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Finding Your Voice: Seven Tips

Cheryl's Musings: Finding Your Voice: Seven Tips

Cheryl's Musings

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road


Finding Your Voice: Seven Tips

Despite the oft-repeated advice for authors to write for a single audience (to build that elusive brand), many childen’s writers write for both middle graders and young adults. Denise Vega entertains middle school students with her novels Click Here (to find out how I survived seventh grade) and Access Denied (and other eighth grade error messages), but reaches teens in Fact of Life #31 and the soon-to-be-released Rock On. (She also writes picture books, but only because she’s an overachiever <grin>).        Pictures

Fantasy author Hilari Bell targets younger readers with fast-paced adventure in The Prophecy and Wizard Test, but writes for a more mature audience in books such as her latest release, Trickster’s Girl. How do they do it? How does one change from a young voice to teen and back again?

I’m thinking about this question because I spent the past year writing and re-writing a contemporary young adult novel—and trying to write in an older character’s voice—and now that I’m drafting another middle grade novel, the voice won’t come out as young as I think it should.

It made me question whether I’m writing the right story. Should this actually be a young adult novel? Should I write about a teen protagonist, possibly female, instead of a male seventh grade student? Worth considering—but the answer turns out to be “no”. The story is best suited to a younger audience. So…I need to get my voice in line.

How do successful authors manage to switch writing voice to suit their audience? How do I pull this off? I don’t have a set-in-stone answer, because this is a work-in-progress; but here are some strategies I’ve found helpful:

  1. Collect “mentor books,” great reads that are aimed at your  target audience. These aren’t necessarily to re-read, but to inspire. Pick a page or chapter to enjoy; notice how the author handles pacing, dialog, character thoughts, and description.
  2. Post a sticky note in your writing space (originally inspired by children's author R.L. LaFevers): “It’s the voice, stupid :)” Keeping this reminder close at hand helps me ask whether I’m writing what a kid would find important or if, for instance, I’m indulging my love of description.
  3. Journal or free write from your main character’s (mc) point of view. This is a low-pressure way to practice focusing on what he thinks and observes.
  4. Journal or free write memories of your 12-year-old self. By mining those memories, I can slide more easily into my mc’s head.
  5. List your mc’s worries and fears. Ask what will be top of his mind in school, biking home, hanging out with friends, seeing his sister, eating dinner with his family.
  6. Eavesdrop on local 12-year-olds (preferably with parental permission <grin>). There’s no better way to remind yourself of a young person’s priorities, humor, and interactions with others than by hanging out with them.
  7. When all else fails, keep pounding out that first draft. Often I don’t nail my character’s voice until I’ve completed that first draft—and I give my permission not to do so. I know I can fix and tighten on the rewrite.

What about you? Do you write for different audiences? Do you have any tips to share on finding your character’s voice?

:^) Cheryl

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At April 8, 2011 at 6:52 AM , Blogger Andrea Mack said...

Thanks for the great tips!

At April 8, 2011 at 6:59 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

This is a fabulous post! I had this issue with my first WIP. I recently stated in a blog post that in hindsight it should have been an Urban Fantasy. I think the main reason I struggled with that manuscript was because I was trying to shove it into a Young Adult skin it just wouldn't fit in to. Those characters could not thrive in a Young Adult world. Sometimes we as writers put limits on our work by not seeing it for what it really is. Finding the right voice is about letting your characters do the talking. LOL...I think you just gave me something to blog about today! I'll link to this post. :)

At April 8, 2011 at 10:12 AM , Blogger Unknown said...

Brilliant post. I recently pondered on sculpting characters with the same result. You need to get the psychology- the personas- right before anything else. You need to understand how they think. Get in their head to get it right. You've got some great methods to tease out that psychology.

At April 9, 2011 at 1:22 PM , Blogger Kenda Turner said...

Great reminders here--I've used most of these tips along the way, especially journaling. So far the one that has worked the best for me is the pounding of the keys! Each revision has shed more insight/strengthened the MC's voice.

New follower here. Nice to meet you :-)

At April 9, 2011 at 1:35 PM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

Thanks Andrea!

Charissa, I'm glad I struck a chord--and gave you something to blog about! I'll hop over and have a look. It's funny how characters have their own ideas about who they should be, isn't it?

Hi Phil :). I enjoyed your characters post. I think figuring out character can be a chicken-and-egg process, though--I like to figure out everything beforehand (I'm definitely a plotter, not a pantster), but sometimes I don't really know who the characters are until I've written the story.

At April 9, 2011 at 1:37 PM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

Hi Kendra, nice to meet you, too! I think that key-pounding is my best strategy, too. Sometimes I feel like I don't know enough about my character to write in their voice--and yet writing the character is what gives me the voice. Writing is a circular process, isn't it?

At April 10, 2011 at 4:05 PM , Blogger Julie Musil said...

These are such great tips. I find that reading in the right genre makes a huge difference. Even then I don't get it right sometimes, and hope that I'll catch it in revision. Good luck with your wip :D

At April 10, 2011 at 9:28 PM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

Thanks, Julie--I'm so inspired by all the great feedback and encouragement! I'm moving forward on the book (slowly) and trusting that the voice will come....

At April 15, 2011 at 7:06 PM , Blogger Unknown said...

Wow, great post! I needed this. I'm having trouble nailing down my mc's voice and age. At the beginning, she's 13-ish, but by the end she's about 16. Part of the reason is that she matures a lot over the course of the book, but not THAT much!

I never thought to write about my own memories at that age. Great idea!

I'd love to link to this post when I talk about character voice on my blog.

At April 17, 2011 at 4:15 PM , Blogger Cheryl Reif said...

Hi Emily, I'm so glad you found these ideas helpful. They definitely helped me--I'm starting to get a MUCH better handle on my main character's voice. I think I may still be trying to cram too much plot into a middle grade novel, but that's a problem for another day....

Oh, and I'd be delighted if you wanted to link to this. I'd love to read your thoughts on finding your voice, too.


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