Friday, September 10, 2010

The Hardest Part?

I've been thinking a lot about voice lately. How to do it. How it varies, specifically. What makes each one special.

In one of my manuscripts, narrated by 16 year-old MC Kat, the voice is hollow. Sad. Kat's been bounced around from foster home to foster home and lands in The Middle of Nowhere, Oregon. Kat is sensitive, but strong. Young but growing wiser. Completely trustworthy. You could tell her anything and listen to her favorite band with her for hours.

In my other manuscript, Josh, a 17 year-old basketball blue chip from Sacramento, narrates the seedy side of sports. Josh is wise beyond his years, but is jaded and unreliable. It's not his fault, right? Because everyone has made him who he is. Because he has to survive his life somehow.

Two very different tales.

Two distinct voices.

Okay, I'm not a master of voice craft, for sure, but here's what I've come up with that might help you strengthen your MC's voice:

* Know your MC! I mean, really know them: their wants, hopes, and fears; when they're from and where they're going; their favorite shirt; what they drink and how they drink it; 20 adjectives that might describe them.

* Know the other characters. So the reader has no trouble understanding/believing why MC does and says the things she does.

* Know your audience: ages, interests, gender.

* Know how you want your story to "sound."

* Know setting. Does the MC stand out or fit in nicely? It's all part of the story.

* Stay in character with dialogue. Think word choice, sentence fluency, length, and structure.

* Think paragraph length and structure.

* Use flashbacks. What was significant in MC's past that relates to his/her story?

* Make the most of tone, cadence, punctuation. Match it all up with plot. Use other stylistic devices, too: rhythm, repetition, humor...

What else?

How do you define and use voice?


Shannon O'Donnell said...

I love this post, Jennie! These are all excellent examples and I may steal them for my comp. kids! :-)

DLCurran said...

I like the way you spelled it out. I once had a creative writing instructor tell me, "You have to know your character far better than you know yourself." The she handed me a three-page questionnaire that had questions I couldn't answer about myself let alone for my character.

Anonymous said...

Fantastic post. I'll keep these points in mind.

Nicole Zoltack said...

It's very important to know your characters, to get inside their head and let them tell the story. Great post.

Caroline Starr Rose said...

Jennie, you've won a signed copy of LOSING FAITH and a handmade bookbag! Let me know your mailing address:

caroline starr AT yahoo DOT com

Jennie Englund said...

Glad you could take something away from this one, girls!

I'm sure there are tons of tips I forgot -- or don't know -- am still learning, thinking, gathering.