Voice and YA

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sooper
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Voice and YA

Post by sooper » April 30th, 2010, 7:04 pm

All the experts out there seem to agree that one of the most important elements in a YA novel is voice voice voice. And though "voice" is a pretty difficult thing to explain, my loose interpretation of what it is is a certain attitude behind the narrative. Something that not only tells the story but sets the mood. Something that sounds authentic and real and honest. Now, I could be wrong about that, but it would seem voice is something that can be best applied to a first-person novel.

But what about just plain old third-person narration? How do you insert voice into that? Did the Harry Potter books have a voice? Or is voice something that's just inherent to all books.

What I'm asking is, how do I pull off a great voice when I'm writing in third-person. (and also, I guess I need a better explanation of what exactly voice is.)

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Bryan Russell/Ink
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Re: Voice and YA

Post by Bryan Russell/Ink » April 30th, 2010, 7:59 pm

One way to think of it is simply as the part of the writing that is uniquely you, a meeting point for writer, craft and style. I think what agents mean when they say they want voice is that they want an engaging voice, something that moves beyond the generic. It is not a copy, but something uniquely itself. And I personally think that what they're talking about is the authority of that voice. A great voice carries the reader. It convinces, and convinces immediately. It carries you beyond the words on the page. With great voice, with great writing, you sense that the author is in control. They know what they're doing. They're going to take you exactly where you want to go. No detours, no delays. The voice has authority. It makes you believe.

It goes equally for first or third person, or second if you're that daring. Cormac McCarthy, let's say, writes in third, and his voice is utterly unique and compelling. Rhythm and word choice and vision... all this contributes to how compelling the voice is. Finding your voice is really about finding yourself, in some ways. It's about finding a way to express the clarity of your own unique vision.
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polymath
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Re: Voice and YA

Post by polymath » April 30th, 2010, 10:00 pm

One of the earlier insights I had into voice was that it's used to express commentary, an attitude toward a topical theme. It can be from diction (word choice and syntax) more, perhaps, than any other facet of voice, authorial voice or narrative voice or character voice. In third, first, and second person narratives, the voice of an overt narrator is patent. The voice, especially with an expressed commentary, of a covert narrator is more challenging in any person. Voice is also about a gamut of structural and aesthetic facets, like grammatical person, type of address, ie, register, narrative distance, psychic access, etc.

The Free Indirect Discourse method makes a de re transference of a narrator's voice, in part if not entirely, to a viewpoint character's voice. James Wood in How Fiction Works discusses in one of the more accessibly understandable poetics texts how the "Free Indirect Style" of de re meaning and narrative distance works in narratives. Chatman, Toolan, Barthes, et al, are a bit more obtuse.

De re means of the thing, but has come to mean subject to interpretation, in other words, figurative. De dicto means of the word, in other words, the literal meaning. De se, meaning of one's self, covers terms' with subject to interpretation meaning cases that neither de re or de dicto cover.

De dicto example;
The blue ball rolled down the hill.
The ball is literally colored blue.

De re example;
Mary felt blue.
Mary being blue if taken at a literal meaning means she feels she is colored blue, perhaps from asphyxia or hypothermia. However, figurative usage of blue has created many disparate meanings, melancholy being one.

De se example;
The man in the reflection James saw is tinged blue. He believed the man is dying from the cold.
Here, the blue man in the reflection could be a stranger or James, and James perhaps thinks it is not him, but it could be he's so disoriented from the cold he doesn't yet know it's himself.
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NWolfe
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Re: Voice and YA

Post by NWolfe » May 1st, 2010, 4:35 pm

Voice is simply the color of the prose. A great writer is something akin to a painter, using prose as paint.

BlancheKing
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Re: Voice and YA

Post by BlancheKing » May 2nd, 2010, 11:58 am

I'm not sure if this is helpful, but as a bunch of YA living in a dorm, we have this discussion often.

I think YA voice is summed up as "stuff needs to happen and it has to be interesting". Most of us have not yet had a) a midlife crisis, b) an epiphany past "oh sh** we had homework?", c) bad relationships that are so bad that they deserve books dedicated to them, or d) time to stop and smell the roses. YA are fast moving people with short attention span, so we appreciate plots that get to the point.

As for our pattern of speech... yes, we do think we're ALL that AND whatever else YOUR willing to pay for. We don't need to have justification for why we're great. We just are. ;) That... or somewhere along the way, a Timmy or Jimmy came along and kicked sand in our faces and as a result, we now have self-esteem issues.
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GeeGee55
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Re: Voice and YA

Post by GeeGee55 » May 2nd, 2010, 12:29 pm

Is voice in YA a separate issue from voice in any fiction? Voice is not something that can be imposed upon a work, but is something that develops in the writer as he/she gains experience/mastery of technique, makes choices regarding all the things mentioned above. There's an example on this very post. After you've been cruising these forums for a while you don't need to see Polymath's name on his work to know it's him writing. The voice tells you it's him. It's distinct from all other voices. Same for Ink or Nathan. That's what's so difficult as an emerging writer about trying to figure out your own voice.

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Quill
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Re: Voice and YA

Post by Quill » May 2nd, 2010, 1:09 pm

BlancheKing wrote:I'm not sure if this is helpful, but as a bunch of YA living in a dorm, we have this discussion often.

I think YA voice is summed up as "stuff needs to happen and it has to be interesting". Most of us have not yet had a) a midlife crisis, b) an epiphany past "oh sh** we had homework?", c) bad relationships that are so bad that they deserve books dedicated to them, or d) time to stop and smell the roses. YA are fast moving people with short attention span, so we appreciate plots that get to the point.

As for our pattern of speech... yes, we do think we're ALL that AND whatever else YOUR willing to pay for. We don't need to have justification for why we're great. We just are. ;) That... or somewhere along the way, a Timmy or Jimmy came along and kicked sand in our faces and as a result, we now have self-esteem issues.
I think of this more about style of writing, and subject matter, whereas I think of voice as more the personality of the writing. My authentic voice -- my unique fingerprint as a writer -- can serve a variety of styles, aimed at YA or adult, fiction or non-fiction, sports fans or Civil War buffs. Just as I can don any number of clothing outfits -- costumes even -- but it's always me inside them. Granted my speech will vary somewhat according to to whom I'm speaking. Still it is me refracting my experiences, feelings, thoughts. No matter the audience, the material, or the style, it's still me. The still-me behind it projects my voice. My perfection of my craft perfects the projection.

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polymath
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Re: Voice and YA

Post by polymath » May 2nd, 2010, 3:54 pm

Thanks for commenting on my unique nonfiction narrative voice, GeeGee55. High praise indeed.

I wouldn't consider it a best practice using that voice for young adult fiction, for most applications and audiences anyway. One of the writing challenges I've had comes from my native narrative voice's inappropriateness for selected narrative genres. Studying and applying the structrural and aesthetic facets of voice has given me tools for uncovering my emerging fiction writing narrative voice(s).

I read Jonathan Franzen's The Corrections, 2001, yesterday. It's the closest I've come yet to reading a narrative voice similar to mine. Franzen's voice is largely apparent in the novel's diction and ironical understatement and overstatement. Irony: a facet of attitude and tone. The diction is a bit high-ended and the irony a bit subtended. Even though I read with a convenient-to-hand dictionary, I didn't need to look up a single word. For example, metonymies occurs once. Franzen speaks my language in my voice. Speaking of audience rapport! The novel has a distinct yet covert narrator's voice, five distinct foreground viewpoint characters' voices, and a distinct, underlying authorial voice.
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