Manuscript Monday #6

Manuscript Monday is a series of blog posts which chronicle the life of my manuscript. It follows the journey I take to turn my week old baby story idea into a fully grown, polished novel. Take the journey with me. 🙂

My 6 week- old manuscript:

I’ve been asking myself a question all week? What is the trick to finding your character’s voice?

Writers know how important it is to have great voice in their story. The trick is knowing exactly how to do that. I’m sure many of you have scoured the internet for articles on this very subject, just like I have. And I bet you’ve heard this phrase over and over again: Voice is hard to describe, but if a story has it, you will recognize it.

That’s so true. One of my very favorite books, LOVE AUBREY, by Suzanne LeFleur has amazing voice. Another, a debut middle grade that was just released, AT YOUR SERVICE, by Jen Malone has fantastic voice in my opinion too. Chloe is a 13 year- old girl, but not just any 13 year-old girl. And you’ll feel like you know her, and know how she would react to any situation after just a few pages. The voice in the story leaps right off the page.

But…even if you know how to recognize a story with great voice, it’s still takes a high level of writing skill to write a novel that has it. Of course some writers seem to be born with this skill. Don’t you hate those writers?? The rest of us may have to work at a bit. In my quest to weave voice into my current manuscript, I’ve come up with a trick, or maybe more of an exercise to help you find yours.

A few months ago, when I was working on revisions for my last novel, I tried to focus on where in my manuscript the voice was lacking. I scanned each chapter and highlighted areas where I felt my main character really displayed great voice. Those are the passages I wanted to study. Why does she come to life in those places? I came to two conclusions:

  1. She uses phrases the reader knows she would say, even without knowing that she’s the one that said them.
  2. She has a certain way of saying things, like only she would say them. These small details bring what she says to life.

Once I recognized this, I found paragraphs where she fell flat. There wasn’t much emotion in what she said. It could have been any character speaking the words. In fact, she wasn’t speaking in “her speak” at all. She made statements or asked questions, but not in a way that stayed true to her character. Those are the scenes I rewrote, working to make her feel more alive. The result was a scene that sucked the reader in. Readers follow characters they connect with. They rarely will connect with a character who falls flat.

So the million dollar question for many writers is: How do I find my character’s voice? How do I make her sound like a real person? If a character (honestly) feels real to you, she will feel real to your reader.

This trick may help. Find a paragraph that includes your main character. In a new document, copy this paragraph. Under it, tell what you have learned about your character from reading it. How difficult this task is, will determine how well you’ve written with voice. You should be able to tell a lot about them just by this paragraph!

Don’t be discouraged if you can’t. The reason why, may be that you don’t know what you’re trying to convey in that paragraph to bring the character to life. Try this:

Take that same paragraph and rewrite it several times. Your job, when writing each paragraph, is to convey a different attitude for your character.

I’ll give you an example of how I did that for the opening paragraph of my latest middle grade novel:

In my opening paragraph, eleven year-old Kia is sitting in an outdoor theater with her class for the Opening Ceremony of the Piedmont Challenge on a really hot day.

To find her voice, I rewrote it several times:

(Angry Kia)

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School. All five hundred of us are squished shoulder to shoulder for the opening ceremony. I mean are you kidding me? The Piedmont people couldn’t spring for a bigger place for us to hold this opening ceremony. Who can I talk to about this? Heads are about to roll.

(Nervous Kia)

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School. All five hundred of us are squished shoulder to shoulder for the opening ceremony. The sun is scorching the back of my neck. My pony tail even feels hot. I don’t care about the heat. My sweaty palms are the problem. What if I drop my competition tickets? What if I faint before I get to the front of the line? What if I drop the tickets once I get them?

(Confident Kia)

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School, where all five hundred are squished shoulder to shoulder for the opening ceremony. The sun is scorching the back of my neck. My pony tail feels hot. Good thing this competition is going to be a piece of cake. I’ll solve my tasks in no time and get home to jump in the pool by noon.

(Spoiled Kia)

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School, where all five hundred are squished shoulder to shoulder. The sun is scorching the back of my neck so bad even my perfect pony tail feels hot. I am so disgusted with this whole situation. How can we be expected to solve not one but seven tasks in these conditions? My lip gloss is dripping now too. Where is my assistant, with my fan?

Now there’s a fair bit of “telling” in these examples, but I want you to notice instead how different each of these characters are. See how voice can bring your character to life in so many different ways? As you read through the examples, did Kia seem like a different person in each one? None of these examples are the actual opening paragraph in my manuscript, but they helped me flesh out who Kia really is- what type of personality I wanted her to have. In this situation, I wondered, How would Kia react to her circumstances? She’s at the opening ceremony for a big competition. The stadium is a million degrees. Hmm…

Here’s my real opening…until I change it again because writing with perfect voice is hard!

My sixth grade class sits in the amphitheater outside Crimson Elementary School. All five hundred of us are squished shoulder to shoulder for the Opening Ceremony. I don’t mind that the sun is scorching the back of my neck or even that my ponytail feels hot. The metal bleachers may be burning my legs too, right through my uniform skirt but it doesn’t matter. None of that can wreck this day. I’ve been waiting five whole years for it to come.  

In this paragraph, I’m trying to show that Kia is excited for the competition while including some sensory details in the process. Does it work? I’m not sure, but I’ll keep working on it!

For my new manuscript, I did this very exercise this week with my opening. Before I get too far along, I want be sure I know who Atria is, what type of person I want her to be. I can’t tell you how much it has helped me to do this! I hope it works for you too. Now I’m off to write more words. Hopefully a lot of them! Good look to you on your writing too. 🙂 See you Wednesday!

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