Thursday, November 17, 2011

The ABC's of Middle Grade: V is for Voice

I'm an orderly, list-follower type; I swear I am. So isn't it the letter D's day? I mean, skipping from last week's 'C is for Characters' to this week's 'V is for Voice'??!!? Holy smokes, what's with that?

Here's what's with that. When I planned the alphabet series, I immediately knew C was characters and V was voice. But what I didn't realize at that moment was how characters and voice are like pancakes and syrup. They just go together. So no matter how many letters separate C and V in the real alphabet, in my middle grade alphabet, V follows C. It just does.

If you write middle grade, you must nail your voice. Middle grade voice is, perhaps, the most difficult voice to nail. We've all heard that, right? And.....IT'S DAUNTING! It just is.

But what I'm discovering is that voice can be built. The manuscript I'm revising didn't have a strong voice at first (or even at second or third). It had plot and characters, but it's taken time to build its voice. And it's not nailed yet, but the more I revise, the stronger its voice grows.

Look for a moment at this photo I took of Tinker toys making the Letter V. I created a simple one, to remind myself--and you!--that voice can be built. Through layers of revision, our story's voice can get stronger.

So, what tips do you have for building a story's voice?


  1. Eve didn't have a very strong voice in my first 3-4 revisions, either. You are totally right it can be built! I spent a lot of time just thinking about what she would do in certain situations, and listening for her to pop out of the thoughts in my head.

  2. For me, I think I need the first couple of drafts to really get to know my character. The voice might be inconsistent or non-existent until then.

    I like the lopsided, polka-dotted V too!

  3. You're so right when you say that voice can be built. I'm barely scratching that surface in my writing journey. So far I've been using characters own way of speaking, how they always react in certain specific situations, and often times their attitude in general.
    I know there is a lot more to it than that though, so I'm curious to read other commenters.

  4. My first drafts always feel voiceless to me. I think the main ingredient I need to create a strong voice is time. The longer I spend working on a project, the more I get a feel for the character and her voice. Great post!

  5. When I'm writing I try to listen and picture the character---and let the twelve year old speak. On revisions I have to back and tweak though, make the voice clearer and reflective of each character. So yes, I say voice can be built, too. Also, reading a lot of middle grade you a feel for the variety that is out there and how it still sounds middle grade<if that makes any sort of sense, lol!

  6. Yes, characters and voice go together. And I completely believe voice can be and is built. I don't really agree with those who say "I can help you improve the plot, but not the voice. Voice is either there or it's not." You can coach a writer in voice, and I've been on both the giving and receiving end of that. :)

  7. How do you define voice? It's tough. It's not just how the characters speak, it's that when they speak, you feel that a living, breathing person is speaking. It's that when they speak it feels authentic and complex, like people are.

    I visualize everything my characters do and say. I'm sure it's due to my screenwriting background, but I play out the scenes in the movie screen of my mind. But, like the others have said, this is developed over time. The voice gets stronger with each draft.

    Also, hang out with 10 year olds if you want to know what they're like.

  8. I'd say start with the dialogue (both inner and outer) and ask if the character would say it that way or if there's a better way to do it. Same for descriptions if they're seen through the character's eyes. Voice is one of the hardest things to nail, but yes it can be done.

  9. Ooooo! I love all this input, thank you. So much of what you said is good 'quotable' stuff, like stuff I can put on a post-it for motivation when I'm feeling lousy about voice.

    Like Marcia, I've heard people say that voice is either there or it's not. And I wasn't sure what to believe, but in my own experience I have SEEN that just because it's not there in the first (or 2nd or 3rd) draft, doesn't mean that it can't be.

  10. OK, I freaked when I saw you were at V already... Thought I'd missed the whole series.

    Great comments, everyone!

  11. Great post! I'm still working on "voice" so it was great to hear what you had to say along with your comments. Thanks!

  12. Ha! I freaked out when I saw you were at V too -- for a moment it was like I'd been asleep for months!

    Middle grade voice is a tough one -- for me it's a combination of vocab, and getting inside the middle grade mindset -- concentrating on the right concerns, noticing the right things.


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