Wednesday, March 11, 2020

Wednesday Writing Workout: Voice is YOU!

Good News!
In celebration of her newest picture book THE BOY IN THE BIG BLUE GLASSES (EK Books, 2019) award-winning Australian children’s book author Susanne Gervay has again gifted TeachingAuthors readers, this time with a Wednesday Writing Workout.

Those of us lucky enough to know Susanne know she is not just a children’s author. She was awarded the Order of Australia for Children’s Literature and the International Literacy Association’s Lifetime Literature Award for her body of works on social justice for children and nominated for the Astrid Lindgren Memorial Award. Somehow she also finds time to serve as the Regional Advisor for SCBWI’s Australia East Chapter and New Zealand, which is how Susanne and I first connected. Children around the world know her for her I AM JACK series which prompted her first bully-related TeachingAuthors WWW in October of 2013 – “Read a Book. Stop a Bully.”

In her latest book, Sam doesn’t like his new glasses, no matter the benefits his family, friends and teacher bring to his attention. He does everything he can to lose those big blue glasses, except…they keep being found. In time, of course, Sam discovers wearing glasses isn’t all that bad and people like him just the way he is.

Susanne is the perfect person to be sharing a WWW about VOICE. Her Aussie accent is awesomely unforgettable, but so is she and the voice she’s brought to children’s literature and social justice world-wide.

Thank you, Susanne, for speaking out and up and to the world on behalf of those who can’t and for of course sharing your writing smarts today with our TeachingAuthors readers.

Here’s to making our voices heard – and – in honor of Sam, 20/20 vision!

Esther Hershenhorn

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Voice is YOU!

Voice is your perspective of the world and life. It’s your humour and sadness and emotions. It’s how you view characters. It’s your writing tone.  It’s what gives your writing individuality, captures readers and makes the story unique.

Your voice is in every character, description, dialogue, every line and scene. It is the heart, within the story. But how do you achieve this?

Here are the opening lines of my chapter book I AM JACK:

“Mum, will you listen?” 
Mom’s talking to Nanna. She said she’d only be a minute. That’s such a lie. A minute means an hour in Mom time. 

How old is this character approximately? A girl or boy? What’s the nature of the character? What is his issue? What is the tone?
(Answer:  Jack is an 11-year old boy who is insightful about adults, impatient and has something he has to solve. He needs to speak to his mother about it, but there’s a block.)

So, how can YOU achieve VOICE?

Read the start of successful books and ask questions.
Can you hear and see the character?
Do you feel the tone?
Are you engaged?
If you are, then the voice is effective.

For example, here’s the opening scene in the middle grade novel CHARLOTTE’S WEB by E.B. White:

 “Where's Papa going with that ax?" said Fern to her mother as they were setting the table for breakfast. 
"Out to the hog house," replied Mrs. Arable. "Some pigs were born last night." 
"I don't see why he needs an ax," continued Fern, who was only eight. 
"Well," said her mother, "one of the pigs is a runt. It's very small and weak, and it will never amount to anything. So your father has decided to do away with it." 
"Do away with it?" shrieked Fern. "You mean kill it? Just because it's smaller than the others?" 
Mrs. Arable put a pitcher of cream on the table. "Don't yell, Fern!" she said. "Your father is right. The pig would probably die anyway." 
Fern pushed a chair out of the way and ran outdoors. The grass was wet and the earth smelled of springtime. Fern's sneakers were sopping by the time she caught up with her father. 
"Please don't kill it!" she sobbed. "It's unfair."

Ask yourself:

Who is Fern? What is her character?
What is her reaction to her father’s ax?
What is the issue?
What is the tone?
Do you like Fern?

Here’s the opening of my latest picture book THE BOY IN THE BIG BLUE GLASSES:

I don’t want glasses.
My parents say that I look very handsome in them.
I don’t want to look very handsome in them.
They make the backs of my ears hurt.
Grandma is surprised when she sees me.
“Who’s the handsome boy in the big blue glasses?’
“It’s me, Sammy.”
“It can’t be. You’re so handsome.”
Grandpa is very surprised too.
He asks who the Superhero with the glasses is.
“It’s me, Sammy.”
Grandpa smiles.
“Well, there’s a new Superhero in town.”

Ask yourself:

Who is Sammy and what is his character?
How old do you think he is?
What is the issue?
What is the tone?
Do you like Sammy?

Here are a few Tips for Writing VOICE:

Read and be informed, but do not mimic another author’s voice. You need to find your own voice. This means risk uncovering your unique perception of character and story.

Have a rant – write notes down – what you want to say. This can unlock the ‘you’ in voice, giving you a place to start, where you can play around with the tone, character, emotional engagement, until you feel your voice.

The voice must be appropriate to your purpose, audience and context.
For example, in TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD by Harper Lee, the purpose is to reveal the impact of racism on justice. This is achieved through the voice of a little girl, Scout. The naivete of a child provides a unique and authentic voice that navigates the adult world, creating humour, satire, darkness and hope.

When you write from 1st person, then it is the character’s voice with your unique view and presentation of that character.

When you write from 3rd person, it is the author’s voice. The decision needs to be made as to what sort of perspective and tone you will bring to the voice.

Voice is unique. When you read Steinbeck, Kate DiCamillo, Judy Blume, Roald Dahl, you recognise the work because it contains their voice and the essence of who they are.

“A writer's voice is not character alone, it is not style alone; it is far more. A writer's voice is like the stroke of an artist's brush; it is the thumbprint of her whole person - her idea, wit, humor, passions, rhythms.”  Patricia Lee Gauch

1 comment:

Susanne Gervay said...

Writing for kids is such a privilege