On the childrens-writer list serv through yahoogroups, a member asked about the meanings of style and voice as well as what editors mean by the expression “fresh voice.”
This is from my response:
In an interview for my site, author Kathi Appelt (Miss LadyBird’s Wildflowers: How A First Lady Changed America) said: “Calling on voice is in some ways like calling on the muse. It’s a slippery thing, and not a little magical. I think it has to do with passion and whether or not the subject you’re writing calls to you from somewhere deep, some profound place that means everything to you.”
In yet another, author Bruce Hale (the Chet Gecko series) confided: “…during a free writing exercise, I happened upon the character’s voice. He said, ‘Kids talk. They say I’m someone who can solve mysteries. They’re right. I can. Who am I? Chet Gecko, Private Eye.’ And when I wrote that, I knew the gecko would not be denied.”
To me, “voice” is the expression of character through word choice and cadence.
Think about how a 15 year old Cuban American boy from Los Angeles might speak. What if he’s upper middle class? What if he has a great sense of humor? What if he’s an avidly into science? Now, how might he speak differently than, say, his twin brother with whom he has all those things in common?
What if instead your character was a 78-year-old old Cherokee great-grandmother from Talequah, Oklahoma, who’d lived there her whole life? How does she express herself differently than, say, the other members of the board of the Five Tribes Museum in Muskogee? How about the one who once went to New York City on an airplane?
A first person narrator has a voice. Second and third person narrators have a voice. Every character who speaks in the book has a voice.
“Fresh voice” is essentially a voice that–for whatever reason–commands a reader’s attention. It doesn’t sound like the voice in a thousand other books. It’s somehow groundbreaking. I know that sounds elusive, but at the risk of paraphrasing Justice Potter Stewart, I know it when I hear it. Read until you do, too.
Style is even more vague. I think of it in part as a combination of stylistic choices and devices–first person or third, one viewpoint or three, a book in poems or a book in journal format, heavy on the flashbacks or racing forward at breakneck speed. More globally, I’d probably describe author David Lubar‘s style as humorous, author Annette Curtis Klause‘s style as sensual, and and author Lori Aurelia Williams‘ style as heartwrenching.
I’ve heard my own style described as folksy, lyrical, and indigenous, though neither of my upcoming books fit those descriptions. So maybe style is more about what the book demands than what the author brings to it. If you look at author Jane Yolen‘s vast body of literary trade fiction, she appears to adapt her style to each new story. Or more likely she already has several to draw upon, and reaches for the one that in each case fits best.
Cynsational News & Links
IRA Young Adult Choices 2005 (a PDF file): those I’ve read and recommend include: The Afterlife by Gary Soto (Harcourt); The Creek by Jennifer L. Holm (HarperCollins); My Not-So-Terrible Time at the Hippie Hotel by Rosemary Graham (Viking); Vampire High by Douglas Reese (Delacorte); and Vampire Kisses by Ellen Schreiber (Katherine Tegan).
Author D.L. Garfinkle blogs lately about her recent reads.
Author Ellen Jackson blogs the pros and cons of agents. One pro I’d like to add: an agent may do a better job of shopping your subrights (audio, textbook, foreign, film, etc.).