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Voice of MG character

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Liz
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I have a question for those of you that write MG books and those who have had MG books published.

My MG characters tend to be 11-12 years old girls.  While I don't believe that all the things that they do are over their age limit - I have been told that my characters voice sounds too adult.

I am not sure I agree with this but wanted imput from more MG writers.  I think when writing a MG book characters may tend to sound a bit older when writing correct English.  Not everything my character may say is in correct English, but the thinking and doing process tends to be in correct English. 

The behavior is not necessarily always "adult" like.  Although as we know a twelve year old girl may try and act very adult like in front of some people that she is not familiar with vs. friends and certain family members. 

Is this making sense to anyone?

My 11 - 12 year olds are very much fifth and sixth graders.  However, there are times I think that kids this age can sound older at times. Yes, no, maybe... :eh2
#1 - May 18, 2010, 04:17 PM
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

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This is something I'm wondering about too. While I think my MC, Drew, thinks and acts very much like a twelve-year-old boy, I have a feeling his vocabulary and grammar are much more advanced than most other twelve-year-olds. I'll probably end up editing some of that out in the final revision. :P

Rue
#2 - May 18, 2010, 05:11 PM
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Mike Jung

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I've spent a lot of time working on this too (although take it with a grain of salt, I've only written the one MG manuscript). I've come to the conclusion that it's very subjective, and really depends on what your voice is truly like. For example, two different agents have requested a revision on my MS, both from well-respected agencies. The first said that my protagonist sounded too sophisticated and self-aware for his age (12). The second said that I should leave the voice as is, but change the protagonist's age to 10 - the exact opposite of the first agent, in other words. I don't think that means you shouldn't try as hard as you can to get it right, but I do think it means there won't necessarily be a consensus that you did get it right.
#3 - May 18, 2010, 05:37 PM

Liz
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Whoa, Mike, no wonder I feel confused. 

For example, two different agents have requested a revision on my MS, both from well-respected agencies. The first said that my protagonist sounded too sophisticated and self-aware for his age (12). The second said that I should leave the voice as is, but change the protagonist's age to 10 - the exact opposite of the first agent,

Guess I won't worry about it so much.  I'll go along with my voice for my character and let the publishing world figure it out!
#4 - May 18, 2010, 05:55 PM
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

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My 11 - 12 year olds are very much fifth and sixth graders. 

I think the answer is "it all depends"... but this caught my eye. Most 11 year-old are sixth graders, and 12-year-olds are seventh graders (depending on what part of the school year it is, I suppose.) Maybe that's part of the problem?
#5 - May 18, 2010, 06:30 PM
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Liz
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I guess I was going by the age I was in school to some degree.  My birthday is in October and I was for the most part the youngest (except for those who has the same birtday as me) in my class.) 

I graduated from HS at 17.

So my characters are usually going on 12 going into the sixth grade or are 12 going into the sixth grade.

I don't think most states allow children to begin school as early as I did any more.
#6 - May 18, 2010, 08:16 PM
You must do the things you think you cannot do.  Eleanor Roosevelt

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If you were born in October, you would've been 10/11 in Grade 6 and 11/12 in Grade 7. So your characters are actually older than you were in those grades.

Kids born in the spring and summer will be 11/12 in Grade 6 and 12/13 in Grade 7.

I was born at the tail end of December and was very much the youngest in my class. :P

Rue
#7 - May 18, 2010, 08:40 PM
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EbunAdewumi

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I think absolutely they try to sound older. I know a ten year old who uses air quotes. lol

i also was born in december and was also the youngest.   :hug
#8 - May 18, 2010, 08:50 PM

deegarret

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It depends on the characters. I spend quite a bit of time volunteering at my daughter's school, and the range of sophistication/vocabulary is very wide at that age.  If you're writing smart kids who read a lot and want to appear older, a more adult voice works, but if you are writing average kids, it's not the same. 
#9 - May 18, 2010, 11:57 PM

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It may not be that she's sounding older in her dialogue; it could be that her voice is older. I don't know if this will be helpful or not, but I pulled a paragraph from the fast first draft of my WIP. Below it is the same paragraph as it stands, partially revised. It's not exactly where I want it to be, but if you compare the two, you'll see that I'm working toward a younger voice and one with a little attitude. BTW, this particular MC (there are 3 of them) is 12, about to enter 7th grade.

Ruthie opened Grammy’s finished example. The two inside panels looked like double doors and had some fluffy writing about the house’s “beauty and majesty” and how it had been “carefully tended along the way so it never needed total restoration” and other words like that. The inside talked about this being the first of five houses built in the neighborhood by renowned architect Archibald Hier. But after the floweriness of the first panel, Ruthie had no clue whether the architect was famous or if that was just another word to impress

Ruthie opened the one Grammy had folded. The two inside panels looked like double doors and talked about the house’s “beauty and majesty” and how it had been “carefully tended along the way so it never needed total restoration” and blah, blah blah. The inside sounded like it was drooling over the “Renowned Architect Archibald Hier” who built Casa Narrador. By now, Ruthie had no clue if he was really famous or Mrs. Hutchins just wanted to impress everyone.
#10 - May 19, 2010, 07:46 AM
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Thanks for posting that, Jody.

I think this is exactly what I'll be doing with Drew's voice once I'm finished my first draft. I think I'm gonna be killing a lot of darlings. :P

Rue
#11 - May 19, 2010, 08:41 AM
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Liz
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 :lol  So my characters are usually going on 12 going into the sixth grade or are 12 going into the sixth grade - I think I was tired when I wrote this sentence.  :zzz

"Kids born in the spring and summer will be 11/12 in Grade 6 and 12/13 in Grade 7."

This is what I was aiming for... what ever garbage I wrote before...

#12 - May 19, 2010, 01:01 PM
« Last Edit: May 19, 2010, 01:03 PM by lizstraw »
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That's what I was trying to explain: Unless they flunked a year, no kid is going to already be 12 going into Grade 6. If they're born in the fall they'll be 10 turning 11 when they start Grade 6 and if they're born in the spring or summer, they'll be 11 turning 12 when they start Grade 6. (At least that's how it works here in Canada... ;) )

I've got both a spring and fall baby. My spring baby is in Grade 6 and he's just turned 12 a few weeks ago. My fall baby will be 10 when he starts Grade 6 and turn 11 before Christmas.

I know some school districts have an age cut off earlier in the year (e.g. November 30 instead of December 31), but all that means is there would be fewer ten year olds starting Grade 6 and some 11 year olds would turn 12 before the new year. There still wouldn't be any 12 year olds starting Grade 6.

It's confusing. I know. :juggle

Hope that helps!

Rue
#13 - May 19, 2010, 01:18 PM
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I disagree. Both my sons had just turned 12 when they started grade 6. Both were born in late August. The cut-off for starting school here is usually end of August, but for a while when they were young it was end of July--so they were always the oldest in their classes, starting kindergarten at age 6. One later completed high school in 3 years, so he was 17 going on 18 when he started college (one of the youngest in his class).  I also have a Christmas baby who was 11 starting grade 6 (more typical). But there is always a range. Also, some parents choose to hold back their late-birthday kids to give them another year to mature. Around here, 12-year-olds in fall of sixth grade are not uncommon.
#14 - May 25, 2010, 06:01 PM

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Actually, I don't think we disagree at all.

Liz was saying her characters would be the same age she was when she was in school and she was born in the fall. Since she graduated at 17 (like I did), that would mean that she was 10 turning 11 going into Grade Six. (Just like I was.) Therefore, her characters would not be 12 going into Grade Six, unless, as you point out, the school district in her book(s) had the cut-off in the summer. But then her characters wouldn't be the same age she was. They'd be a whole year older.

:)

Rue
#15 - May 25, 2010, 06:23 PM
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Liz,  I think Joni's response of "It all depends" may be a good one.  It really depends on the your character.  For instance in the book Millicent Min, Girl Genius, most if not all of Millicent's behavior and language is older because she's already in college at 11 or 12 years old.  (It's been a while since I've read it so the age may be off a year or two).

If your character falls in categories like Millicent's, then sounding older is not a problem.  If she comes from the backwoods of swampville, never been to school, yet speaks like a high court judge... :whistle

#16 - May 25, 2010, 06:54 PM
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I think that the real issue is whether your MC, in her voice, will engage the reader.  As rcpjallen, points out, Millicent Min has a very adult vocabulary and interests, but she still has a *voice* that gets young readers.
#17 - May 25, 2010, 07:36 PM

Jencerv

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It can be hard to get into a character's head, so really it isn't just the dialogue but how he/she sees the world. I think this can be toughest. Go with your gut instinct. As you get to know the character , the voice becomes louder and clearer. And sometimes, it only takes a little tweak to make a sentence, idea, or thought more "kid-friendly." :)
#18 - May 25, 2010, 07:50 PM

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