what your specific character sounds like, you probably won’t get very far. You might need to journal in your character’s voice or throw him/her into wacky situations and see what s/he does and says in order to get the voice just right.

This brings me to my second point: Avoid cliches. Just because you hear kids on TV saying certain things doesn’t mean that kids in real life and/or kids in your books would say them. If you’re going to use catch phrases and slang, it’s often better to make those up rather than rely on real ones that will probably feel tired in a matter of weeks.

And finally, focus on emotions. Honestly, that’s what I spend most of my time working on when I’m writing a story. I think about what the character is feeling, how the story is affecting him/her, and how the events are going to bring about the character’s emotional evolution. Once I have the character’s personality and emotional journey figured out, the voice often emerges naturally.

If you know what your characters want, what they're going through, and where they're headed, somewhere along the way, you’re bound to discover their unique voices.


Anna Staniszewski said...

Thanks so much for having me!

LinWash said...

Such a great post. And I totally agree about avoiding cliches. Tweens can spot those a mile away!

LinWash said...

Such a great post. And I totally agree about avoiding cliches. Tweens can spot those a mile away!

Janet Fox said...

Anna - you are so welcome! And Linda - you're so right - tween readers won't put up with bull!