Voice is extremely important in YA. It's not unusual to hear editors and agents talk about an "authentic YA voice," which, in my experience, tends to sound a lot like an updated Holden Caulfield. For female characters, many authors were copying Georigia Nicolson's voice a few years back. In YA, the publishing world seems to want to hear the same voice. We may frequently see blurbs on books saying, "A new voice in YA," but we rarely hear them.
Nonetheless, a really great voice is like flypaper. It keeps a reader glued to a book.Think Bartimaeus in any book in which he appears.Think any of the characters in the Larklight books. Skulduggery Pleasant. Dodger. Krystal Weedon is not the main character in The Casual Vacancy (there isn't one), but hers is an incredible teen voice in an adult book. Flavia de Luce is another child with a marvelous voice in an adult book.
Okay, Gail. Voice is important. We get it. How can it help me find my story?
Because story is something that happens to somebody and the significance of that event. If the somebody in that equation has a specific attitude and personality, a persona, that will go a long way toward helping writers determine how he will respond to what happens to him or what she may want to do.
Some things that can impact voice:
- Region where the story takes place (Yes, that cliched small town southern child who is wise beyond her years voice. Had enough of that one, myself.)
- Social class (Excellent class distinctions by way of voice in The Casual Vacancy.)
- Era in which the story takes place (This is hard. Characters from other time periods should not sound like twenty-first century people, but if they sound too different, that can be a barrier for the reader.If memory serves me, Octavian Nothing is a fine example of a good voice from another era.)
- The character's life experience (You see this in particular in noir.)
You can develop an understanding of voice if you've read books in which it plays a major part. Try reading a few of the books I mentioned earlier to begin to appreciate what voice can do for a story.
One way to help writers find a voice for characters is to actually "talk" to them. You can "interview" characters by addressing them with questions about themselves, about their feelings regarding the things you're planning to do to them or others in the story in which they're taking part. Yes, this is a very odd, even creepy, thing to be doing. That's probably the reason your characters may cop an attitude with you, and there's the beginning of their voices.
Voice tends to be stronger and easier to develop with a first-person narrator, which is why you see so many first-person narrators in children's and YA. One thing you can do to try to find a voice for your character is to write in the first person for a while, even if you're hoping to end up with a third-person narrator in the end. As with interviewing, it gives the characters a chance to speak for themselves for a little while.
Yes, with interviewing and writing in the first person, you're essentially trying to channel characters.
It's not unusual for writers to say that once they'd found the voice for a character, everything fell into place for them. So it's a very useful method for finding a story, in addition to making a piece of writing a treat to read.