Sunday, March 20, 2011

Voice workshop parts 3 & 4

Day 3: Emblanding

We each picked a passage and rewrote it to remove the voice. That was interesting. We noticed that a good deal of our emblanding had to do with removing the show and sticking in a telly summary, instead. Also, it involved taking out all the interesting phrases a character might say and using generic language in its place.

Day 4: Rewriting our own stuff

This was by FAR the hardest part of the week. We had to take one of our own passages and rewrite it to jack up the voice. Very hard! I think it would almost be easier to start over from scratch and write something new and voicey than to fix something that’s not there. Which is probably why editors say they can work with an author on plot, but not on weak writing.

Overall it was a really good experience. I think with something like this, it's not enough to just sit in rapture at the feet of an expert. This is the kind of thing you really only learn by discussing and doing.

See other takes on the workshop from other members of the group:

Sandy Carlson (starting with her introduction)

Voice workshop part 2

Day 2: Samples

We each found passages from published books and analyzed them for what made them voicey. For copyright reasons I won’t post all the passages here, but we had selections from the following fabulous books:

Wicked Lovely, Melissa Marr
Junie B. Jones is (Almost) a Flower Girl, Barbara Park
The Tale of Desperaux, Kate DiCamillo
Sharp’s Rifles, Bernard Cornwell
The Midwife’s Apprentice, Karen Cushman
Jane Eyre, Charlotte Bronte
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire, JK Rowling
Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, JK Rowling
Tom Sawyer, Mark Twain
Just Take My Heart, Mary Higgins Clark
The True Meaning of Smekday, Adam Rex
Scumble, Ingrid Law
Crossing to Paradise, Kevin Crossley-Holland
London Calling, Edward Bloor
The Star of Kazan, Eva Ibbotson
A Curse Dark as Gold, Elizabeth C. Bunce
Rules, Cynthia Lord
Alcatraz Versus the Shattered Lens, Brandon Sanderson
Palace Beautiful, Sarah DeFord Williams

And a couple more we didn’t discuss but which have strong voice:

Dairy Queen, Catherine Gilbert Murdock
I Shall Wear Midnight, Terry Pratchett
Flipped, Wendelin van Draanen
The Underneath, Kathi Appelt

What I learned from these—ie, what gives them voice:

--specificity of language

--language that that character would know

--concerns that character specifically would have

--sometimes, what is NOT said as well as what IS said

--sometimes, the dialogue/interaction between two characters

--sometimes, the irony of the real situation and what the character believes is reality, causing humor or a surge of pity on the reader’s part


--turning a known story or phrase inside out

--depending on tone of story, making narrative sound more like dialogue (specifically, how a certain character would talk, even if it’s rambling)

--tells you something about your POV character, even if it’s technically while advancing plot or describing setting

--uses strong, exact, meaningful language, with a preference for nouns and verbs over flabby modifiers. (Some modifiers okay, of course—but used in moderation)

--more attention paid to the right words for the right character/situation than to a prescriptive set of rules (ie you can see things like “a bit” and other “weak” modifiers in some of these examples—but for this specific setting/character, they are the RIGHT words to lend character)

--Rhythm can be important, showing how quickly time seems to flow for the character (whether they want it or not). It can make you HAVE to read a book out loud. It adds to mood and character.

--Sometimes books stick very close to the characters' voices so that you are in their heads, as if it is really happening. Other times, the voice is more of a whole-book emphasis (like the Appelt or DiCamillo examples), where the point is to gather you up and tell you a story, as if someone is orally relating this to you, and the whole experience--storyteller plus story plus listener--is what's important, not *just* the story.

Voice workshop! Part 1

My critique group has spent the past week doing a workshop on voice. At first we were hesitant to do this, as none of us feel particularly expert. But we decided to forge ahead, and I think we’ve all learned a lot. I have, anyhow! Here’s an overview of what we did, and some of the things I learned in the process.

Day 1: Definitions.

Read and discuss articles that ARE written by experts on what voice is and how you develop it. Here are links to the articles we read:

Editor Caroline Meckler on voice: (EXCELLENT, clear definition of voice and its aspects--read this first)

Editor Martha Mihalick on voice:

Verla Kay discussion:

Margot Finke on character voice:

Cheryl Klein on voice: (and read the comments, too, because there are some good ideas down there)

And an interesting writer's take on critiquing voice:

We concluded that there was such a thing as author voice, and also such a thing as character voice. Author voice is like your face. It’s YOU. The YOU-ist You you can write. Character voice (or even different kinds of voice for different books) is like different clothing or hairstyles. People will react to you differently and expect different things from you based on how you look, or what kind of voice your book has. It’s important for your characters to all have their own voice.

Strong, exact nouns and verbs tend to be important for voice.

Voice is rooted in character.

You can have such a thing as strong voice and yet not everyone will like it. Voice subject to taste.

Voice helps you get inside a character’s head. The more in a character’s head you are, the more you feel, which usually affects how much you like a book. (Of course, if you find the character annoying, you might not want to stick around. Like I said, it’s subjective.)

To see what others in my group have to say about it all, check out the following blog:

Sandy Carlson, starting with this post.
Jaclyn McMahon's take here.