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Finding Your Voice: Seven Tips

The Rich Writer: Finding Your Voice: Seven Tips

The Rich Writer

How to Thrive on the Writer's Road

Thursday, April 7, 2011

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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