Last week, I told you all the wonderful nuggets Jennifer Rofe shared with us at Prairie Writer’s Day. This week, I’m going to share editor Caroline Meckler’s (of Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House) insight on Voice. And it’s amazing insight!
Voice is one of the most nebulous aspects of writing, and I haven’t found a satisfying definition for it. I’ve searched websites and blogs, asked at conferences and other get-togethers, and pretty much everything else short of shouting out questions from my rooftop.
Last month, Caroline Meckler changed all that. Her presentation gave me the clearest, most understandable definition of Voice that I’ve ever heard.
She said every piece of writing has Voice – it’s the expression of the content. Some expressions are more compelling than others... Voice is something that must come from within – editors won’t be much help, especially with first time authors. Voice must already be there for most editors to take on the project.
As to what makes up Voice, Ms. Meckler said there are five elements:
This is the choice of words used both to narrate the story, and in the characters’ dialogue. They should be deliberate, concrete, and surprising (i.e. not predictable). The meaning and connotation of each word should be clear and consistent with both the characters and the story.
These are specifics that create a clear image of both the story and the character. It makes the story and characters seem tangible, and pulls the reader directly into the story. The kind of detail revealed will also reveal aspects of both the story and the characters - the characters because we are seeing his/her perception, and the story because we are seeing the author's perception.
This gives the reader a full-on experience of all five senses. Shown, of course, not told. The senses should pertain directly to the story (as should everything else), as well as reveal more about both the story and characters that we couldn't otherwise see without those senses. This adds to the personality of both the story and the characters.
This is the technical side of things, and has to do with grammatical structure: varied sentence length, run-on sentences, incomplete sentences, perfectly balanced and correct sentences, etc. All of these show the reader what kind of story we're reading, with what kind of character(s) - breathless, perfectionist, intellectual, etc.
This sets the relationship between the writer and reader: close, distant, direct, funny, intense, dramatic, etc. Is this a story being told after the fact, in a debriefing kind of situation? Or is it an intimate setting where the story and characters are speaking directly to the reader?
She went on to say Voice is the personality of your writing, meaning it’s the mood or feelings as a product of the author. The authority of the Voice matches the character, which makes the book come alive - evoking emotion from the reader.
She cited some examples of good Voice:
CALVIN COCONUT by Graham Salisbury
HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff
ROSIE & SKATE by Beth Ann Bauman
THE OUTLANDISH ADVENTURES OF LIBERTY AIMES by Kelly Easton
Then, she closed with some brilliant advice: the wrong Voice will weigh down your story, so keep trying on new Voices until you find the right one. If you stay true to your writing style, it will be easier to both find and keep your Voice.
I don't know about you, but I know exactly what I need to do now in order to strengthen my Voice! Thanks, Ms. Meckler!!