Tag Archives: voice

Authors on Craft: Jodi McKay on Voice

Let your VOICE be heard!

Discussing the concept of voice with the voices in my head.

“How can I let my voice be heard?”

“Will it make a difference?”

“What the hell is voice?”

You can nail down voice with a bit of practice and it does make a big difference in your writing, but first let’s talk about what voice is.

An Author’s Voice is writing that is unique to the writer. It allows readers to understand what type of writer you are because the the tone, word choices, rhythm, structure, the personality of the stories are consistent from book to book.

Think of Dr. Seuss’s books for a minute. They each have a similar lyrical style with silly characters, quirky words, and (for the most part) upbeat moods. His voice is loud and clear which makes his books easily recognizable. Readers who like that style will come back for more because they know they will not be disappointed and that makes a difference in a reader’s life, especially a young reader.

“I totally want to be the next Mo Willems.”

No you don’t, you want to be the next you. Sheesh, aren’t you listening? Clearly you need some practice with finding your author voice. Try these exercises:

  1. Describe your personality. How do these traits inform your writing?
  2. Ask other people to read your work to see if there are patterns in the way you write.
  3. Read a ton of books. Which ones do you like? Why? Which ones don’t you like? Why? How does your style of writing compare?
  4. Write a lot! As you are writing take a second to assess how it feels. Do you like what you are writing? Why? Do you feel good when you are writing or does it feel like work?

“I need more coffee for this.”

Fine, but then we need to move on to Character Voice.

“I’m back. Speaking of character voice, I have this character who is a real jerk. Does that mean that I’m a jerk because it’s essentially coming from me?”

Good question. Sometimes you are a jerk, but that’s not why your character is. A character’s voice is simply a view point portrayed with word choice, attitude, and rhythm. These show the character’s age, personality, beliefs, education, and feelings and makes the character believable. These do not have to be a reflection of the author.

Think of Stephen King’s, Carrie. Carrie is a 16-year-old girl whose naiveté and timid personality were a result of the unstable, overzealous, and tyrannical parenting style of her mother. Those are two disparate character voices, neither of which have anything to do with who Stephen King is as a person.

“Ooh, what if Stephen King really has telekinesis like Carrie?”

Focus, please. Again, the characters do not have to be an extension of the author. They do, however, need to be believable. The words King gave to his characters, especially that crazy-ass mother in Carrie, made them seem real and they evoked feelings that caused the reader (me) to want to keep reading. It’s important to really get to know your character before you start writing so that your story feels authentic otherwise readers will be pulled out of the story as soon as they feel like the character is unrealistic.

“You’re going to make me to do more writing exercises aren’t you?”

Here, have some chocolate and stop complaining. This is important. Getting voice down is essential to having your work stand out from the rest. It is your way of speaking to the masses and possibly creating change. You never know if one of your characters will be the catalyst for a child’s view on discrimination or a person’s willingness to change. Do the work, the readers deserve no less than the best!

Try this get-to-know-your-character chart. It’s a fun way to, um, get to know your characters.

“All right, I’m going to do it! I’m going to let my voice be heard and I’m going to listen closer to the voices of my fellow writers.”

What do you all think? How will you let your voice be heard?

13879203_10210761791699981_1471649385510257844_nJodi McKay is the author of the very voicey picture book, WHERE ARE THE WORDS (Albert A. Whitman Books, 2016), illustrated by Denise Holmes. You can find Jodi online at JodiMcKayBooks.com and @JLMcKay1



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Say What? – Why These Are My Favorite Books About Writing

There are many books out there that give you information about writing or publishing. But these are some of my favorites: Bird by Bird by Anne Lamott; On Writing: A Memoir of Craft by Stephen King; The Forest for the Trees by Betsy Lerner; Second Sight by Cheryl Klein.

I like these particular books for the same reason I like most of the books that I like:  the VOICE.


The authors give their tidbits of information, or share their stories, or proffer their advice, and I can hear who they are when they do it. I aspire to maintain my voice when I blog, and sometimes I achieve that and sometimes I don’t. Sometimes I’m too brash; other times I’m much nicer than I actually am. Ultimately it all feels like a persona anyway, not really an authentic representation of who I am.

Of course its different when you’re writing fiction, because then the voice of your characters is what you’re going for. That’s equally important, but different still.

How do you think your voice measures up in your writing? When you write fiction does it feel authentically you? Do the voices of your fictional characters sound the way you thought they would? What do you think about books on writing? 


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Palimpsest: In whose voice do your characters speak?

Let’s talk about “voice.” Way back in the Paleolithic era, when I was in graduate school, I had a professor whose area of research was the poet, H.D. Ok, it wasn’t the Paleolithic, it was the 80’s, and evidently it was hot to study H.D. back then because she was some big pre-feminist icon who hung out with Freud. Be that as it may, I learned nothing about H.D. or her poetry but I did learn the word “palimpsest.” Apparently H.D. wrote a poem using imagery of the palimpsest. (Or a collection of poems, or a whole book… I don’t know. See I really didn’t learn anything in graduate school!) “What, pray tell, is a palimpsest?!” you may ask. Well, a palimpsest is a page from a scroll or book made of parchment, where the writing has been removed in order to use the parchment again. (Recycling is not a new idea.) Parchment is made from animal skin and the original text was scraped and washed off using milk and oat bran. What makes it unusual and interesting is that over the course of time the original writing kind of resurfaces. Cool, right?

So now you’re probably saying to yourself, “Interesting, but why is she talking about this when she said we were going to be talking about voice?” Well, the palimpsest imagery can be pretty powerful when thinking about creating an authentic voice in fiction. The question becomes, “How much of the author‘s voice should surface through the voice of the created characters?” I’m currently reading a young adult manuscript and it’s so clear to me that the 7th graders who populate this story just would not say the things they are saying. Or thinking. Or even doing. The voice of the (probably middle aged) writer, who has written a great YA book, keeps materializing through her characters. Bits and pieces of someone who is not 13 years old keep shining through. The way a girl describes a boy’s body. The response to the self-righteousness of the bitchy step-mother. The understanding of why a bully bullies. All the author not the characters.

Of course some of the things we like about certain writers is their unique voice (think the inestimable talents of say, John Green, John Irving or Amy Tan). It’s a tricky dance. How much of ourselves can we allow to surface through our fictional characters? At a certain point, if too much of ourselves as people, our life experiences, our personalities, peek out of the characters, it becomes obvious. The character palimpsest can become unintelligible, indecipherable. Unless your character is a person just like you, they really need to speak for themselves. Our job as writers is to let our characters do that. In my (not so) humble opinion, that is what creates an authentic voice. Maybe I should go back and try to read H.D.

How much of yourself do you write into your characters? How do you think you are doing in maintaining an authentic voice in your writing?



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