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I am so pleased to welcome Shannon Messenger
to the blog today! Shannon is a wonderfully supportive writer who is doing big things in the kid lit world.
Not only is book 1 of her MG series, Keeper of the Lost Cities
(Simon & Schuster)
releasing Oct 2nd, but she also has a YA coming out in the Spring of 2013, Let The Sky Fall.
AHHH! I am so thrilled to see her reach her dreams!
Shannon's got some great advice here about Voice in Kidlit
, so please read on.
~ ~ * ~ ~
Yay--I'm so excited to be here! I've been a huge fan of this blog for years, so it's such an honor to contribute. Here's hoping I can live up to the amazingness of the other posts you guys are used to reading.
I thought I'd talk today about writing kid voice
, since that seems to be the subject that comes up most often when people find out I write middle grade. In fact, usually the first question people ask is something along the lines of: do you have to simplify things when you write middle grade?
And my answer is always an emphatic: NO! Kids deserve way more credit than some people give them.
They are very smart and pick up on much more than we may think they do. So I have never once had to change a word because it was "too advanced" or dumb something down so a kid reader would understand it.
That being said, there is still a definite "kid voice" that needs to be used when writing middle grade. But it's not about simplification. It's about making your writing appealing and relatable to kids. A big part of that will come from the voices of the kid characters themselves. But still, it does trickle into the prose in ways you might not always think of.For example, look at the following sentences:
Mr. Lipkin always wore the same coffee colored business suit to class, whether it was warm and sunny or pouring down rain.
Mr. Lipkin always wore a chocolate brown suit to class, whether it was warm and sunny or pouring down rain.
Which feels more authentically "kid" to you--comparing something to the color of coffee or the color of chocolate? That's not to say that kids don't understand what color coffee is. Shoot, these days lots of kids even drink it. HOWEVER, I still think it's much more believable that a kid would compare the color brown to chocolate long before their mind would come up with coffee. Coffee feels like a more adult comparison. Which is the same reason I removed "business" from the second sentence. Adults think of "business suits." To kids it's just a suit.
They're very subtle differences. But throughout a draft they can really add up and give the story a more authentically kid voice. And obviously the voice of the character also needs to be considered. If your main character is a big coffee drinker, the coffee comparison would probably be the more appropriate. For things like that you will need to use your own judgement. But as a general rule it's best to try and weed out anything that reads more "adult-centered" from your middle grade manuscripts, because they will make the story feel less relatable to your readers. Not that they won't understand
it. It just won't feel like it's speaking to them.
And it's important to keep in mind that this kind of thing can rarely be perfected in the drafting stage. Of course the more you write for kids the more you will start to internalize that voice. But as an adult your brain is going to naturally gravitate toward these kinds of phrasings and comparisons. So it's something you'll really want to train yourself to watch for as you revise.
I'm a big believer in questioning every word. It's tedious and obnoxious and kind of makes you want to fling your laptop off a bridge. But it's also the only way to really watch for tiny voice issues like this, so it's really worth the extra effort. And just when you think you've found them all, your editor will flag a few more and you'll feel like, ARGH HOW DID I MISS THAT????
Oh the joys of being a writer. :) All right, I think I have rambled on long enough. Hope you guys found that helpful. I now happily turn this blog back to it's rightful owners. Huge thanks to everyone who stopped by to hang out. *curtsies* *flees*SHANNON MESSENGER graduated from the USC School of Cinematic Arts where she learned that she liked watching movies much better than making them. She also regularly eats cupcakes for breakfast, sleeps with a bright blue stuffed elephant named Ella, and occasionally gets caught talking to imaginary people. So it was only natural for her to write stories for children. Keeper of the Lost Cities is her first middle grade novel. Let the Sky Fall, a young adult novel, will follow in Spring 2013. She lives in Southern California with her husband and an embarrassing number of cats. Follow Shannon: Blog
| Pinterest Wow!
I was nodding all the way through--as kidlit writers, it is so important to know our audience and write authentically so it feels like they've stepped right into the mind of the child protagonist. Thank you so much Shannon for hanging out here and giving such food for thought on Voice
as this is one of the biggest struggles we face writing for this age group!
Shannon is taking over the internet
as she introduces her fabulous books to the world, so check in at Mundie Moms
for the complete tour schedule, which is packed with giveaways
. Oh, did I say giveaways? Yes I did! Fill out the below for a chance to win your very own copy of Keeper!
Twelve-year-old Sophie has never quite fit in. She's not comfortable with her family and keeping a secret—she's a telepath. But then she meets Fitz, who tells her the reason she has never felt at home is that, well, she isn't. But Sophie still has secrets, and they're buried deep in her memory for good reason: the answers are in high-demand. The truth could mean life or death, and time is running out.a Rafflecopter giveaway
By: Julie Daines,
By Julie Daines
The Ten Commandments of Writing and When to Break Them
Writing Conferences. We go. We listen. We obey. Maybe sometimes we obey too much.
My next few posts will be about when to break the writing commandments.
Thou Shalt Not Use the Word Was
As with all of the posts in this series, I agree with this commandment on most levels. However, as with other commandments, the problem comes when writers take this rule too far.
Usually, the best way to say something is the simplest and most direct. Writers who beat around the bush with fancy words are guilty of what is known as purple prose, which I define as trying too hard to make each sentence a work of art unto itself. Each sentence's purpose should be in contributing to the beauty of the whole.
From the first bite, the rich, chocolate cake saturated his tastebuds with mouth-watering flavor.
First of all, this doesn't sound at all like what a MG or YA character would say. And secondly, it sounds forced. So unless your character is Anne of Green Gables, simple and direct is best.
The chocolate cake was delicious.
Straight and to point. We get it, and now the story can move on.
The object of avoiding the use of the word was is not to write forced prose, it is to use a stronger, better, more descriptive verb. So try to replace was with something better.
The chocolate cake tasted delicious.
Or rewrite the sentence in a way that says the same thing, only better.
Mack loved that chocolate cake from the first bite.
If the tasting of the chocolate cake is the pinnacle plot point to your story, then go ahead and elaborate. If it's a passing part of dinner, keep it short and simple.
The sun beat down on the road. When I opened my car door, the heat assaulted me, wrapping its burning fingers around me and choking me. The hot asphalt attacked my bare feet trying to burn its way through my skin.
At first glance, this may seem ok. But it's a problem I see a lot in descriptions. Whether it's meant like this or not, the entire paragraph is personification--a type of literary device.
As with all literary devices, it should be used judiciously. Save it for the important parts of you story.
If Cami just ran out of gas in the middle of the desert and she faces imminent death by heat stroke, then this example is ok.
If all you want to do is get across how hot it is when Cami pulled up to the swimming pool, then keep it simple and direct--even if it means using was.
By the time Cami pulled up to the swimming pool, it was beyond hot.
- Use was, but only when it's the best and simplest way to get your point across. Sometimes, there is no better substitute.
- If you can, use a stronger verb in its place or rewrite the sentence.
- When you need to describe something important, pull out all the stops and elaborate--always keeping in mind the YA or MG voice.
As you're reading, watch for when the author uses was appropriately, and when they should have used it, but instead made one of these mistakes.
What are your thought on using the word was?
By: Kathy Temean,
Blog: Writing and Illustrating
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Yesterday we looked at nine elements to check when doing a critique of your own manuscript or someone elses. Today we are going a step further by reading with Writing Style in mind. I want to thank Anita Nolan for writing these ten writing style elements up, so we can refer to them while critiquing a manuscript.
• Voice: Strong? Too passive?
• Any problems with point of view? If there are multiple points of view, are the POV changes handled well?
• Does the dialogue sound natural? Is the dialogue of each character distinct, or does everyone sound the same?
• Does the dialogue move the story forward?
• Were there too many “he said” dialogue tags, or awkward substitutes for “said?” (snarled, hissed.)
• As to back story: Is it woven into the story, or are there any info dumps or “As you know, Bob”s (use of dialogue to dump information into the story.)
• Is there too much narrative? Too many flashbacks?
• Are the sentences clear, or do they need to be reworded to improve clarity?
• Is the story well-paced, or does it slow in places?
• Is there plenty of white space, or is the writing dense? (In other words, are the paragraphs short and interspersed with dialogue, or are they long blocks of type running a half page—or more.)
Tomorrow, we’ll go over what to check, when reading a synopsis. You can find Anita Nolan at: www.anitnolan.com
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By: Bruce Luck,
I just read another great book, and this was the second time I read it. Gary D. Schmidt’s Okay for Now I first read as a reader. The next I did so as a writer.
In a nutshell, Doug is a tough kid hardened by an abusive father and two older brothers. His father’s obnoxious behavior gets him fired, forcing the family to move to stupid Marysville in upstate New York where the small town people target him as a hoodlum. But Doug is not the ruffian the town perceives him to be. There is a another side to this survivor kid who, by reaching out to others, allows himself to transcend the prejudice against him and the family he’s a product of.
This book is fantastic on many levels. The voice is striking and Schmidt absolutely nails this kid. He maintains Doug’s tough-guy persona, yet allows him to shed it and for the character to grow. The voice is true throughout and does not waver. Another thing Schmidt does nicely is to allow Doug to talk to directly to readers, as if he and they were all chatting in the same room.
Schmidt provides a strong cast of characters and the amiable Doug is willing to reach out to them. Lil is the first person to notice the skinny thug and he follows her into the public library. She is in most of his middle school classes. Her father runs the market and hires Doug to be a Saturday morning delivery boy. On his rounds, he befriends his regular customers, including a playwright and a policeman’s family. Saturday afternoons Doug is fascinated by a large book of Audubon’s drawings under glass in the library. An elderly library worker introduces Doug to art techniques, such as composition and movement in a picture, lessons that play out in various aspects of Doug’s life. And Schmidt give us teachers, some who provoke him to be the hoodlum they see him as, others who see his softer side.
I don’t know what’s more critical to craft a good story, voice or character. I suppose it should have both.
By: Hazel Mitchell,
Blog: Hazel Mitchell
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HOW DO I KNOW WHAT MY STYLE IS?
and the second question
HOW DO I GET ONE?
And here's the thing - most of us already have a style.
Writer's call it VOICE. 'What is our voice? Where does it come from?
How do we capture it and nurture it and grow it?'
As a writer VOICE is the choices we make, the words we use, the cadence, the point of view,
the quality that makes the writing unique - and recognizable.
And emerging illustrators struggle with all the same issues, especially the 'recognizable' one.
The one that will make us
STAND OUT FROM THE REST.
This past weekend, I attended a writer’s workshop where we had a first pages critique session. That’s when an author panel hears the first 200 to 300 words of a manuscript, and then gives feedback to attendees. Basically, what these published experts ask themselves is, “Would I keep reading after this first page?”
You don’t have to write for children to learn a lot from first page critiques. And you don’t have to write a novel, either. Because the point of a first page is always the same: you have to grab your reader right from the very beginning!
Two hundred and fifty words. That’s the average number of words in that first page. Geez, that’s not much. But that’s all that you, the writer, have to grab that editor or agent or publisher before he or she moves on to the next manuscript. So how do you make every word count?
Here are the top suggestions I heard during the critiques, and the discussion that followed:
“You don’t have to explain the whole plot on the first page, but you do have to give an idea of what the story is about.”
Don’t fill up your entire first page with lovely description of your setting. You can weave that lovely description into the plot (what the story is about). Whoever or whatever is mentioned in the first page should be important to your plot (what the story is about). Resist the temptation to throw in anything that doesn’t relate to…yeah, I think you know what’s coming: What the story is about. Which brings me to the next suggestion.
“The voice or the narrator captures the reader’s attention from the get-go. If we don’t know who the protagonist is, we won’t be interested enough to keep reading.”
Your voice must be strong right from the start! Your audience needs to care about what will happen next—and more importantly, who has something at stake in the story. Read a few of the first pages of your favorite novels, or short stories, memoirs or essays so you can see how the writer manages to invest the reader in the story, right from the very beginning.
That’s what you want in your first page. After that, the rest is easy. Well, easier.
I think there are three reasons most people are drawn to novels. Plot. Characters. And voice.
I'm pretty good at characters and I'm really good at plot. Voice, for me, is nearly impossible to master. Sometimes it happens, most times it doesn't, and my prose is workman-like.
The first paragraph in Girlchild: A Novel is this:
Mama always hid her mouth when she laughed. Even when she spoke too gleefully, mouth stretched too wide by those happy muscles, teeth too visible. I can still recognize someone from my neighborhood by their teeth. Or lack of them. And whenever I do, I call these people family. I know immediately that I can trust them with my dog but not with the car keys and not to remember what time, exactly, they’re coming back for their kids. I know if we get into a fight and Johnny shows up, we'll agree that there has been "No problem, Officer, we'll keep it down.
I read that and thought: "I will follow that voice anywhere.
Girlchild is the story of Rory Dawn Hendrix lives with her mom in the Calle de las Flores Trailer Park outside of Reno. Rory's mom was 15 when she first got pregnant, as was Rory's grandmother. She comes from a long line of welfare moms, alcoholics and gamblers. Can she escape her fate?
Girlchild has the feel of a book written from personal pain. The characters are certainly memorable. The plot could have been stronger, but again this book has an inimitable voice. Read it for that.
Recently I blogged about Mari McCarthy’s e-book Start Journaling and Change Your Life in 7 Days. Since then, I’ve used my journal to focus on my audience before I write. Who are they? How are they different from me? What are they going to demand from this piece? How might this differ from my expectations?
While that works for shorter nonfiction projects, I’ve been writing a longer piece of teen fiction, sending my editor an outline and then a draft. I’d journaled about audience for the outline. When it came time to write the story, I focused on what the story is all about – my characters.
I needed to do this because, based on my outline, my editor found my protagonist unsympathetic. She gave me tips on how to change this, but I had trouble starting the story. Nothing sounded right. I had to find my character’s voice while writing the story in 3rd person. I turned to my journal.
When I sat down to journal that morning, I asked what my character would have to say about being called unsympathetic. I decided to let him speak for himself and write the journal entry in his first person POV. Let’s just say that this particular teen had plenty to say, starting with the fact the he didn’t ask for anyone’s sympathy. He hadn’t created the story problem, but everyone expected him to fix it. We should shut up and let him do it his way. He was freaked out and scared and we weren’t helping.
As the author, I knew most of this. Laying it down in his own words helped me find his voice and get into the story. Soon I had a rough draft, but his brother, the antagonist, was flat.
His story had to come through as well. Sure, he was messing up his younger brother’s life, but it isn’t something he planned to do. He hates needing help from his baby brother. He hates what has happened to him. He’s angry. Who catches the brunt of this anger? His brother. Deal with it.
Again, these were things I knew, but in journaling for him I found the character’s voice. His dialogue tightened to the point of being tense, terse and rude – nothing that would keep him up at night.
If you’re having problems nailing a piece of fiction, journal.
0 Comments on Journaling My Way to Voice and Story as of 4/29/2012 10:01:00 AM
Have you noticed how the voices of Southern writers weave a kind of magic spell over readers?You can feel that magic throughout the pages of Augusta Scattergood's first novel, Glory Be, as she weaves her spell with the sweet sounds of a Southern dialect, an unerring eye for details, and heartfelt compassion for her main character, Gloriana June Hemphill, who is struggling to learn how to be
How to Improve Your Writing Voice and Characters’ Voices
Agent Jill Corcoran at the 2012 FL SCBWI Conference in Miami
Jill Corcoran talked about the difference between the author voice, which is in everything you write, and the manuscript voice, which changes according to things like tone, the target audience, and point of view.
She had us write a short scene with two characters from one point of view, then write it from the other. It’s amazing how you can feel the difference. Even better…this exercise can help with writer’s block!
· Make your characters distinct so you don’t always need to put in tags. There’s a great way to test this—take the tags out of dialogue and see if you (or others) can tell who is talking.
· Give each character something unique. Weaving these little details in helps give dimension.
· Readers fill in the gaps—you need to leave some white space.
Here are some other great suggestions from Jill:
· When you sit down and write, you don’t always have to write your book. Just write anything. It helps you find your voice, gives you space, and stops you from feeling pressured. A bad day can affect your writing. She said to strive for more than BIC…you want Butt In Quality Chair.
· Read outside your genre. This helps you see styles of writing that might be great for you.
· Make dialogue count…especially when it’s up front.
· Try to write three pages every morning before doing anything else.
· Play around to find the right voic
"...I was searching for something outside myself-- some sound that did not belong to me, that was not a part of me and was never to be created by me. And all the time I could have spent investigating my own instrument was instead trying to imitate [the] 'perfect voice'... Remember your true voice can only be arrive at with a relaxed concentration and careful attention to individuality."
"Finding Your Voice", page 46
**I believe I have posted this quote before. I was going through some papers of mine and came across it again. I read this book during a brief time of delusionment when I believed I could learn how to sing. I loved the quote so much that I wrote it down. Finding your voice is a powerful drive for writers. We cannot succeed when we are attempting to imitate someone's work. We must be true to ourselves and our own creativity ability. The world does not need another JK Rowling, Stephanie Meyer, or ___fill-in-the-blank___. The world is missing you and your work. You, uniquely, imperfectly, gifted, exactly, you.
What are you doing to find your own voice?
By Julie Daines
"I hate you!"
"This is why I'm moving out when I'm eighteen!"
"I have no control over my life!"
Yes, those are all phrases I have heard from my own teen-age sons. Frequently. I have three.
So, I thought I'd do some posts on capturing that teen voice, starting with vocabulary. Here are a few do's and don'ts.
Be Extremely Careful of Overusing Slang
According to Agent George Nicholson, "Slang dates good fiction more easily than any other single thing."
Slang varies by region, so too much slang makes your book non-universal. If you do use a lot of slang, make sure it reflects something about the character and adds to the depth of the story. Don't just use it to sound teen, teens are expert at picking out phony voice.
The best writing has a richness of language, not just a scramble of slang. Use vocabulary that reflects the time and place you're writing about.
Don't Dumb it Down
But at the same time, it has to sound like something a teen (specifically the one in your book) would actually say. Teens, in some ways, are smarter than we give them credit for. As long as the voice is authentic and rings true, teen readers are open to a wide range of voicing styles.
Mix it Up
Don't give all your characters a similar sounding voice. Vary vocabulary and rhythm to create contrast and interest. Some teens never stop talking, some are only one word anwerers. Some rely on humor, some on emotional extremes. (See examples above.)
Keep the Narrative in Voice
Make sure the narrative parts are in the voice of the POV character and not the author's. Maintain continuity.
I’m going through a big stack of submissions that have been languishing for a while (and if you submitted a partial before Sept. 1 and don’t get a request for a full manuscript by the end of the week, you’ll know the answer is a no thanks). I’m on the lookout in particular for a book that will appeal to middle-grade girls, and I’m having a bit of a frustrating time of it. Mostly because humorous middle-grade voice seems to be a hard one to nail, and so many of the submissions in my pile seem to be going for a humorous bent.
Voice is the one thing that I don’t feel, as an editor, that I can fix. It’s too intrinsic to the art, too personal, something that has to be worked on before it comes across my desk. And a humorous voice? Even harder to shape as an editor. I completely appreciate how tough humor is just in general. It’s very subjective. So something that makes me giggle madly might not tickle someone else’s funny bone.
However, there is also a certain voice that I can only describe as “trying too hard.” The intended humor is super-goofy, overexplaining the jokes and losing the reader in the process. It feels too self-conscious, like the character is watching herself too closely instead of living her life. Humor should come, in my opinion, as a side effect of situations that happen to be a little goofy, rather than forced out of something the character finds funny, which is harder to translate into reader laughs. Thus, I personally think it’s really hilarious that Tyler Sato gets a killer asteroid named after him because, coincidentally, his cousins happened to name a star after him. But Tyler Sato himself doesn’t find it all that funny.
Part of the problem is that self-consciousness can sometimes work in YA, at least more than middle grade, because teens are more likely to notice things comment on them in a snarky way. Middle graders aren’t expected to be jaded just yet. But it’s not just that. Have you ever noticed that whenever, say, Stephen Colbert loses his deadpan, the joke loses a little something? Part of the hilarity is in the deadpan delivery. And we also have to acknowledge that not everyone is a humor writer—and that’s okay. Sometimes a book can be better when it’s not trying so hard for the laughs.
If you are writing humor, my only suggestion for improving your craft is to read writers who make it work, like Lisa Yee, Michael Buckley, and Tu’s own Greg Fishbone.
What I’d really like to see in my submission pile, though, as far as middle-grade books are concerned, is not necessarily humor—after all, we’ve got the hilarious Galaxy Games coming out this month already; go buy it! or read an excerpt!—but rather straight-on fantasy, science fiction, and mystery for middle-grade readers of both genders, but particularly girls because I don’t have much on my list for middle-grade girls right now. I’d love to see something more along the lines of Shannon Hale’s books for middle grade readers (one of my favorite books of all time is her Book of a Thousand Days, set in a Mongolia-like world): adventure and coming-into-her-own (not necessarily coming-of-age, which is more of a YA thing; would love such YAs, but I’m talking MG here right now). I also wouldn’t mind something along the lines of Michael Buckley’s The Sisters Grimm, while noting that even though the book is
In Part 1, Editor Krista Marino explained how YA Voice is related to diction, perspective, dialog, interior monologue, and character. In this second section she explains what makes a young adult voice unique and different from an adult writing voice.
Let’s Talk about the Teen/YA Voice in Particular:
- YA is specific in terms of voice.
- YA is teen experience, outlook, and their limited life experiences.
- YA is about teen beliefs, likes and dislikes, etc.
- Think about how small your life was when you were a teenager. Remember when you believed in Santa? What did you believe when you were in high school? Did you think you were going to marry your high school boyfriend?
- An adult looking back on the teen experience is an adult book.
- “When you’re young everything feels like it’s the end of the world.” – movie quote. Teens have no reference to know that things will get better in their lives, where as adults bring life experiences with them.
- Teens are not making stupid decisions. They are making their decisions because they have only been on the planet for 16 years and don’t have any life experience.
- Teens have nothing else to compare their experiences to.
- When you are writing you need to erase the worldliness you’ve experienced over the years.
- Your protagonist can’t be simple.
- Every teen is questioning how other teens view them.
- Your character must evolve. Voice can change as a character grows and learns over the course of the book. Voice must change with the evolution and movement of the book.
Exercises to Get to Know Your Character:
- Exercise: List three character traits about your protagonist (i.e. sassy, romantic, uptight) then push yourself to go deeper and find out who they really are under those traits.
- Exercise: Write two pages that tell you something new about your character. These pages do not need to go into the manuscript. See what they will tell you.
- Exercise: Go to a public place and eavesdrop on teens. Write down their conversations exactly as you hear them. Now try to use that conversation in a scene you are writing. Watch how your characters interact.
Telling about Character in the Writing:
- Weave info about your character into the story, but make it invisible.
- In the writing insinuate how a character looks without listing everything they are wearing. Pick a particular trait to embody a greater image of the character. Example: A character wearing skull rings.
- You can’t assume the reader knows what is going on inside your character. You need to clue them in. Is the character tired? Excited?
- Layer your characters actions. Stomping could mean a character is angry, but they could also be embarrassed. Sometimes more is more.
- It’s better for someone to tell you to cut than add.
- Beware of too much telling, it will sound like you (the author) are speaking to the reader rather than the character.
Krista Marino is a senior editor at Delacort Press where she edits and acquires young adult and middle grade novels. Books she has edited include King Dork, The Necromancer, The Maze Runner, and The Forest of Hands and Teeth.
1 Comments on Perfecting Your YA Voice (Part 2), last added: 10/19/2011