Tag Archives: writing advice

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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On Reading & Writing: When a Monster Calls in a Hotel Room

I was in Virginia at a writing conference this past weekend, doing critiques, meeting with authors, and being on a panel of agents, with the Mid-Atlantic SCBWI. There are so many things I can talk about regarding the conference: how well it was run; why I think everyone who writes for kids should be an SCBWI member, what a lovely group of writers I met; the fantastic opportunity of watching Kwame Alexander and Judith Viorst in conversation; how lucky I feel to be a part of the children’s literature community, as a publishing professional and a writer. Really, I could continue this list for a very long time.

61guqyj17pl-_sx394_bo1204203200_But I want to talk about reading, and being a writer, and something that happened in my hotel room on Saturday night, after my long day of meetings and conversations with writers. I was so very tired. After dinner I went up to my room and got in my pajamas and took my book and crawled into bed. I’m in an MFA program right now, and one of the books I was assigned to read this week was A MONSTER CALLS by Patrick Ness. For a variety of reasons it probably isn’t something I would have thought to pick up on my own. But it’s remarkably well written. It’s beautiful to look at. The level of craft in this novel is phenomenal. Now let me tell you the thing that happened.

I had to put the book down. I had to put it down because it made me cry. I don’t mean that I teared up but kept reading, like when Beth March or Fred Weasley died. Nobody had died, but I got to a point in the story where I was moved so much that I was crying. Crying, not tearing up or something. I had to put the book down so I could pull myself together. Of course I picked it up again, and finished it, and teared up a few times along the way. But when I had to put the book down? Well, that was something else.

I’m sharing this because that’s what I’m looking for when I look for new clients, and that’s what I strive to achieve as a writer myself. Not necessarily making people cry, but making people feel. That can be LOLs, tears, fear, compassion, connection…feeling. A fellow writer and friend of mine (hi Meghan!) says, “You know me, I’m all about the feels,” regarding what she’s looking for as a reader. And I wholeheartedly concur!

So, how do we achieve that, as writers? I think Lin Oliver, author, Executive Director of SCBWI, as well as one of SCBWI’s founders, really said it best at this past weekend’s conference. Lin quite succinctly said, “Be fierce. Create from the depths of what you feel.” Again, I concur. I believe that when we allow ourselves to be present to our feelings, and as artists we mine those feelings, that the results—our creations—can achieve the ability to authentically evoke feelings in others. Being present to the essence of funny. Being present to the finality of our own mortality. Being present to our grief or relief or fear or love or whatever. Being fierce.

So go do that, fellow writers! Be fierce.

 

 

 

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Picture Book Submissions, or how not to rant about the insane state of affairs in the world

tumblr_static_cats_umbrellas_vintage_postcard_kats-in-klompenLet’s not talk about real estate mogul 1%-er fascist scary political crazy people. Let’s not talk about bigotry and racism and feeling impotent against its magnitude. Let’s not talk about women’s reproductive freedom and that there are places where women are actually getting stoned to death and where girls aren’t even allowed to go to school. Let’s not talk about terrorism and school shootings and let’s also not talk about poverty or disease or feeling powerless about the destruction of our planet and natural resources. Let’s look at pictures of kitty cats. Yes, let’s do that. Let’s try to get our minds off the terrible, scary things for a moment.

Oh, I know! Let’s talk about some writing things! Let’s talk about things regarding submitting picture book manuscripts to agents, because this is The Blabbermouth Blog, and I’m a literary agent, and you’re probably here because you’re a writer. Right. Ok. I can do this!

Here are a few things to keep in mind when sending your picture book manuscript to an agent:

  • Follow an agent/agency’s submission guidelines. If you’re supposed to include the full picture book manuscript in the body of the email, do that. If you’re supposed to attach the manuscript to your email, do that. There’s no one right way to do this, there’s only the way the agent asks you to do it.
  • If you’ve written the text of a picture book but you’re not an author-illustrator, there’s no reason to send sample pictures with your submission (unless there’s some reason these pictures have to be included… like you can’t understand the text without them).
  • The author doesn’t find an illustrator for their book; the publisher does that after they decide they want to publish your book. So, unless there’s a very good reason to submit your book with an illustrator already attached (e.g. you wrote it together), there’s no reason to find someone to draw pictures for you. That’s actually a rookie move.
  • If you’re an author-illustrator and you need to include samples of your artwork, see if the agent makes exceptions to the standard “no attachments” rule. Or, provide a link to your website, which should have illustration examples on it. If you have a site that has a password protected aspect to it, provide a link to the site and the password for the agent to use. Make it as easy as possible for agents to see your work.
  • Only submit one manuscript at a time. If interested, an agent will follow up and ask if you have other manuscripts (because most folks don’t want to represent someone with only one executed idea). But we don’t want to be bombarded with a gazillion pitches in one email. It will suffice to just state that you have other manuscripts already written, which you can send on request.
  • Remember that the agents you are submitting your work to are just regular people, with families and interests and outside concerns. So, sometimes you might go to a writing sight to learn about submitting your manuscript, and first have to wade through a tiny rant.

Hope this has been helpful! Feel free to comment with writerly questions about other writerly things you’d like to see written about on this blog. I’ll try really hard not to include a rant next time.

Peace out.

 

 

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