Posted by Anne Barton Feb 26 2013, 12:00 am in characterization, golden heart finalists, guest author, voice, writing tools
Recently, I’ve been rereading a series I discovered when I was younger. It’s a five-book middle grade fantasy series based on Welsh mythology entitled The Chronicles of Prydain. Since I’ve become a writer myself, I can’t help but noticing the author’s craft. Something really jumped out at me this time. The author, Lloyd Alexander, is a real master of character voice.
Each of his characters has his own unique way of expressing himself, and that voice helps them leap off the page. You get an immediate sense, through a character’s dialogue, of who that character is.
Take, for example, Eilonwy, the heroine of the series. She’s a secret princess, a bit of a motor-mouth, and one of the first feisty heroines I read about. Oh, and she often showed more sense than many of the male characters. I loved her. I wanted her to be real so I could be her friend. One of the ways the author sets her speech apart from the others is her penchant for spouting similes and metaphors—and they’re often just this side of implausible.
Posted by Amanda Brice Sep 26 2011, 12:01 am in craft, voice
Ah, voice. That ever important creative writing concept. One of the most misunderstood aspects in writing, yet quite possibly the most powerful.
Your “voice” is the way you speak on paper, and it’s as unique to you as your DNA or fingerprints. Voice depends on the style you choose – formal, informal, technical, chatty, poetic - and the words you choose to express this style, and it’s influenced by your past, your present, really everything that makes you YOU goes into it. An amalgamation of all your memories (both the good and the bad) and favorite things.
Last week, multiple-RITA-winner, Barbara Samuel, came and spoke to my local chapter, Washington Romance Writers, for an all-day workshop. During the afternoon she spoke about the heroine’s journey (as opposed to the Hero’s Journey, which we commonly hear). I had to miss that one because even though playing with Daddy is super fun, my toddler needed some time with Mommy, so I had to make it a half-day only.
But I was there for her morning workshop, which was all about voice. And if you’ve ever read Barbara Samuel, you know she’s got it in spades. At her request, we did not tape that session to share with our members who couldn’t be there, since it consisted mostly of a series of hands-on writing exercises, but she did give us permission to share one particular brainstorming exercise with our critique partners. And since I found it quite illuminating, I decided to share it with you.
It was simple, really. While she was telling us the rules, I found myself rolling my eyes and saying “Uh, why?” But towards the end, after she asked some volunteers to share their lists, I got it. And it was uncanny how spot on it was.
So here goes.
I want you to pull out a piece of paper and a pen. No, seriously. Just do it. I’ll wait.
You ready? Let’s go!
Step 1: List your Top Ten favorite movies of all time. Doesn’t have to be in any particular order. Just a random list is fine. And no cheating. I don’t want to see what you think you should be listing, but your honest picks. We’re not here to impress anyone. What are your go-to movies that you’ll come back to time and again?
Step 2: List your favorite book from when you were a teenager.
Step 3: Now your favorite book that you’ve read in the past 6 months. Again, no cheating. Don’t list it unless you really did read it within the past 6 months, and it needs to be honest.
OK, everyone done? Anyone want to share? If so, list your picks in the comments section. Please be honest. If you’re doing this correctly, this should be a very good reflection of your voice, and I should be able to figure out what genre you write. (And if I’m wrong, then maybe this is actually telling you what you SHOULD be writing…)
I’ll start. Here are my lists.
Step 1: My top ten favorite movies
- Bridget Jones’ Diary
- Pride & Prejudice (the BBC version, although I do enjoy the Keira Knightly one as well)
- Save the Last Dance
- Moulin Rouge
- 10 Things I Hate About You
- Never Been Kissed
Step 2: My favorite book as a teenager
“The Westing Game” by Ellen Raskin
(This one was hard. To be completely honest, I didn’t do a ton of fun reading as a teen — mostly the books I read for English class (some of which I really did love). I did a lot more reading for pure pleasure as a preteen than a teen (probably because I spent my teen years in the dance studio and didn’t have a lot of time). So even though I think she was looking for your fave book from when you were well into your teens (such as age 15), I went with one from a little bit younger, since that book really stuck with me. I’d read it for the first time when I was probably 9 or 10, but then continued to read it again yearly until college. I found a used copy a couple of years ago and decided to give it a try, wondering how it would hold up now that I’m an adult. It did NOT disappoint. In fact, I think it got even better!)
Step 3: My favorite book from the last 6 months
“Deadly Cool” by Gemma Halliday
(This one was also really difficult to answer, since I’ve read sooooo many awesome books lately, especially from my fellow Rubies! But I had to choose just one — which was really mean of Barbara, by the way — and I was lucky enough to get to read an ARC of this fab YA mystery and let me tell you…Gemma’s books really ought to come with a surgeon general’s warning. They’re really THAT addictive!)
OK, I’m done. Did anyone notice a pattern here? I hope you did, especially since I answered completely honestly (and relatively quickly…you’re not allowed to spend a long time thinking this through — it should be your first impressions). I promise you these were the exact answers I wrote in my notebook during that workshop, and I had no clue why she was asking this question at the time I wrote this list, either, so I wasn’t cheating.
Judging from my list, what would you guess I write? If you’re not familiar with my writing, go check out my profile and book list. (Yup…YA with mystery elements and a theme of dancing.) Would you have guessed that from my list? Kinda cool, huh?
OK, your turn. What does your list tell you about your unique voice?