Shannon Messenger: Writing ‘Kid’ Voice

I am so pleased to welcome Shannon Messenger to the blog today! Shannon is a wonderfully supportive writer who is doing big things in the kid lit world.

Not only is book 1 of her MG series, Keeper of the Lost Cities(Simon & Schuster) releasing Oct 2nd, but she also has a YA coming out in the Spring of 2013, Let The Sky Fall. AHHH! I am so thrilled to see her reach her dreams!

Shannon’s got some great advice here about Voice in Kidlit, so please read on.

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Yay–I’m so excited to be here! I’ve been a huge fan of this blog for years, so it’s such an honor to contribute. Here’s hoping I can live up to the amazingness of the other posts you guys are used to reading.

I thought I’d talk today about writing kid voice, since that seems to be the subject that comes up most often when people find out I write middle grade. In fact, usually the first question people ask is something along the lines of: do you have to simplify things when you write middle grade?

And my answer is always an emphatic: NO!

 Kids deserve way more credit than some people give them. They are very smart and pick up on much more than we may think they do. So I have never once had to change a word because it was “too advanced” or dumb something down so a kid reader would understand it.

That being said, there is still a definite “kid voice” that needs to be used when writing middle grade. But it’s not about simplification. It’s about making your writing appealing and relatable to kids. A big part of that will come from the voices of the kid characters themselves. But still, it does trickle into the prose in ways you might not always think of.

For example, look at the following sentences:

 Mr. Lipkin always wore the same coffee colored business suit to class, whether it was warm and sunny or pouring down rain. 

 Mr. Lipkin always wore a chocolate brown suit to class, whether it was warm and sunny or pouring down rain. 

Which feels more authentically “kid” to you–comparing something to the color of coffee or the color of chocolate? That’s not to say that kids don’t understand what color coffee is. Shoot, these days lots of kids even drink it. HOWEVER, I still think it’s much more believable that a kid would compare the color brown to chocolate long before their mind would come up with coffee. Coffee feels like a more adult comparison. Which is the same reason I removed “business” from the second sentence. Adults think of “business suits.” To kids it’s just a suit.

They’re very subtle differences. But throughout a draft they can really add up and give the story a more authentically kid voice. And obviously the voice of the character also needs to be considered. If your main character is a big coffee drinker, the coffee comparison would probably be the more appropriate. For things like that you will need to use your own judgement. But as a general rule it’s best to try and weed out anything that reads more “adult-centered” from your middle grade manuscripts, because they will make the story feel less relatable to your readers. Not that they won’t understand it. It just won’t feel like it’s speaking to them.

And it’s important to keep in mind that this kind of thing can rarely be perfected in the drafting stage. Of course the more you write for kids the more you will start to internalize that voice. But as an adult your brain is going to naturally gravitate toward these kinds of phrasings and comparisons. So it’s something you’ll really want to train yourself to watch for as you revise.

I’m a big believer in questioning every word. It’s tedious and obnoxious and kind of makes you want to fling your laptop off a bridge. But it’s also the only way to really watch for tiny voice issues like this, so it’s really worth the extra effort. And just when you think you’ve found them all, your editor will flag a few more and you’ll feel like, ARGH HOW DID I MISS THAT????

Oh the joys of being a writer. 🙂 All right, I think I have rambled on long enough. Hope you guys found that helpful. I now happily turn this blog back to it’s rightful owners. Huge thanks to everyone who stopped by to hang out. *curtsies* *flees*

SHANNON MESSENGER graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she learned that she liked watching movies much better than making them. She also regularly eats cupcakes for breakfast, sleeps with a bright blue stuffed elephant named Ella, and occasionally gets caught talking to imaginary people. So it was only natural for her to write stories for children. Keeper of the Lost Cities is her first middle grade novel. Let the Sky Fall, a young adult novel, will follow in Spring 2013. She lives in Southern California with her husband and an embarrassing number of cats.

Follow Shannon: Blog | Twitter | Tumblr | Facebook | GoodReads | Pinterest 

Twelve-year-old Sophie has never quite fit in. She‘s not comfortable with her family and keeping a secret—she’s a telepath. But then she meets Fitz, who tells her the reason she has never felt at home is that, well, she isn’t. But Sophie still has secrets, and they’re buried deep in her memory for good reason: the answers are in high-demand. The truth could mean life or death, and time is running out.



Angela is a writing coach, international speaker, and bestselling author who loves to travel, teach, empower writers, and pay-it-forward. She also is a founder of One Stop For Writers, a portal to powerful, innovative tools to help writers elevate their storytelling.
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Jennifer Rumberger
8 years ago

What a great little exercise to show how thinking like a kid can totally change your writing for them. Loved the post!

Lenny Lee*
8 years ago

hi miss shannon!

YIPPEEEEE!!!for your book coming out. i cant wait to read it. for sure you gave lots of good advice on writing mg stuff. im just way happy you said you dont gotta simplify. us mgers are way more smart then people think. 🙂

…hugs from lenny

Traci Kenworth
8 years ago

Congrats and great advice!! I’m teetering toward a middle grade novel in the future (I write ya now), so I’m very interested in this post.

williaum drew
8 years ago

Great post thanks man! Kind regards Pinoburun estetigi

Katieb MundieMoms
8 years ago

I loved this post! THANK YOU for being apart of the blog tour!

Becca Puglisi
8 years ago

Love these tips, Shannon. Voice is so hard to master, particularly when it comes to kidlit, where certain things will stand out like a sore thumb. I’m always looking for solid advice when it comes to voice 🙂

Jenni L.
8 years ago

Thanks for this post. Writing in a child or young adult voice is one of my biggest problems. Your advice will definitely help!

Barbara Watson
8 years ago

You’re so right. Writing for kids isn’t more simple, it’s just getting it written the way kids see the world.

8 years ago

Wonderful interview full of good advice. I’m very excited for Shannon having two books coming out! Wowwee!

Martha Ramirez
8 years ago

Very good advice, Shannon!!!
CONGRATS!!!! Keeper of the Lost Cities was such an awesome read! Wishing you much success!

Adventures in YA Publishing

Awesome post! Huge congrats to Shannon, and lovely, well-explained breakdown of how individual word-choices add up In a manuscript. It really illustrates that voice comes down to world view, and it can be developed. It’s not something that either just exists or doesn’t. Eager to read Shannon’s books!



8 years ago

I hope I win so I can judge how well you followed your own advice. 😉 No seriously, KEEPER sounds amazing.

Andrea Mack
8 years ago

This is great advice, Shannon! Thank you.

Stina Lindenblatt
8 years ago

I’ve thought about writing MG, but I wasn’t sure I could do the voice. Thanks for the advice, Shannon. I can’t wait to read the book to my daughter. 🙂

Susanne Drazic
8 years ago

Great post! Can’t wait to read Shannon’s books. : )

8 years ago

Holy cow, so excited for both books! This is great advice. I hate reading an MG and being able to picture a responsible adult writing it 🙂

Shannon Messenger
8 years ago

Wow–so many awesome comments! Thanks everyone for reading. So glad you found the advice helpful. And thank you again Angela for letting me post on your amazing blog. Such an honor!

8 years ago

So excited for this book! And Shannon’s advice is spot-on. Thanks for hosting her and for the contest!

Matthew MacNish
8 years ago

Oh, Shan. How dost though rocketh the blog-o-sphereo. Let me count the ways.

Amanda Hopper
8 years ago

Great post! Thanks for the insight. My three boys and I can’t wait to read “Keeper of the Lost Cities”:)

Angela Ackerman
8 years ago

Thanks everyone for the comments and for cheering Shannon on. I’m really looking forward to reading Keeper. 🙂

I write MG and it can be a challenge to write characters well. We all remember what it was like to be a kid, but our own experiences are so different than kids now. We have to bring the emotions in that are perennial in kids (wanting to fit in, have friends, etc) but write characters that today’s world recognizes!

8 years ago

Great advice! I think writing down to kids is one of the worst mistakes a writer can make. Good luck with your book, Shannon!

Deb Marshall
8 years ago

Yes yes and yes on the NO on simplifying your writing for mg. You go Shannon! Thanks for a chance to win your book. One. More. Week…eeek!!

Laurel Garver
8 years ago

You make some great points about natural associations that could be transferable to writing a protagonist who isn’t the same age as you or comes from another culture.

Leigh Smith
8 years ago

I am a huge believer of never dumbing stuff down for kids. My two are 4 and 5 and I always read something that I think might just be a hair over their comprehension. If they don’t understand, they ask, and they learn!

8 years ago

Great advice and great giveaway! Good luck to all who enter.

8 years ago

I’d love to write a MG book someday. I’ve done children’s and YA and adult. I find that delicate balance between a children’s book and a MG intimidating 🙂

Laura Pauling
8 years ago

Awesome! It’s always fun to watch writers reach their goals!

Nicole Zoltack
8 years ago

Awesome advice! Voice is so huge for MG.

Juliana Haygert
8 years ago

Awesome article!
I confess I can’t imagine myself writing MG. I would never think of all that subtle differences lol
Way to go, Shannon!