Many of the comments I have gotten on my current middle-grade novel are things like: “This really sounds like a kid is speaking.” I take these statements as some of the best compliments that I can receive as a writer. The Voice of your writing is such of an important part of a good story.
I was a kid once, so you might think it would be easy for me to write like one, but it’s not. I’ve changed, little by little, as I’ve gotten older, so that now I speak like an adult. I think I was able to capture a kid’s voice in this particular piece mostly because I have young kids in my home. I’m always listening to what they say and how they form sentences from words, and, sometimes more importantly, to what they don't say. The way that kids speak is surprisingly different from adults.
If you want to write stories for kids, surround yourself with kids. If you want to write stories for teenagers, find out where teenagers hang out and listen to them. Teenagers are a little harder to “peg the voice” because even if you have teenagers, they aren’t likely to speak to you in the same way that they speak to each other—either because they don’t think you’re “hip enough” to understand them, or simply because they just aren’t speaking to you that much in their busy lives.
I always find it useful to listen to the way different people speak. Some people use certain words in unique ways, or omit other words altogether. Each of our brains are wired differently, so we each have our our own speech patterns specific to us.
As we write, if we can pick up on how speech varies from person to person, the dialogue and interactions between the characters will seem so much more real than other writers whose characters all speak the same way.
Voice can mean the difference between publication and just another rejection. Make it sound real and the reader will notice.