Monday, August 23, 2010

WriteOnCon Notes about Voice (Part One)

WriteOnCon turned out to be a HUGE event. Over 11,000 people attended, from all over the world. Being online and free made it easier for many writers to attend. I'm so glad I did. It was AMAZING!

The lectures and chat transcripts are still up on the main website.  Here's a link to the schedule, including links to each event.

On the first day of the conference, I attended the Live Industry Professional Panel (Mary Kole, Anica Rissi, Joanna Volpe, Suzie Townsend) about voice.  Being the model student that I am, I took some notes. (Click on the link to see the whole chat transcript.)  I have enough notes from this event only for about three or four blog posts.  Here's the first part.
What's the difference between character's voice and author's voice?
Mary Kole: Character voice does blend with your authorial voice. Both deal with word choice and narration style. In YA, a lot of it is first person, so the lines do get crossed. But on the authorial end of things, voice is also about your structure and your sentence structure and how you tell the larger story, not just the voice your character has.

Joanna Volpe: Just like every person on this panel has a different voice, because we're different people, your characters should also have different voices... because they're different people. I think for an author, it's more about STYLE than voice.

Are voice archetypes in YA a good thing or a bad thing?
Anica Rissi: We certainly see a lot of the same voices over and over in the submissions pile. The ones that stand out are distinct.  But yes, there's room for many main characters with sass, snark, shyness, whatever traits in common.

Mary Kole: Because archetypal voices in YA are getting so familiar, writers have to work extra hard to show me voices I haven't heard before. I've seen enough snarky teen (and been a snarky teen for long enough) that just snarky humor isn't going to be a completely, fleshed-out character to me. It has to go deeper than that.

Can each of you give an example of a book with the type of voice you love?
Mary Kole: FEED by M.T. Anderson is a book I always read from when talking about voice.

Anica Rissi: Two of my favorites for voice:  Eileen Cook's GETTING REVENGE ON LAUREN WOOD and Lauren Stransick's NOTHING LIKE YOU.

Suzie Townsend: HOW I LIVE NOW by Meg Rosoff

Mary Kole: I also love, in the middle grade sphere, VIOLET RAINES ALMOST GOT STRUCK BY LIGHTNING by Danette Haworth.

Suzie Townsend: A great example of a recent book I read where the voice is subtle, unique, and so freaking real, is Lennie's voice is THE SKY IS EVERYWHERE.

When speaking of voice, are we talking about the feel of the writing or the feel of the character? Or a mixture of both?
Joanna Volpe: Style is the author's unique way of expressing themselves (essentially, their voice in a way), but since the actual voice of the story changes book per book, character per character... what keeps bringing you back to that particular author? Their writing style. Think of John Green--all of his characters have distinctly different voices, but John's style is raw and honest in an awkward-no-holding-back teen kind of way. He never disappoints when it comes to that.

Suzie Townsend: When I was teaching, I used to tell my students, Voice = Tone + Style + Audience, which is why it's so hard to define

How important is voice in the query letter?
Suzie Townsend: Very. It's what makes a query stand out, just like in a manuscript

Mary Kole: I like some voice and personality in a query but I find that too much feels like schtick to me. I want to make sure that story info is getting the spotlight too.

Anica Rissi: I only read queries from agents (S&S doesn't accept unagented manuscripts), but to me, being grabbed by the voice on page one matters MUCH more.

Joanna Volpe: I think voice is very important in a query letter. So many stories start to sound the same when you take all the elements piece by piece. Girl meets boy. Boy has magical power. Girl has magical power too and must destroy boy. Girl and boy find a way around this and live happily ever after. Right? What makes THAT storyline stand out. Who the characters ARE... their voices.

Suzie Townsend: A recent query described a story about a girl getting texts from her dead boyfriend's phone. She goes on a road trip to find out who's sending the texts "mostly so she can punch that jerk in the face." Just the mention of that gives voice to the character in the query. I know who that character is.

(Click here to read Part 2 and Part 3.)


Jennifer Shirk said...

Thanks for sharing this!

I especially LOVE hearing about books/voices that agents like.

Annie McMahon said...

Thanks for stopping by, Jennifer. My list of books to read is getting longer by the minute.

Post a Comment