Let me just say, not only did I adore Deb Joanne’s debut, SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE, but it was a shared joy in our house. From the moment my two young daughters saw the cover and I explained it was the story of a young girl who could talk to ghosts, they were hooked! Each time I read a chapter, they wanted to know what happened next—almost as much as I did. (In a few years, I’ll even be able to explain to them my very favorite scene in the book. To avoid any spoilers, I will say only two words: foundation garments. Trust me, I was rolling.)
Since I was so quickly and thoroughly smitten with SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE (read my Goodreads review if you need further proof!), I asked Joanne this:
Joanne, one of the things I most loved–and admired–about SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE is how you crafted Lilah’s voice so authentically. As a writer, I struggle to write younger characters with anything close to believability, but Lilah’s dialog and self-reflection (and that of her peers) was always so spot-on. PLEASE share how you are able to write your young characters so well and so convincingly, and if you can offer any advice on finding voice for characters who are beyond our own age ranges.
And here is Joanne’s answer:
Thanks, Erika, for your very nice words about Lilah’s voice. I’ve heard a few times that I nailed the voice, which is such a huge compliment, especially to someone who doesn’t have kids and had to rely on her memory and ear when writing middle-graders! When I wrote Lilah, I employed what I call (in my head, mostly) my sweet, yet bossy-know-it-all voice. I really do call it that and keep it in the front of my mind when writing kids. I definitely remember 12 as being that age when I really did think I knew it all, but was at the same time still very unsure of everything and very easily embarrassed. I know those things seem so contradictory, but I think if you remember being that age, you will hopefully get what I’m saying. It’s also important to keep the sweet in there – Lilah thinks she knows a lot about the world and is happy to impart her knowledge, but she isn’t mean spirited at all—she just thinks maybe not everyone knows the things she knows.
Like here, when Lilah is addressing her mom at her wedding:
“And may I say once again, you are a breathtaking bride!” (These are the kinds of things you must say to the bride, whether or not she’s your mother.)
And at that age EVERYTHING SEEMS SO VERY IMPORTANT. And I’m not sure if that’s because so much of the world is exciting and almost every experience is new, or because the world of a tween is very small and directed inward (probably both), but I add a lot of (sometimes invisible) exclamation points to sentences and that helps remind me that I need to communicate that tone of how important everything is. It also helps that I’ve never really grown up and I actually talk a lot like Lilah does (admittedly, with some swears thrown in). I remember when we were shopping the ms, one editor actually said the voice sounded too young, and I was like, but I talk like that! Anyway, she must have been in the minority, since, like I said above, I’ve had a lot of great feedback on Lilah’s voice.
Thanks so much for such a great answer, Joanne! And trust me—there’s a reason why so many ghosts flock to Lilah and refuse to leave. Once you dive into her world, you’ll want to hang out with her for as long as possible too!
Dear readers, do you think it’s hard to capture the voice of younger characters? Leave a comment and be entered to win a signed copy of SMALL MEDIUM AT LARGE!