Voice is as much what your character says as how she says it.
Whether you are writing in first or third person, your characters need distinct voices. However, there is a big difference in voice for a character who narrates the story (first person) and the one who's being narrated (third person).
I find first person narration more fun - but of course, plot-wise, it can be limiting. From the very start, it's important to decide how you will narrate your story. To me, it has as much to do with theme and message as it has to do with audience.
But this post isn't about POV, it's about voice.
Consider the following lines from two popular YA stories. What stands out? How do you feel about the character? Most importantly, do you care about them?
"Late in the summer of my seventeenth year, my mother decided I was depressed, presumably because I rarely left the house, spent quite a lot of time in bed, read the same book over and over, ate infrequently, and devoted quite a bit of my abundant free time thinking about death."
How could a self-absorbed adolescent (yes, that's redundant) not want to read further? John Green is a master at the teen voice. In his acclaimed novel, "The Fault in Our Stars", he has created a narrator who we at once pity then quickly grow to admire and love. That's genius.
"Our mother died when I was two, so I never felt her absence."
In Harper Lee's classic, "To Kill a Mockingbird", she drops us into the mind of a young woman's reflections on a dramatic childhood. Scout is memorable because she speaks directly to us, pulls us into the secrets, exposes the dissonance that exists in the world around her.
There are two simple things you can do to learn how to write voice for any genre: read great fiction to see what works; listen to people to hear how we naturally speak.
Read strong character voices. Get an idea how it's done. Go to the library or a book store and pick up a best-selling YA novel. Yes, best-selling. You want to read what readers want to read. Study the narration, the dialogue, the way characters behave around each other, how they describe their world, how they respond through emotions and actions.
Listen to teens. Don't get all stalkerish, but do go hang around these people. They are not shallow. They have deep thoughts about the world they live in. They see things from a perspective you might have forgotten. (If you live with teens, you know what I mean.)
Here's a partial list of attributes to consider as you develop each character's voice (including the omniscient narrator in third person POV):
Tone - friendly, casual, sarcastic, morose
Cadence - do their words skip lightly or thud forcefully?
Jargon - slang, words or phrases used habitually
Tics, quirks - bad habits, profanity, poor grammar, mispronunciations, repeated words (like, so, uh...)
Attitude, perspective - THIS IS KEY - know how your characters see the world; it paints everything they say and do
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