The Secret Year & Voice

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lynsouth
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The Secret Year & Voice

Post by lynsouth » January 15th, 2010, 10:27 am

Yes, I know. It’s incredibly self-serving to review Jennifer R. Hubbard’s debut novel in a blogging contest run by her agent. If it works, I’ll be like an American Idol contestant whose made it to Hollywood. If not, I won’t cause a scene. At least the judges (Simon...um, Randy...er, I mean Nathan) won’t have to call the cops to haul me away for going berserk, and my dogs will still love me. And for anyone else out there who had the same idea, may be best sycophant win. ;-) Anyway, here goes...

The Secret Year’s Voice

I’m not going to get on a soap box about the definition of “voice”, I’ll leave that to the contributors over at the Writer Unboxed (the blogs are focusing on voice all this month). I’m simply going to focus on how I experienced Jennifer R. Hubbard’s use of voice in her debut novel, The Secret Year. (And, no, I’m not going to indulge in spoilers...I hate it when people do that.)

The first thing that I noticed with The Secret Year is that Jennifer (obviously a girl) chose the first person POV of a male protagonist. Immediately, I wondered whether she’d be able to pull off writing from that perspective. Would her main character, Colt, sound like a believable teenage boy, or a pale imitation or sterotype...like a sitcom kid.

I had my answer by the middle of chapter three, during Colt’s first encounter with Julia: no imitations or stereotypes here. I like that the dialogue between characters, as well as Colt’s inner dialogue, is real and raw throughout the whole book. Hubbard doesn’t use slang ad nauseum, (which would probably have been outdates by the publication of the book, anyway) and I really felt like I was in Colt’s skin, as he struggled with his world being turned inside out.

Lessons Learned

I wondered whether Hubbard had any difficulty with finding her protagonist’s voice. Colt’s inner world, a mixture of sadness, guilt, anger, and confusion, is deftly woven into the circumstances and events that occur in the aftermath of his secret year with Julia. I wonder how she chose the right tone for Colt, who could easily have turned into an emo mess (but didn’t).

My “voice” challenge, in writing my first novel, is to identify anywhere my characters’ voices sound forced or weak...to make them sound as much like real people as possible (but, not in a boring, every day “real world” way).

Strong voice is not just important with my protagonist, but with my bad guy (should I say, “bad girl”), as well. She must be complex and fully fleshed out, not a caricature. Easier said than done? Sure it is. But, at least with examples like The Secret Year, I have the opportunity to be exposed to strong character voices that inform my own writing and inspire me to make my characters’ voices stand out in a crowded publishing market.

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