Consistency. Choosing words to create a consistent tone or style is important. You can create a jarring effect by having adult characters use kid language, or by having kids use the wrong type of slang for the time period. Or even worse, to use slang inappropriately, showing that you are adult trying to sound like a kid.
Descriptions. The words you choose for making comparisons or creating imagery also need to resonate with your readers. That means it’s important to try to think the way kids think and notice what they notice.
These examples from the novel I’m reading now, Flutter by Erin E. Moulton, show how the author has chosen kid-friendly words: “whistley breath”, “frosting that I can lick off the tips of my fingers”, and “spilling a gob of seeds across the kitchen table”.Vocabulary level. One worry for children’s writers is that the vocabulary or word level is right for different grade levels. I always think that for middle grade, if I’m using mostly words I’d use in ordinary conversation, then they will sound natural and be accessible to my readers.
But some writers are skilled at using a richer vocabulary, as in Lisa Yee’s Millicent Min, Girl Genius. The words you choose need to fit with your viewpoint character. The phrase “I appreciate the intellectual strategies some games involve” wouldn’t work in all middle grade novels, but it’s completely in character for Millicent.
How do you make sure your word choices are right for your novel?
A few fun sites to help you find the right word:Accents – Here’s some help for getting accents right.
Metaphor – Ideas for common metaphors by category.
Rhymes – This unique dictionary allows you to type in any word and it will generate a rhyme.
Slang - A unique dictionary to help make sure you've gotten the slang right.
Thesaurus Collections - A great online thesaurus collection for writers that includes ideas for describing emotions, settings, colours, textures and shapes, symbolism, weather and character traits from The Bookshelf Muse
YA author Vahini Naidoo talks about how choosing the right words helps you convey the voice and mood of the viewpoint character.
At Project Mayhem, Michael Winchell discusses vocabulary in middle grade novels.Kid-lit agent Mary Kole discusses word choice and how it affects voice and interiority on her blog, and especially interesting are her workshop examples on snippets of reader submissions. Try Workshop #6 for some insights on word choice.