Monday, August 2, 2010

Jennifer Rees on Your Voice Is Your Voice: Keeping It Real

Jennifer sold books at Joseph-Beth Booksellers in Cincinnati before moving to New York to work at Scholastic Press, the literary imprint of Scholastic. She acquires picture books, middle grade fiction, and young adult fiction. She acquires based on personal love, and pushes something she really wants to work on (like, say THE HUNGER GAMES).

Jennifer's session is standing-room only, and for good reason. Scholastic Press has published many literary favorites, including RULES by Cynthia Lord, THE INVENTION OF HUGO CABRET by Brian Selznick. Their authors include M.T. Anderson and Jon Muth. And of course, there is Suzanne Collins's HUNGER GAMES, which Jennifer edited.

She's sharing an early draft of her talk to demonstrate some of the choices we make when we're working on voice. She's getting lots of laughs, but making a really helpful point.
  • What story are you going to tell?
  • How are you going to tell it?
  • What point do you hope to convey?
Your voice is the glue that holds these things together and makes your story powerful and unique. "Voice is the No. 1 thing I respond to in a piece of writing," she said.

She learned in her years as a bookseller people buy a book because of its first page. If they love it, they buy it. There are lots of deciding factors (age range, subject matter). But voice is overarching. "Give me an interesting voice--give me a good voice--and I'll read anything, regardless of subject matter," she said.

Voice is also the connective tissue and authorial stamp--it unites all the books that you write and enables you to publish more than one book.

"Your voice is you," Jennifer said. "Your writing is a reflection of you. No one will ever write the same story as you."

She's reading the first few paragraphs of THE HUNGER GAMES. Everyone is spellbound. (Except for the one person sneezing in the back. Haymitch!)

"When the HUNGER GAMES landed on my desk, we zipped through it--and we couldn't believe this was what she turned in."

She read it all day at work and left at 4:30 to pick up her two boys. She ended up missing two subways and a bus because she was reading the draft and nothing else existed. (Her husband had to drop everything and go pick up the boys.)

Elements of voice:
  • What does your character notice?
  • What do they say?
  • What they leave out is as important as what they notice.
Some additional observations: 
  • When you're thinking about characters, as yourself this about your character: What is your character's surprise?
  • Voice sets mood and emotional climate of a story. A grim topic can often be treated with humor.
  • Voice changes as your audience changes. The way you'd tell your friends you're going to quit your job is not the way you'd tell your boss you're going to quit your job.
  • Avoid "teenspeak"--going into overdrive with jargon and slang and irritating expressions. It doesn't matter if your character is plugged into the latest lingo. Voice is believable only if it's something your character would say.

No comments:

Post a Comment