Editor Caroline Meckler of Wendy Lamb Books, an imprint of Random House explains what is meant by voice. For those of you that have attended some of the workshops that the NJSCBWI, you already know how special Caroline is, so you won’t be surprised by her insight on an author’s voice. Here is what she had to say.
Every piece of writing has Voice – it’s the expression of the content, thus some expressions are more compelling than others. Voice is something that must come from within. Voice must already be there for most editors to take on the project.
Caroline discusses the five elements of voice:
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.
The specifics that create a clear image of both the story and the character. Detail 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, not told. The senses should pertain directly to the story, 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 the story and the characters.
This is the technical side of things. It is grammatical structure: varied sentence length, incomplete sentences, run-on sentences, perfectly balanced and correct sentences, etc. This structure shows the reader what kind of story they’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 story an intimate setting where the story and characters are speaking directly to the reader? Or is it a story being by Meg Rosofftold after the fact, in a debriefing kind of situation? Voice is the personality of your writing, meaning it’s the mood or feelings. If the authority of the Voice matches the character, the book comes alive – evoking emotion from the reader.
Here are some examples of books Caroline feels have good Voice:
HOW I LIVE NOW
CALVIN COCONUT by Graham Salisbury
THE OUTLANDISH ADVENTURES OF LIBERTY AIMES by Kelly Easton
ROSIE & SKATE by Beth Ann Bauman
Tip from Caroline: “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.”
Hope this helps. Kathy