Monday, May 02, 2016

Hearing Voices

At the NESCBWI writing conference, I did a whopping 3 workshops, all on one day. Some highlights below.


I rather intensely dislike all things electronic, so I admit I don't blog, tweet, fb, link in, etc. etc. as much as I ought, but something I love intensely is to be able to help other writers out, in real life, in the flesh, in person. And I feel so happy and grateful every time I get the chance to do this, as I did, this weekend, at NE SCBWI. 

Every time I see someone out there whose eyes are so hopeful, someone I am able to reach out to, some aspiring writer whom I can assist in some small way, it makes me feel more alive, more grounded, and more inspired. I felt like I was able to give a lot more than my usual number of short pep talks to as yet unpublished writers during the past three days, and this alone, if nothing else, made me happier than I can express.

Below are a few points from the workshop I did on "voice" - along with a list of books I recommended. There are so many marvelous examples of voice, though, so this is just an eclectic list of what popped into my mind as I was planning my talk. 

Voice, to me, is flavor. It's not about accurately reproducing the way someone speaks (I know no one who speaks with the fluidity of a written voice); it's about effectively conveying insights into characters, about capturing time and place in a manner that's unique. Each writer, each character has a voice that is - or should - reflect their individuality. Listen all you can - but learn, don't try to repeat what you've heard precisely on the page. To me, it's a little like making tea. Your first draft probably contains all the elements of voice, but just as you need to toss out the teabag once the flavor's steeped into the water, you need to cut away words/phrases/sentences/paragraphs that don't fit the voice you've chosen for your story. Voice is choice. Voice influences, but doesn't dictate subject matter. Literary novels are often written in lyrical voices (whether they're lush and rich or lean and spare) and a literary voice pairs well with quieter novels. That doesn't mean, of course, a literary novel cannot have a lot of action. I remember how surprised - and thrilled - I was when one of the starred reviews of ISLAND'S END referred to its "heart-stopping action" !

Novels I referred to during my talk, including my own:
Realistic/Contemporary: Speak, What Jamie Saw, Maniac McGee, A Time to Dance, all Sarah Pennypacker's Clementine books, Paula Danzider's Amber Brown books
Fairytale/Fablelike Voice: The Underneath, Island's End, Where the Mountain Meets the Moon, The Wind in the Willows, The House at Pooh Corner
Fantasies rich in detail: Inkheart, Tuck Everlasting, Redwall, Eragon, The Lord of the Rings, The Narnia Series
Literary Sci-fi: The House of the Scorpion, The Giver, Flowers for Algernon
Historical Fiction: Climbing the Stairs, Chains, Elijah of Buxton, Daughter of Venice Catherine, Called Birdy, The Gift of Sarah Baker, Roll of Thunder, Hear my Cry
Nonfiction: Most Dangerous, Symphony for the city of the dead, Tracking Trash: Flotsam, Jetsam and the Science of Ocean Motion, Feathers: Not Just for Flying

Verse novels set outside the United States that Holly Thompson and I referred to in our session: 
Helen Frost's The Braid, Meg Wivott's Paper Hearts, Mariko Nagai's Dust of Eden, Maria Testa's Something about America, Joyce Lee Wong's Seeing Emily, Steve Herrick's By the River, Andrea Davis Pinkney's The Red Pencil, Terry Farish's The Good Braider, Stephanie Hemphill's Sisters of Glass, Dana Walrath's Like Water on Stone, Margarita Engle's The Poet Slave of Cuba and Enchanted Air, Annie Donwerth-Chikamatsu's Somewhere Among, Sarah Crossan's The Weight of Water, Thanha Lai's Inside Out and Back Again, Leza Lowitz's Up from the Sea, Melanie Crowder's Audacity, Skila Brown's Caminar, Jennifer Roy's Yellow Star, Marilyn Hilton's Full Cicada Moon, Juan Felipe Herrera's Downtown Boy, Ching Yeung Russel's Tofu Quilt, Holly Thompson's Falling Into the Dragon's Mouth, Orchards, and the Language Inside, and of course, my A TIME TO DANCE.

Novels featuring characters with disabilities that Amitha Knight, Carrie Banks and I mentioned during our session: A Time to Dance, of course, and Challenger Deep by Neal Shusterman, Tending to Grace by Kimberley Newton Fusco, Me and Rupert Goody by Barbara O'Connor, The War that Saved My Life by Kimberly Brubaker Bradley, El Deafo by Cece Bell, The Memory of Light by Francisco Stork, Rogue by Lynn Miller Lachmann, When Reason Breaks by Cindy Rodriguez, on the Edge of Gone by Corrine Duyvis. A nonfiction title that we mentioned was  Including the Families of Children with Special Needs by Carrie Banks. 

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