Voice: Fake it ‘til ya Make it!

At my first writer’s conference (SCBWI Oklahoma Spring 2014), I entered a manuscript. Much to my surprise, I was picked by an editor to come back and talk about why she liked it. I felt like a rock star that day. I submitted to another editor and an agent after the conference (the editor who liked it had a submission wait period). Basically both said my voice wasn’t unique enough. More than one professional made the same comment, so I needed to look into it. As a teacher, student for life, problem solver I do what I always do — read as much as I can, try to figure it out, and fix my manuscript. So I went to my brand new writing source (recommended at the conference): Writing Irresistible Kidlit by Mary Kole. I read that voice is one of the last things that falls into place before a writer becomes ready for publication. All right. Just one more hurdle. I got this. But I kept reading things such as, “voice is among the most enigmatic,” “voice isn’t something that happens overnight,” and “usually, you sit down at the computer one day and feel like you are grounded on firmer footing than ever before.” It didn’t seem helpful and I felt farther from my goal. My favorite was the quote included by Laurie Halse Anderson, “Take out all the parts that suck and make the rest sound natural.” Easy, no problem…psshh. The author, Mary Kole, along with other writers, agents, and editors, say the same thing: voice isn’t easy to explain. The best thing a writer can do is read and write and the more they do the more it falls into place. I had a choice, I could continue to write and read and hope for the best or I could give up. I’m not much for the later and thankfully Mary Kole, did me a solid and included the components of voice (included at bottom). It was my starting point. I would look at each component, improve them, and fake or force my voice until it developed. Just like everything, from learning to ride a bike to hitting a baseball. At first with such things one over thinks every detail until it falls into place. I just read, “Guide to Killer Confidence,” an article in Glamour by Mindy Kaling. She stressed similar things. Mindy earned her confidence which she says is just entitlement from working hard,... read more

Personality versus Voice – What’s the difference?

For anyone attending writers’ conferences over the past year, especially those catering to people writing books for children or teenagers, one line seemed to ring out from every editor and agent’s lips: “Voice matters.” Voice, you say? What is voice? Is that not who my character is? His or her temperament, talking style, etc. etc.? Nope. Sorry. Actually, I really like the definition of “Voice” at Grammar Girl by Julia Wildhaber (I like a lot of things about Grammar Girl, BTW): “Voice is the distinct personality, style, or point of view of a piece of writing or any other creative work.” (see more at: Some of you are still giving me the pursed-lip look. All right. Let’s dive in a little more. You know how you’ve seen a piece of artwork in a store, and it’s super nice, and you’re like, “Hey, that is a pretty picture I could hang in my house.” Now, you walk into an art museum—say MOMA—and you spot a piece by Kerry James Marshall called Untitled (Club Scene.) And you say, “Um, my house is not worthy of such an interesting piece. How does an artist even think to look at the world that way?” That’s voice. Or, you have someone in your church choir (or whatever choir) who has a really good voice, and this person does a great rendition of Christina Aguilera’s song “Beautiful.” But then you hear Aguilera sing it in concert (which I have), and you’re like, “Holy macaroni, Batman.” That’s voice. Universal writing examples of voice, you ask? Harry Potter is a quiet, brave, and sometimes defiant boy. The Harry Potter books are enchanting, magical, and engagingly dark in narration. Katniss Everdeen is taciturn, courageous, and cunning. Hunger Games is urgent and cool-tempered in first-person narration. However, some people might argue that the concept and characters made those two powerhouse book series what they are. For the work of a writer to rise above all the great concepts, cool characters, and style of other excellent writers out there…the “specialness” of voice is the only way to survive. I recently read Tiger Lily by Jodi Lynn Anderson. It wasn’t my favorite Peter Pan spinoff…but, let me tell you something about this book. The writing feels unique, like a painting I haven’t seen before. Something pulls me into the picture it paints, to the words arranged in ways that make me think of ordinary things from a different angle. The... read more

Let Your Characters Choose Your Point of View

So, you’ve got this idea for the next best-seller in children’s books. You take the time to plot out the story line, develop your characters, and do some background research for your setting. Then you sit down and write, but what appears on the page is not what you expect. This happened to me when writing my most recent novel. I love telling stories from my characters’ point of views, so I had always written in first person. I also enjoy the immediacy of present tense. So all my books up to this point had the main character as the narrator, giving the reader a play-by-play of what was happening. But there was only one problem with my new novel—my audience would be preteen Americans and my main character is a European boy who struggles with English. See my dilemma? How could I make my intelligent European character appear smart if he had a limited vocabulary? He also has a thick accent, so it would be a challenge to constantly write his mispronunciations. I could’ve changed him into a slick, foreigner with a sharp tongue, but he would no longer be the same character and I didn’t want to lose him. So I flipped into third person past tense for the first time. It was hard at first and my writing was a little clunky, but now the reader can understand why my main character is the way he is. Then I faced another surprise—another character demanded more attention. I would’ve been very limited using first person, but now with third, this secondary character gets chapters all to herself and her perspective is the perfect contrast to my main character. So don’t limit yourself to one point of view until you know your characters. Try writing one chapter multiple times each in a different point of view. I’ve not delved into second person, but there are a number of authors, especially for middle grade, that do this now. Explore your novel through the eyes of your characters and let them have the voice that is perfect for your story. (And when in doubt, let your excellent critique group give you their... read more