Monday, October 10, 2011

Choosing a Voice

Wow, this month went so fast, didn't it? I'm still on a writing Time Out, so to speak. But I do have big news.

I got an agent. Yes, as someone said to me, I managed to wrestle one to the ground and beat them into submission and sign me. As of October 1st, I am a client of Terrie Wolf at AKA Literary. She is representing me for my Steampunk Fairy Tale (and I hope for long after that). I am so excited! Who knows, maybe someday soon I'll be a YA Author You've Actually Heard Of!

But today I'd like to talk about voice. It's that elusive quality to writing that no one can seem to define. Agents and editors have all told me that they can't describe it, but they know it when they see it. I call it How the Book Sounds. Voice is not about the dialogue, or the characterization.

It's about the narration. I think. Voice is more noticeable in 1st person because the main character is talking directly to the reader. You hear exactly how they would think it. But in 3rd person it becomes a little trickier to pin down.

There's the narrative voice that needs to be on level with the reader- so many agents and editors say they get a ton of MG without a MG voice. So the narration needs to sound younger. If you're writing a historical, the narrative voice might need to be more formal, or use different metaphors (an epiphany I had about a year ago).

One of my favorite forms of narrative voice is the Authorial Intrusion. It's that funny form of narration when the amorphous narrator actually sort of becomes a character. Sometimes it can be really funny - think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Roald Dahl was a master of the Authorial Intrusive voice.

My first book, I tried to use a more Intrusive voice, but it never really worked out the way I wanted. Since I'm rewriting it, I think it's coming along better. It's still not AI, but it's amusing me in ways it hadn't before.

Take this passage from the new version of TALISMAN OF ZANDRIA:

Ivy stared at her teacup, carefully measuring her situation. There were rules about not taking food from a stranger, told to her over and over again since kindergarten by teachers, her parents, the police. Just like there were rules about not talking to strangers, and definitely never, ever going off with one. She had gotten into this mess because she hadn’t followed the rules. 
But she glanced around the cozy little cottage and thought about everything Connor had said, and listened to her stomach growl, and decided that today was the kind of day day that the rules had never considered.

It sounds a lot different than the first time I wrote it. Kind of light, kind of silly, and at the same time a serious moment. The VOICE sets the tone of the book. This book IS kind of light and silly, but it's serious at times too. It reflects the main character. Which is what a voice should DO, even in 3rd person. Unless it's Authorial Intrusion, in which case the narrative voice should reflect the narrator - and in that case it had better be Very Interesting.

I have played with various types of voice - in the Steampunk Fairy Tale, I have two POV characters, and while it's all told in 3rd person, their narrative voices are very different. 

Next time you read (or write), consider the Voice. Enjoy it as you read it. If you write, take the narration and have some fun with it - don't just say what's happening, but decide on HOW you want to say it. Make sure it fits with your story, of course, but play around and feel it out.

Don't be afraid of the voice. 

1 comment:

  1. Congratulations on snagging and agent. That is so exciting.

    A good article on voice too. It took me ages to figure out what everyone meant when they talked about "voice." Think I know now. :)