Nuturing Voice

"The mind working alone produces thought; the heart produces feeling; the tongue makes speech and the hand in isolation makes scribble; all four together create voice." Geof Hewitt

This week the Muses turn their attention to the topic of VOICE. How do you develop that elusive, but oh so easy to identify when it's there, quality of VOICE?

I believe voice develops out of practice and having something to say. At the recent Muses fall retreat, I read aloud the newly revised last chapter for SKINNY. One Muse commented, "Boy, you really KNOW these characters." And I did. By that point I knew how they sounded, what words they would choose, and what actions they would take. I'd spent a year learning to listen to their unique voices. It definitely took time and practice.

Writers who write with voice or expressive tone constantly make choices to reflect a personal interest in their subjects. They don't allow themselves to get lost in outlines or a laundry-list form. At least not in the beginning. Sometimes that means I have to go "off script" to really hear the voice of the current WIP. I usually start a new story with journaling -awkward free verse written as fast as possible with a general sense of the character who is speaking. It seems to help me hear the voice without the complication of the necessary plot points that will certainly be needed later.

So how do you recognize and nurture a strong VOICE in your writing? Here's an idea for an exercise. Last week the National Book Award finalists were announced for Young Peoples Literature. The National Book Awards recognizes the best of American literature, raising the cultural appreciation of great writing in the country while advancing the careers of both established and emerging writers. The nominees in this category definitely provide wonderful examples of VOICE. Most of the listed books have sample pages online (click the links below). Read through the samples and compare. What were the choices the author made to bring about a unique VOICE? How is each unique and different in dialogue, sentence structure, word choice, punctuation? Now, journal from the prospective of your main character. Write quickly. Don't stop. Let the VOICE come through.

Franny Billingsley, Chime
(Dial Books, an imprint of Penguin Group USA, Inc. )

Debby Dahl Edwardson, My Name Is Not Easy
(Marshall Cavendish)

Thanhha Lai, Inside Out and Back Again
(Harper, an imprint of HarperCollinsPublishers)

Albert Marrin, Flesh and Blood So Cheap: The Triangle Fire and Its Legacy
(Alfred A. Knopf, an imprint of Random House Children’s Books)

**Lauren Myracle, Shine
(Amulet Books, an imprint of ABRAMS)

Gary D. Schmidt, Okay for Now
(Clarion Books, an imprint of Houghton Mifflin Harcourt)

**Although SHINE was removed from the list (see below), it still serves as a wonderful example of voice.

'Shine' Withdrawn as NBA Young People’s Literature Nominee It turns out there will be only five nominations in the Young People Literature category of the National Book Awards. After receiving a request from the National Book Foundation that she withdraw her book from nomination, Lauren Myracle consented, a move that dropped Shine from the list. Last week, Chime by Franny Billingsley was added as a sixth nominee to the category, and Harold Augenbraum, NBF executive director, confirmed Monday that NBF staff had originally misheard Shine by Lauren Myracle for Chime when the list of nominees was read by the judges over the phone.


Great exercise, Donna! I even got some new material I could use in my manuscript - that is, if I weren't trying to knock down the word count.

Still, it was fun and it's always a joy to read good examples of voice.

I really enjoyed this post and thank you for the links, so helpful--but I seem to be obsessed with the "Shine"/"Chime" NBA----mixup??? Yikes.

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