Friday, March 30, 2012

Listening for POV in real life

Like most of you, I have a day job (although technically it's a night job). I work as a telephone counselor and my background is in social work. Oddly enough, I have learned a lot about point-of-view (POV) in college and on the job. People of different ages, circumstances, socio-economic status, regions, etc. relate to the world differently. As a counselor, you should "meet the client where they are" and design an intervention that makes sense from their POV.

Since I've been writing actively, I've been listening for it. I am especially excited when I get to work with teens (aka YA characters). I pay attention to how they speak and relate to me to hone my skills in the teen POV. As a telephone counselor, I get a unique "dialogue only" perspective, which is more like writing. I can't judge them by how they look, it's all in what they say and how they say it.

So what have I learned?

I have learned that teenagers don't have a secret language that we somehow forgot when we turned eighteen. They are younger versions of us and for the most part, talk and relate the same way older people do. I know...shocking, right? I'm not trying to downplay the importance of making sure that your character's POV matches their age. And there are plenty of differences between teens and adults (I certainly know that I think about things differently than I did when I was 16). But you don't have to over think it.

Although I haven't found any glaring differences in the speech of teens and adults, I have noticed glaring differences in the speech of people in general. Yes...all the characters of the world. Their speech can't easily be classified by age, race, or really anything else (except maybe regional accents) - their differences are due more to the infinite variety of people in general. There are a lot of universal concerns people share, but the way they express their concerns can vary greatly. That's the POV lesson I've learned. Each character in your book should have a unique voice that matches them as a character, with their age being a secondary concern.

I sometimes feel that YA writers overdo the teen "voice", and I wonder if it's because they are focusing too much on sounding like a sixteen year old and not enough on sounding like their character. I believe you should find the POV of your character first and then simply make sure that your POV matches teenage version of that character.

What have you learned about writing from your day job?  If the answer is could you learn from it?


  1. Hmmm, very interesting post. And now I wonder if I'm overdoing my MC's voice. I'm sure you'll tell me when you beta read it, LOL. But I think you're right. A person's voice comes from background: socio-economic-geography-nationality-culture and of course from peers.

  2. This is SO brilliant. I totally agree. I think a person's voice is less based on age and more based on the experiences that have gotten them where they are. Sure, sometimes that means that our 'YA voice' might be slightly different from our 'adult voice' but really that's because our experiences are different.

    Very good post. Really enjoyed this :)

  3. Way to know your audience, Sharon:) I don't think it's so important to use slang, but just to keep goal & conflict real to the age group & especially don't preach and talk down to them . . . which doesn't mean you can't have a moral message. Anyways, thanks for sharing your research:) BTW, I'm doing an Easter Basket full of YA books giveaway on my blog if you're interested~cheers!