Sunday lunch was amazing. It involved the presentation of this year’s Golden Kite awards – and some great food including the chocolate book dessert pictured celebrating 40 years of SCBWI.

After lunch was Krista Marino’s session on Perfecting Your YA Voice. Krista Marino is an Executive Editor at Delacorte Press (Random House Children’s Books)

She had some very clarifying points to make about the elusive YA voice and the elements that contribute to it.

  • Young adults have  limited experience.
  • Diction – distinctive word choices and how they speak them. The way protagonist describes how they relate to the world.
  • There’s a difference between what a teen gets from the world and what an adult does.
  • When you’re young, everything feels like the end of the world. They have no experience to tell them they are going to get over the world.
  • A lot of their experiences is the first time having them.
  • Kids have nothing else to compare their experience to – nothing to tell you life is going to get better. But you don’t realise at time how tough it is.
  • World needs to be as small as your character.
  • Setting plays a part in character – where they live and when?
  • Think of cultural references you can use.


  • Verbal exchange between two or more characters. Way they speak – directly affects their perspective.
  • Dialogue is more than just words – illustrate character’s personality, move plot along. It needs to sound real.

Krista Marino


  • Dialogue only gives part of story – what they are saying but not what they are thinking.
  • Reactions, thinking, feeling – inner monologue – shows personality.
  • Tells you how they are processing information, how they are handling the situation they are in.


  • Can’t get the sense of character
  • no dramatic irony
  • feel distant from character
  • can’t put yourself in character’s shoes
  • lose backstory
  • lose all of character’s feelings
  • Writer needs to know it all but reader doesn’t necessarily need to know.


  • Write down a conversation you overhear exactly
  • Try to use it in a scene you are writing


  • Protagonist can’t be simple, needs to be multi-layered.
  • Every teen is questioning how they appear to others
  • Teenagers are complex inside
  • Don’t always do what we expect but we must know what they are feeling
  • Character needs to evolve
  • Need to show growth in character
  • Voice should grow and change by the end – and every scene is a part of this change.


Voice is made up of

  • writer’s use of diction
  • perspective
  • characterisation
  • dialogue

1.            DICTION – Speakers vocabulary use  – use of words. Use of contractions or not.

2.            PERSPECTIVE – Mental view on project

3.            CHARACTERISATION – Process of conveying info about character – demographics, hobbies, description, ambitions, motivations

4.            DIALOGUE – Verbal exchange between characters, interior monologue

  • Interior monologue lacking in many manuscripts – without this the reader has no idea what physical actions and dialogue mean.
  • Think of your characters on computer screen.
  • A voice in YA is teenager’s outlook on world how they see what’s happening, how they judge situations, beliefs, how they judge other people.
  • Think about how small your world is as a teenager. True for third person narrative and first person.


  • Closest way to get to protagonist.
  • Begin with characterisation of your protagonaist.
  • Character needs to feel real.
  • Characters need to feel real and plot needs to pull you along.

Some Reasons why readers like protagonists? How does character come to life for you?

  • Makes mistakes – gets things wrong
  • Self effacing
  • Champions underdog, great compassion
  • Honesty
  • Feel real
  • Have flaws
  • Can identify with them emotionally

Tomorrow is my final LA Adventure blog post talking about the Monday intensives I attended with editor, Julie Strauss-Gabel and the inspirational Ellen Hopkins.

Happy writing:)




  1. Hi Dee,
    Krista sounds inspiring. I especially liked •Voice should grow and change by the end – and every scene is a part of this change.
    Should put it up on my wall.
    Did anything in particular “ring” for you?
    Thank you so much for sharing your notes and insights.


  2. Thanks, Alison,

    One of the things that really resonated with me was when Krista talked about how the teens world is limited by their experiences. I think that has helped me to get a closer perspective on things and consequently, a more authentic voice.

    Dee x

  3. Good point. I suppose that’s why you can have your mc making totally the wrong choice, but it is still convincing for the reader. The teen’s world is limited by his or her own experience.

  4. Thanks for the fantastic post, Dee, and for sharing the great tips and information you got from the conference.

    Excellent advice and info above. I found the section on teen’s limited experience a really great thinking point too and valuable tip to look out for in my YA writing. Though many teens are well read and as much, if not more, articulate than some adults, we are all limited by our experiences. It served as a jolt to remind me and I now I plan to add this to my mental writing checklist. I know it’s a pitfall I’m on the look out for in my historical writing where some things come outside the range of a poorer class adult character’s experience too. Sometimes they’re every day things we take for granted.

    Many thanks again, Dee.


  5. Thanks Chris,

    As I mentioned this was something that really made me think. Congratulations again on your CYA shortlisting and good luck with the final announcements:)


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