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?

Monday, August 11, 2014

Conquering the Doubt Gremlins

What do you do when doubt is preventing you from moving forward. We all get self doubt (in fact I blogged about it back in January). That little voice whispering in your mind "this isn't good enough", "how can I top what I did before?", and "why do I even bother?" and on and on. But what do we do when that little voice just wont shut up?
1.) Get a second opinion
Sometimes we just need that extra validation. Whether it's someone telling you if you are on the right track, or if you might be wasting your time, at least then you have some resolution. Hearing we're on the right track is often the kick in the butt we need to keep going. We all need that cheerleader every now and again. And conversely, if we are way off base, we can move onto something else and not have to worry or wonder.

2.) Talk to a critique partner or trusted friend
This feeds directly from number one, but even just talking about a plot can be enough to shut up the doubt gremlins. A good brainstorming session with someone who isn't so close to your project, can often give you options. And once you have options you can can squash that little monster with excitement to keep going on a project. Then suddenly a lot of the doubt falls into the background for a while.

In addition, talking to other writers and critique partners can help us see we aren't alone. There's comfort in numbers and in being able to hash out feelings with someone else who feels the exact same way. Writing is horribly lonely sometimes and we forget we aren't the only ones going through this stuff. So find a friend and commiserate together.

3.) Do some research
A lot of times we can doubt our own knowledge on a topic. Research can help us confirm what we know and also further bolster our stories with new information. When we doubt our qualifications, research can often help tell us we really do know what we are talking about. Or if for some reason we are on the wrong track, it can help set us back on the right one and re-energize our writing. Show that doubt gremlin you know your stuff.

4.) Take a break
Sometimes we just need a break. Don't let the little gremlin win, but take some time off to regroup. Then you can come back rejuvenated and ready to rock that manuscript. In war sometimes you have to give up a battle to win the war, and taking a break is exactly that. It's taking enough time to come up with a new plan and conquer with renewed fervor.

5.) Write something else
Sometimes changing focus is enough to shut up the monster inside our minds. You aren't taking a break, you are just temporarily refocusing your efforts on something else. Something new and shiny just might be what your brain needs to tell those gremlins to go shove it.
6.) Stick it in a drawer
This one is really tough. Unfortunately though, that voice is sometimes right. In our gut we know something isn't working, whether that be plot, characters, timing or we just aren't there skill wise yet. That doesn't mean you are giving into the doubt gremlin, but it does mean that you are tackling it in another way with a new strategy.

The doubt gremlin is evil and debilitating. We've all been there. But the best way to conquer that obnoxious voice in our minds is to keep going. So find what ever it takes to do that and run into it head first. Show that doubt gremlin you aren't going to listen to it, and you will prevail!

Monday, August 4, 2014

Neil Gaiman's, The Graveyard (reviewed by an eleven year old)

My contribution to this blog is quickly becoming "What the middle graders in my family are reading and their responses to those books."

In today's post, my eleven year old son responds to my questions. His answers provide a valuable observation of voice as well as providing insight into what motivates a real life reader at this age.

1.  When you were choosing your next book to read, why did you pick The Graveyard, by Neil Gaiman?

I just liked the back, the book started out amazingly, and it's part mystery. There is also a lot of adventure.

2.  Who were your favorite characters, and why?

My two favorite characters were

a) Silas, he is just so mysterious. He isn't alive or dead.

b) Bod Owens, (short for Nobody Owens) he is very curious and smart. Plus he can also Fade, Dreamwalk, cast terror, and many other things regular humans can't do.

3.  What did you like most about The Graveyard?

I liked the way that the book explains things and the adventure.

4.  Was there something you didn't enjoy about it?

No. I liked every single detail!

5.  Did you relate to any of the characters? If so, how?

I related to Bod. (You can find the rest in section b, the first sentence question 2.)

6. What sets this book apart from some of the others you've recently read?

It's very unique. The book takes place at a graveyard sometime during winter, and nothing seems to fit together at the beginning and it all explains itself at the end.

7.  Did you like not knowing how things fit together?

Yes, because it was very suspenseful.

8.  What else would you like to share about this book?

I definitely recommend The Graveyard book. It is entertaining and a good read.

9.  If you could get books on your iPod, would you read more and play less minecraft?

It depends on the time of day.

10.  What if your dad said "I'll take away your iPod unless you spend twice as much time reading on it as you do playing games or watching videos."?

Then I'd read a lot...but please don't do that.