Tag Archive: Voice


This gorgeous photo is by LaurenV and I found it on Flickr. I wonder what they're saying! For more photos by this artist, click on the picture.



I’m sorry.  I know I promised my next installment in adult themes in young adult literature today.  It was going to be about sex in kid’s literature but I was out late last night and didn’t get to the promised essay.  I will resume this series on Wednesday.

Instead of writing on my blog (bad Kate!) I was at an amusement park enjoying an after hours Halloween Scare night!  It just happened to be a buy-one-get-one-free night for the local college kids, so I spent last night surrounded by the 18-22 year old crowd.  Needless to say, I was listening in on many conversations while I waited in line.

The phrase du jour?  Epic Fail.  When the girl in front of me at the ticket line realized that she had forgotten her cell phone her response was, “I know.  I’m an epic fail.”  When a guy leaped off of a bench, he noted, “Awww, Dude.  That was an epic fail.”  Two notes on that one: “dude” is still being used (????) and I’m not sure what would have constituted an epic success in that situation.

Also, there is a certain subgroup of young adult that speaks every sentence like it’s a question.  I’m going to approximate a conversation I listened in on.

Do you know Ella?  She that girl with the long blond hair that looks kind of funny but she’s super nice?  She one of my suite mates?  We went to Satan House?  She.  Totally.  Freaked.  Out.  Like, not just scared but crying.  We tried to get her out but there wasn’t any way to get out?  I felt really bad.

I immediately liked the girl who was telling the story.  She was very sympathetic, talked super fast, and so earnest it made me want to smile.  Of course all proper names have been changed to protect the innocent.  So, the fast-talking, earnest questioner may have to find a place in one of my manuscripts.

So, what young adult slang have you noticed lately?  Do you have a child that uses some phrase that catches your ear?  Or do you like to make up young adult phrases in your writing hoping one will catch on?







What’s Your Point of View?

I'm the sixth person from the left--Just Kidding. This fabulous image is by James Cridland and I found it on Flickr. Click the image for more of his work.

First of all: Do not adjust your computer.  I was playing with the blog’s appearance.  Let me know how you like the new look!

Now, down to business: They say that every part of the book you write is a choice.  Each word choice sets the tone.  The setting helps to create a mood.  Even the title draws a reader in.  So how do you go about choosing what point of view to use?

My choices are narrowed down to two.  I don’t write in the second person, where the reader is considered the main character in a book.  Good examples of this are those CHOOSE YOUR OWN ADVENTURE books.  And in this case it serves a purpose.  The reader makes decisions in each book and decides where the story is going to go.  Second person is a logical choice.  I also don’t use the omniscient point of view.  I would like to say that I don’t use it because I don’t like the distance it creates between the reader and the characters.  The reality is that it’s hard for me to achieve without being confusing.  You can be in anyone’s head at any time.  Masters, like Charles Dickens can make it work in A TALE OF TWO CITIES, but I, unfortunately, haven’t figured it out yet.

This leaves the first and third person limited points of view.  I’ve dabbled in both.

The first book that I wrote, the one that still sits lonely in a drawer (and on my hard drive) was written in the third person.  I had the hardest time with this manuscript.  It didn’t seem to have any voice.  The narration was flat.  I tried playing with point of view shifts.  That made it worse and I couldn’t figure out why.

In my second manuscript, the one that got a little bit of play with agents was written in the first person.  The first several drafts of the first chapter were written in the third person.  I just couldn’t make it work.  It was the same problem: no voice, no flair, too flat.  So, after a whole bunch of frustration, I started writing from the point of view of my main character, Eve.

It wasn’t supposed to be more than a writing exercise but I got writing magic.

The voice popped.  I knew it the second I started putting Eve’s words on the page.  It was worth foregoing point of view shifts (I don’t really like it when the first person point of view shifts, even though Anne Rice and Stephanie Meyers have done it in highly successful books) to get the rock-solid voice.  Plus, when I look back on it, it made logical sense.  The story was Eve’s; it really shouldn’t leave her point of view.

For six months after I finished this manuscript, the successful first person point of view ruined me.  I had trouble writing any other way and I had serious trouble leaving Eve’s voice behind.  I was beginning to wonder if I had any other voice in me.  Therefore, recently (as in, this month), I decided to try third person again.

Ta-dah !

I found a third person voice.  It’s completely different from the Eve-voice and again makes sense for the story I’m trying to tell.  This story is darker.  It’s creepy.  I want there to be a level of uncertainty about whether or not my main character will make it to the end of the book.  If the voice holds up through the end of the book, I’ll call it more writing magic.  We’ll just have to wait and see.

So, how about you?  What type of point of view do you favor?  Have you tried more than one?  Do you have any tips or hints for people struggling with choosing a point of view or making a specific one work?

Add a Little Culture

I have some good news and some bad news.  The good news is that I’m happily writing on my next book.  This is really good news, actually.  For a while there I was having trouble settling on one project.  I actually have three that I’ve been playing with and I haven’t been able to commit to one.  I’ve found that there’s absolutely no way for me to finish a big project unless I seriously commit.  So splitting my attention three ways is not a recipe for success.

The bad news is that I’m reading less.  To be honest, when I’m on a role with the writing, I don’t like to derail myself.  Forcing myself to read when I would rather be writing feels like self-sabotage.  The book I am currently reading, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES AT THE WHISTLE STOP CAFÉ by Fanny Flagg, has been in my bag for over a week.  It usually takes me no more than a day and a half to finish a book.  Plus, I never intended to blog that book anyway.

So what does this mean for the blog?

I have a whole stack of books that I’m just itching read.  I am going to get to them and pass my deconstruction on to you.  However, while I’m deeply into my writing, I think I’m going to blog about writing for a little while.  I hope nobody minds.

So, in the spirit of FRIED GREEN TOMATOES (which, by the way, I love) I’d like to talk about creating dialect in writing.  As you may know, FRIED GREEN TOMATOES is a book steeped in southern culture split between the story of Idgie and Ruth (starting in the 1930’s) and Evelyn and Mrs. Threadgoode (Set in the mid 1980’s).  One of the things I noticed as I was reading this book was that Ms. Flagg manages to create a distinctive southern voice without too much folksy spelling.

This is a real talent.  I tried to create a character with a German accent and I cut the guy in revisions.  He was just too cartoonish and I didn’t know how to be more subtle.  Yet, books like FRIED GREEN TOMATOES, THE COLOR PURPLE, and MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, manage to infuse easy-to-read writing with a flavor of another culture.  Here are the tips I have picked up:

1. Minimize spelling out things to sound like the accent of a particular culture.  Sure, Ms. Flagg spells out a few commonly used words like “cain’t” and “Miz” but for the most part she relies on word choices and cadence to ground us in the setting.

2. Use your turns of phrase wisely.  In FRIED GREEN TOMATOES Idgie is described as being wrapped around Ruth’s finger like red around a barber’s pole.  What a wonderful image!  In MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA, things are often described in terms of astrology.  It really grounds you in Asian mysticism and superstition.

3. Making reference to the culture adds in a way that all the creative spelling in the world can’t.  Southern cooking and southern traditions help to imply an accent so you don’t have to be so explicit in the writing.  Southern cooking is one commonly used reference.  MEMOIRS OF A GEISHA was like an educational course in Asian culture.

So what works for you?  Have you tried to create a character from a different culture?  Have you ever tried to work an accent into your writing?  Do you have any tips to share?  I’d love to hear from you!

Voice.  It’s the one thing that will make a writer wax poetic for hours.  Do you have a voice?  Is it an authentic voice?  Is it a consistent voice?  Is it a strong voice?  Can I lose my voice? (OK, I’m just making fun with that one)  Here’s what I know: every book that I’ve ever loved has had a very strong voice.

To me, voice is that quality in writing that makes you feel like the narrator or point of view character is speaking directly to you.  When you write with voice, you’re not dictating your story to your reader; you’re engaging your reader in a very lopsided conversation.  They’re nodding sympathetically while you talk.

In my second novel, after about ten false starts, I found a voice.  I knew the story I wanted to tell in that book.  I knew the middle and most of the end.  But where to start?  I wrote beginning after beginning, because something just wasn’t working.  It was horribly frustrating.  I wrote in the third person and the first person.  I started with description and then dialog, and then action.  Finally, because I was so aggravated, I put it down for about a month.  When I picked it back up, I could hear the “voice” of my main character.  She was tough and sarcastic.  This book HAD to be written in the first person.

So what had I been doing wrong?

  • I wasn’t writing with any confidence.  I wasn’t sure who my main character was.  I didn’t know how she should sound.  That made my writing tentative and the voice just dried up.
  • My writing was very self-conscious because I was thinking too much about the rules of writing.  Even as I was trying to compose a paragraph, I would wonder if I was using too many adverbs or if the sentences were too long for such an action-y scene or if I was staying consistent with my themes in my figures of speech.  It’s a ridiculous way to write.  Nothing flows when you’re just thinking about the rules!  Besides, that’s what revisions are for.
  • I didn’t trust my readers.  I was micro-managing the audience with too much description and too much stage managing. I was inserting my ego into the story ahead of my character’s personality.

As soon as I loosened up, trusted myself, and let the writing flow, the “voice” was there.

It’s not like I’m in the clear, though.  For the life of me, I can’t get a good voice when I’m writing in the third person. It’s frustrating for me because there are some stories I think belong in a more distant point of view.  So, I keep hoping a narrator’s voice will find me.

As a final note, literary agent extraordinaire Nathan Bransford wrote a fantastic blog about the components of voice. You know how I love a good dissection!  It helped me look at my own style.  So if you need a great read about voice, check this out.

What about you?  How do you define voice? Do you feel like you’ve found your voice or are you still looking for it?  What do you do to help develop your voice?

I love that photograph!  It’s by ktylerconk and I found this art on flickr.