Monday, January 10, 2011

WriteOnCon Notes about Voice (Part Two)

In August, I attended the Live Industry Professional Panel (Mary Kole, Anica Rissi, Joanna Volpe, Suzie Townsend) about voice on WriteOnCon. (Click on the link above to see the whole chat transcript and Jamie's pink hair.)  I have enough notes from this event only for about three or four blog posts.  Here's Part Two (click here for Part One):

How quickly can you tell, when reading a submission, that the author has a voice/style that intrigues you? Is it something that has to capture you from that first line, or do you let manuscripts unfold a little bit in the hope that a voice develops with the progression of the book?

Anica Rissi:  Well, there's certainly such a thing as over-writing. And words such as "like," "totally," "you know," and "f**k"--these words we drop into conversation, constantly--stand out much more on the page, can slow down the eye, and quickly get annoying.  I'm always looking for new writers, and a lot of first-timers take longer to hit their stride in a manuscript, so I give it a chapter--but if I'm not connecting with the voice after 10, 15 pages, I stop reading.

Mary Kole:  I agree with Anica. It's very easy for voice to feel strained and affected... like the author feels like they have to swear or include dialogue quirks to somehow pump more voice into their writing.  I need to see some voice on the first page. If there's a glimmer, I get to page 10. But voice is usually working well when it's immediate and absorbing. If I'm not feeling grabbed by it, I don't know if I'll wait around.

Suzie Townsend:  Honestly, I've gotten to the point where I just don't have time to allow a manuscript to grab me on page 50. If I don't feel interested in the voice and the character by page 5, it's a pass.

Joanna Volpe:  As readers, we know what kind of voices we are drawn to, even though we might not REALIZE that we know. It's the type of thing you read and think "Wow. I *love* this!" And usually that's right from the start. I might give a little leeway on a query, but like Anica said, once we get to page One, I need to be connected to that character.

What about books that are balancing two characters' voices in one story? How can you tell that it is working?

Anica Rissi:  Do you mean alternating narrators? My BIGGEST pet peeve with those books is when both narrators have the same voice.  Even if it's not alternating viewpoints/narration, you should also make sure that your characters don't all speak with the same mannerisms/inflections (usually that they don't speak like you). Each character's dialogue should be true to that character.

Mary Kole:  YES, Anica. WHY have multiple POVs when you can't pull even one distinct POV off?

Suzie Townsend:  You have to be able to read the different sections and not EVER wonder "wait, who's voice is this?" They have to be very distinctly different.

Mary Kole:  Exactly, Suzie. If I'm reading a book with multiple POVs and I have to flip to the beginning of the chapter to see who's talking, I'm done.

Joanna Volpe:  John Green's WILL GRAYSON, WILL GRAYSON has two distinct voices (and yes, in this case two distinct authors as well). You can tell that it's working when you're reading.  Once a new section starts, you know who's narrating that section without having to look. The voices are distinct.

Is there a "type" of voice you see too much of?

Mary Kole:  I see too much sarcastic/bitchy for the sake of sarcastic/bitchy. I was a hugely (ha! "was"!) sarcastic teen and I thought I was just the smartest thing in the world, and the funniest. There's a lot of depth to sarcasm and dark humor. If you're just giving your character an edge because you hear those young people today are so snarky, it's not going to ring true.

Suzie Townsend:  I'm not sure of a "type" other than boring. Which sounds harsh, but if the voice doesn't make the character come off the page it just doesn't feel *real*.

Anica Rissi:  Yes, "too much X for the sake of being X"--whatever X is, if you're doing it for the sake of doing it, you're forcing it, and as a reader, I'm not buying it.

Joanna Volpe:  Snarky/chick-lit type voices and depressed angsty voices... I see much too much of both. I'm okay with more of these, but there needs to be something fresh in there too. (That probably doesn't help, eek!)

How is voice different from personality? Or are they the same?

Mary Kole:  Personality comes through voice and dialogue and action. But voice also informs word choice. Syntax. Outlook on the world. The things your character notices. How they describe them, etc.

Can you recognize a less-experienced author--does her voice completely give away her level of experience and thus writing ability?

Anica Rissi:  We certainly can recognize an author who reached the end of the first draft and sent it right out, without putting it away for a few months then coming back to revise, like she should have...

Suzie Townsend:  Not necessarily. I know plenty of new authors that have a great voice. I'd say that I can usually tell if someone doesn't read their genre based on a lacking voice because it screams unauthentic.

Mary Kole:  For me, the writing quality itself tips me off to a beginning writer. Sentences that run too long. Lots of cliches. Really dry, boring information. That's more of a dead giveaway. Some beginners have raw voice talent. Others have a hunk of prose that's pretty hard to read.  INFO-DUMPING IS THE WORST THING EVER!!!!

(Click here to read Part 1 and Part 3.)


Unknown said...

That's all good advice. WriteOn was a fantastic convention.

Tamara Hart Heiner said...

I can totally totally agree w/ the snarky/depressed voices for the sake of being. enough already!

erica and christy said...

We were "there" too, but it's been a while and this post came at a perfect time for me! I needed these reminders today. Christy

Paul Joseph said...

This is a very helpful post overflowing with advice and tips. Thanks so much for sharing!!

Annie McMahon said...

Thanks, everyone! :)

Emailman said...

This is a great post, Annie :) I wonder if they can tell I'm a new author? :D

patti.mallett_pp said...

Thanks for this post, Annie. I was at the convention and took lots of notes but this reminded me I didn't get quite finished and need to get back there and dig into the archives. It was great to have some high points noted here and very helpful at this point in my WIP.

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