Friday, August 15, 2014

You must have VOICE!

It’s not enough to have a decent story. It’s not even enough to have a good character and a good story.  You NEED voice. You need to show that character’s personality and yours in every line of your novel.

Personality is how I define voice because, to me, that’s exactly what it is. Having a story without voice is like a good song sung with a computer generated voice. It doesn’t matter if the lyrics are golden and it’s masterfully written, all you will notice is that strange, bland voice.

Voice is one of the most talked about aspects of Middle Grade. Why? Because it’s easily the most important. Voice is what sells books. Rewrite Percy Jackson with a boring bland narration and flat character dialog and see how many kids get past chapter one. Here’s a hint: not many. 

So how do you know if your voice is good enough? That’s the tricky part. A lot of writers can’t actually tell if their voice is coming across because THEY see it. But just because they see it doesn’t mean the reader will. If it doesn’t translate, you’ve got problems. 

If you keep thinking about voice like personality you’ll get some good hints about what voice is and how to deal with it. 

Think about some common personality types. There’s that loud, bold and funny kid that draws people in right away. But that same loud, bold kid can drive people nuts. It’s all about how they come across.

 Then, there’s the shy quiet kid. That kind can fade into the background and never get noticed. Or they can be the most beloved all.

Or the quirky tries-too-hard to be liked kid. They can be total dorks that just get annoying or they can turn out to be incredibly loveable and really amazing friends and even hero’s.

Think about what makes those people likeable and try to put an emphasis on that aspect in your novel.

Also remember that if you’re writing third person, part of your voice is the narrator. Don’t make them stiff and boring, let them stand out too. 

Good examples of strong third person narrators to check out:

The Graveyard Book by Neil Gaiman
Harry Potter by J.K. Rowling
The Hobbit by JRR Tolkien

"What is a hobbit? I suppose hobbits need some description nowadays, since they have become rare and shy of the Big People, as they call us. They are (or were) a little people, about half our height, and smaller than the bearded dwarves. Hobbits have no beards. There is little magic about them, except the ordinary everyday sort which helps them to disappear quietly and quickly when large stupid folk like you and me come blundering along, making noise like elephants which they can hear a mile off." The Hobbit by J.R.R Tolkien.
 You may never know who’s actually telling the story but you can still make the narration into another character with bits of voice of their own.

Good examples of great first person voice in YA:

Wonder by R.J. Palacio
Percy Jackson by Rick Riordan
The False Prince by Jennifer Nielson

"I'd never attempted roast thievery before, and I was already regretting it. It happens to be very difficult to hold a chunk of raw meat while running. More slippery than I'd anticipated. If the butcher didn't catch me with his cleaver first and literally cut off my future plans, I vowed to remember to get the meat wrapped next time. Then steal it."

The key to writing good voice is letting go. Let your character and/or narrator take over. The first draft you should stop worry about all the mechanics of writing and get as deep into your character as you possibly can. That’s when they begin to shine. You can spruce them up as much as you need to once you go back to revise, but one thing you shouldn’t have to worry about is voice.

Another great post about voice can her found here:

Do you have any hint or secrets that you use when it comes to voice?


Elizabeth Varadan, Author said...

Nice post. I agree that voice is what moves a story along and keeps a reader interested. You gave some nice examples.

Mirka Breen said...

I don't have a secret, just something that has been helpful to me. When the personality of the narration (i.e. voice) is based on a storyteller you've known personally, you can almost hear it in your mind, and the result is more effective.

Stacey Trombley said...

That's a good one Mirka!

cleemckenzie said...

I think talking to my characters helps me. Of course, I bump into a lot of walls while doing that, and no one let's me drive when they know I'm writing a book.

Thanks for following me on Twitter. That's how I found your great blog. Am trying to follow, but so far blogger is having none of me here. I'll try again.