Voice is essential to writers, so I’m sure I’m not the only one who’s interested in regional dialects. An accent can say so much about someone’s background and environment, and you can use accents to reinforce or break down stereotypes. From now until July 15, you can watch American Tongues, a documentary about dialects in the US, on the PBS website. (Note: some strong/offensive language is included.)
The film first premiered in 1988, and I’d be really curious to see how dialects have changed since then due to a greater prevalence of television and the internet.
If you want to get super nerdy about it (who doesn’t?!), you can check out this interactive map of regional dialects in the US.
This article by Natalie Haney Tilghman is a little old, but it’s still an interesting look at creating appropriate voice in YA. One point I like:
“Language is paramount to making a young voice believable in both YA and coming-of-age adult fiction. Writers can create beautiful art using informal diction, kid-sized comparisons, invented words, and slang. Teen narrators are memorable not because their experiences of adolescence are unique but because they recount them in such a way that the reader revisits and rediscovers what it means to be a teenager.”
Although I think ‘revisits’ and ‘rediscovers’ suggest an older reader, I think the general idea is well grounded. Good narrators don’t have to explore new realms of experience; they have to express thoughts and emotions in a way that makes the reader think “Yes, that’s it exactly.”
Of course, this is true for “adult” fiction as well. But YA writers also have the challenge of creating thoughts and emotions that feel genuine to their character’s particular age and place as well. Most YA narrators are really encountering the world for the first time. For me, I find that one of the most exciting parts in writing YA. While the language might require more crafting, the emotions can really touch on the genuine and the revelatory.
Make sure to check out the whole article for more of Tilghman’s thoughts on voice.