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Narrative Voice

re: Is First-Person Point of View Off Limits?

in Narrative Voice/Point of View/Publishing Biz by

Dear Editor…

I’m feeling really comfortable using first person for my novel—but “experts” say avoid it. How do you know if third person would be a better choice?

Thank you,
S. B.

Dear S. B. …

That declaration is too intransigent for me. First-person POV is perfect for some projects, and in some markets—like Young Adult fiction—it’s even the dominant choice. Gauge your target market’s expectations by reviewing its current big books. Looking at the story itself, I suspect that “comfort” you’re feeling is your gut saying, “Good choice for your info delivery needs.” First person has a sort of tunnel vision that limits readers to knowing and observing only what the narrator is privy too. You’d feel it if you were battling that limitation while trying to get readers the info they need. In that case, beta readers would complain about awkward or unnatural scenes and dialogue. That’s when I’d raise my editorial flag and say, “Try third.” I suspect you’re also comfortable with the narrating character’s voice—which is huge. If you can’t truly feel like—can’t be—that character while you’re writing, then get out of her head and try third person, which distances you from the character a bit so you can create a narrative voice that’s less her and more you.

Happy writing!
The Editor

 

re: Choosing When to Chuck a Joke

in Creative Process/General fiction/Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m seeking confirmation. If a joke/gag doesn’t advance the plot/story, is it best to chuck it? As I revise my middle grade fantasy manuscript, that’s what I’m inclined to do, especially if the gag/joke, while possibly funny enough, stalls the advancement of the story. Got to keep things moving, right?

Sincerely,
The Jokester

Dear Jokester…

I say that’s mostly right. Plot advancement is a crucial gauge for keep-it-or-chuck-it choices. Just don’t let good intentions regarding plot advancement take you on some joke-axing rampage that squelches your humor in service of brevity and focus. As with all things writing, revising humor is about finding balance. A joke that doesn’t directly advance the plot can stay if it’s organic to the story, evolving from the character or situation. That contributes to the personality of the project, which is essential, too. Be tough with these criteria. The jokes that don’t pass the test with room to spare—the funny-for-funny’s-sake gags—should get the ax.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Which Swear Words are Allowed in YA Lit?

in Dialogue/Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a YA novel. Quick question: How are words like screw, damn, cr*p, and sh*t looked upon? (Though I think I know the answer to the last one!)

Thanks,
Weighing My Words

Dear Weighing My Words…

Depends on the eyes doing the looking, of course. But in general, screw, damn, and crap fall within the realm of slang or casual speech now, so use them if they fit the book’s tone and concept. Don’t use them if your sole reason is “because that’s how kids really talk.” If dialogue were “real talk,” you’d be writing a lot of stuttering and ums. Sh*t is trickier, being more cuss word than general-use slang. (Notice we both use an asterisk when typing it? That’s telling.) It’s not the F-bomb, but it disturbs enough people that if you can write around it you might want to. Again, consider the project. With gritty topics like drug use, strong words can be par for the course. Option: Use now, discuss with your editor later. She won’t reject a project for this alone. If she feels such words aren’t right for a book about which she’s otherwise passionate, she’ll discuss rather than nix.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Do I Deal with Accents in Dialogue?

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/Narrative Voice by

Dear Editor….

I’d love to get your opinion on how to show accents. I have a lot of French and Spanish speakers in my realistic Young Adult story and I’m struggling with how to show that on the page. I felt good about playing with an accent in a short scene, but this book’s characters are all European except for the protagonist and her family, so it’s becoming a pain to sort out how to represent their nationalities in dialogue.

Sincerely,
Hearing Things

Dear Hearing Things…

In general I feel written accents are visually distracting and thus detract from the reading experience rather than inject fun. Instead, try using wrong word choices, odd grammar and sentence structure, sprinkled-in foreign words, and regional/cultural idioms. But what if only their pronunciation of English is “off”? I like how Stephanie Perkins handles this in Anna and the French Kiss, with an American in a French boarding school. She doesn’t write accents even though it’s clear characters have accents. The English narrator thinks Please be in English. Please be in English. Please be in English while waiting for a Frenchman to reply. A Brit says “arse” for “ass.” A Frenchman translates on-the-fly: “There are loads of first-run theatres, but even more—what do you call them?—revival houses.” In Anna, character nationalities are represented in dialogue but readers aren’t distracted from the content or jarred out of the “zone.”

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Do Middle Graders Like Corny Metaphors?

in Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction/Uncategorized by

Dear Editor…

An editor recommended I read a book that would be a competitor to my middle grade adventure WIP. The book was engrossing enough to keep me entertained, but I think a lot of the metaphors were rather corny. Here’s a made-up one as an example: “His words were as hard as stale pizza.” In some cases, the author actually has two or three of these metaphors on a page and I found it distracting. I do note that the book is supposed to be playful as well as adventurous. My question: Is it okay to have metaphors like that for 10- to 12-year-olds? It seems corny to me, but then I am 63 years old, not 10.

Sincerely,
Young at Heart

Dear Young at Heart…

Indeed, humorous MG fiction can feature intentionally corny metaphors; readers that age do still chuckle over such silliness. That’s not your cup o’ tea, though, and that’s okay. We all have different sensibilities when it comes to humor, even ten-year-old boys. (I have three of those creatures, so I know firsthand.) Hammy metaphor is just one device for building an MG narrative voice with sniffs of humor. If you can craft a youthful voice using other devices—and there are many—all the better. Knowing your competition means not just knowing what’s selling but also knowing how your book stands out from the others. You’ll use that info for positioning purposes when it’s time to submit or publish. For now, work on honing a narrative voice that sounds youthful because it reflects the perspective and concerns of that age group. Leave the ham and corn to those who like that fare.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Why Does My Action “Read Slow”?

in Formatting/Punctuation/Grammar/General fiction/Narrative Voice/Plot by

Dear Editor…

The feedback on my mystery manuscript was that it has lots of action but “reads slow.” The reader gave one bit of elaboration: “Some of the paragraphs ‘feel’ long even though they aren’t.” I’m not sure what to do with that. Suggestions?

Sincerely,
Confused

Dear Confused…

You might be overstuffing sentences to get it all in quickly. The action. The info. The setting. The revelations. This can lead to long, complex sentences with multiple actions, heavily modified nouns, interruptions, and copious commas, em-dashes, and parentheses. Example: “Digging my hand into my pocket, I ran to the huge, double-bolted, metal doors—just installed last week by my ultra-paranoid, hippie parents—hoping desperately that I could dig out the ancient bronze key in time.”  That might be fine amongst a variety of sentence lengths and styles (such as a direct statements or fragments). But sentence after sentence, page after page…. It’s a lot of work for a reader. Slow work. And it’s hard to pick out the most important action; everything has the same weight. Thus, dense text can feel flat. Increase sentence variety to create rhythmic ups/downs. Make some things stand out while others float in the background, creating depth. If a detail isn’t vital, ditch it. When using opening clauses, avoid repeatedly piling action upon action. Lastly, go easy on the adjectives. Inform, don’t bury.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Is It MG Fiction If the Character Ages Into His 20s?

in Characterization/Narrative Voice/New Adult Fiction/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am writing a manuscript that starts with the MC at 7 yearrs old. He soon turns 9, then 11, then 15, and so on. The novel ends with him in his mid-20s. The voice starts out young and I want to pitch it as MG, but at the very end of the book, he does sound more mature (with slight, gradual changes throughout as the story moves along). Is it wrong to label this as MG? Should I make the voice mature from the beginning to avoid the changes at all? Am I doing something wrong?? I’m so confused! Help!!

Thank you!
Mary

Dear Mary…

This is more a question of audience than voice. You want to pitch the story as middle grade fiction, but how many middle graders want to read about a mid-20-year-old? Or a 15-, 18-, 20-, 22-year-old? Will the take-away from the protagonist’s long character arc resonate more with a tween or an adult? He’s living through several developmental stages, each with a distinct sensibility and concerns. Crossover readers aged 18-44 do read MG, but they aren’t the primary readership. I suspect this story is better crafted for the adult or new adult markets, with grown readers in mind. You can start with that youthful MC, but it’s worth experimenting with an opening that allows readers to meet and connect with the older protagonist first. A flashback approach could show his younger self. Or, you could start with that 7-year-old and a more mature voice, hinting that there’s an older presence looking back. Your first step, though, is to definitively identify your target reader. Answer this: If you sat at a table and started telling this story, who would be sitting on the other side of that table?

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Come The Fault In Our Stars Opening Works?

in Narrative Voice/Openings/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am currently devouring your Writing New Adult Fiction. You strongly encourage authors to jump into the action from the very first sentence but a few current best sellers begin with backstory or as the day is dawning, as in The Fault in Our Stars and If I Stay. Can you give any insight as to what makes those slower beginnings work so well?

Thank you,
Diane

Dear Diane…

In media res, or “in the middle of the action,” is about timing your book’s opening so that readers join a life in progress rather than shake your hand and read your cast list. This strategy is coupled with other strategies intended to intrigue readers, like piquing curiosity, startling them, triggering fears, etc. The Fault in Our Stars opens with Hazel going to the Support Group meeting where she’ll meet the love of her life. It’s the right time to enter her life even though the action isn’t bold. John Green then startles readers with first lines that defy expectations: a teen poo-poos her impending death. He then makes sure all teens can relate to that teen narrator even though they don’t suffer terminal cancer: Hazel suffers adults who claim to know how she should handle her problem because they are adults and adults know best. I feel your suffering, fellow teen! Her description of the meeting and how she’s been pushed to go feels more like commiserating with peers than a backstory dump. Slow? For those who want more action, perhaps. But the book’s success suggests its opening intrigues. I love this question and will explore If I Stay‘s opening in the next post.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Should Chapter Titles Be Banished?

in General fiction/Narrative Voice by

Dear Editor…

I recently heard that some editors don’t like chapter titles, saying they give things away. Should I not use chapter titles?

Sincerely,
Anonymous

Dear Anonymous…

There’s no anti-chapter title movement simmering within the editorial ranks. It’s very much a book-specific call. Chapter titles can convey vital context, set moods, tease forthcoming content, and enhance stylized narratives. If your WIP doesn’t need those things, skip the titles. I recently advised an author to remove chapter titles from her fantasy because it was a high-action story and the titles did give away plot twists without adding benefit. By contrast, I’m reading The Ballad of Lucy Whipple to my sons at bedtime, and I can’t imagine that book without luxurious chapter titles and subtitles suited to the Gold Rush-era setting: “Chapter 1, Summer 1849: In which I come to California, fall down a hill, and vow to be miserable here.” While that telegraphs events, the compelling voice makes us yearn for the spitfire narrator to entertain us with the details. Each night before turning off the light, I read the next chapter’s title out loud then close the book and leave. My boys shriek at the delicious tease.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: How Reading John Green Can Help Your Dialogue

in Dialogue/Narrative Voice by

Dear Editor…

I’m really struggling with writing dialogue that sounds like real people talking. Can you throw a struggling writer a tip?

Thanks,
Tongue-Tied

Dear Tongue-Tied…

Try something that helps John Green’s dialogue and first person narration feel casual and thus “real”: He replaces the articles a, an, and the with the demonstrative adjectives this and these. From The Fault in Our Stars: “There was this tunnel that these two kids kept crawling through over and over…” When I sub in the usual articles, the sentence gets stiffer and thus feels less like a real person talking: “There was a tunnel that two kids kept crawling through over and over…” I prefer the subtlety of this technique to writing you know or like into dialogue. Give that a whirl and see how it works for you. Mix it in with other techniques, of course, as variety helps give writing a natural flow.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Resources for Richer Characters, Plots, Voice, Dialogue

in Characterization/Dialogue/Narrative Voice/Plot by

Dear Readers…

Two things floated to the top of the Internet this week that you might find useful for beefing up characters, plot, voice, and dialogue, so The Editor is featuring them today: “Deborah Halverson on Why Perfectly Nice People Make Perfect Bad Guys” and The Editor’s FREE webinar “Four Fixes for a ‘Flat’ Story”. Read on for descriptions and links…

“Deborah Halverson on Why Perfectly Nice People Make Perfect Bad Guys”The Editor’s guest post on the great Cynsations blog, which is featuring and tweeting “best of” guest posts while host Cynthia Leitich Smith is on summer hiatus.  Excerpt: “Some antagonists seem perfectly nice when you first meet them. They can have very obvious moral centers. They might even be friends with the protagonist—or would be, under different circumstances. But in the circumstances you devise to get and keep your story rocking, that character provokes your protagonist, challenges him or throws roadblocks in his path or pushes him into situations of actual physical peril. The antagonist causes wonderful, juicy conflict even if he still seems inherently nice otherwise…. How can you make your antagonist believably sympathetic? Here are five ways…”

“Four Fixes for a ‘Flat’ Story” webinar w/ The Editor & Katie Davis – This 1.5-hr webinar covers four ways to fix your story when an editor tells you, “I couldn’t get into the story…. The story feels flat…. The voice isn’t distinct…. The dialogue doesn’t sound natural.” It was created as the grand finale for The Editor’s Writing Young Adult Fiction For Dummies Blog Tour but you can still view the full webinar (free) on Youtube.

Re: What’s the Right Style for a Crossover Novel?

in Narrative Voice/Publishing Biz/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am attempting my first manuscript aimed at 18 to 30 year olds; is there a particular writing style I should look at, or can I blend young adult fiction with adult fiction to make it work?

Sincerely,
Alana

Dear Alana…

Got Twilight’s success in mind? Careful! Plenty of writers crave the expanded audience of a crossover novel, but writing one on purpose is a tough gig. The hitch: It’s virtually impossible to aim one story at a demographic spanning 12 years. Different generations, different life experiences, different sensibilities and sophistication. You must pick one specific target audience and hope the other goes for it. Since young people lack the wisdom and self-reflection that adults gain from experience, you won’t capture many teens with a novel written with a post-college, 25- to 30-year-old narrative sensibility. Your best bet is to write for upper teens (16+) with subjects/themes that can engage adults, too. The narrative should be less self-reflexive and the protagonist less focused on his/her role in the Grand Scheme than an adult would be. Check The Hunger Games: A teen is poised to save her world, yet she’s (understandably) focused on her existence and her love interests for much of the 3-book series. The themes of power, survival, and revolution cross this over to an older audience.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Writing YA Historical Fiction with a Reflective Adult Narrator

in Narrative Voice/Point of View/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I am in a quandary about a historical novel I’ve started. I want to show how one woman was captured by the Shawnee, rescued, and married her rescuer. But I also want to show how another woman has a burden for her brother and the fate of her tribe at that time. Ultimately I imagine the women meeting again 20 years later. I feel there are 2 ways of life to show. Is it best to write about them from an older age looking back or to take them from youth when one was captured at 14 and the other was about 20? I am old (75) and wonder if I will be able to capture their young voices and feelings.

—Jane

 

Dear Jane…

Adult narrators who reflect back may fall into the trap of filtering their teen experiences through their adult sensibilities. That is, now that they’re wiser, they’ll comment on why they or others chose to do what they did. That’s more likely an adult book than YA. Teen protagonists aren’t that mature yet, so if you write your ladies as young people, they’ll be more likely to just judge, act, and react, without considering their or other characters’ true motivations first. They’ll mature by the end of their adventures, but they won’t start out that way. You can save their eventual meet-up for an epilogue.

Happy Writing!
The Editor

re: Forcing Readers to Read It Your Way

in Dialogue/Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

To me the use of ellipses, em dashes, and the use of italics to emphasis specific words are very much a part of both the author’s voice but more importantly the character’s voice. Some critiquers have said nothing about the amount of each of these included in my story, while others have had a fit. I want to say, “Have you talked with any teenagers recently, especially teen girls?” My female main character’s POV includes many more these style type things than does the male character’s POV. It’s part of what’s different about their voice.

Would LOVE your take on this,
Beth

Dear Beth…

You’re trying to write the teen accent, girl, and written accents almost always distract. The writing becomes about using typographical trickery to force the printed words to make certain sounds in readers’ minds, and the reading experience becomes a conscious effort to read the accent rather than focus on the content. Distraction city. Readers should sink into your story, not recite it. Don’t get me wrong, total thumbs up for trying to create an authentic teen voice. But don’t confuse “authentic” with mimicry. Real-life talking is a mess of meandering, stuttery gobbledygook. Writers approximate real-life talking styles to keep their fiction accessible even as they create voice. A book full of forced accent like “Oh my gawd! I was so, like, mortified—what with being a girl and all…”, can overwhelm readers, especially kids. Stop forcing it. Instead, use action between the lines of dialogue to create emphasis, and use repetition and hyperbole: “I full-on dive into the car and then ball up on the floorboard with my jacket over my head. Kill me now. Just kill me now and get it over with. Life at Derkson High is a living nightmare.” Less distracting, more dynamic, totally teen.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Is Your Internal Dialogue Telling You Something?

in Dialogue/Narrative Voice/Point of View/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’m writing a young adult novel in first person that alternates between the 2 main characters’ POV. I’m getting conflicting advice from critiquers about the use of internal dialogue—those not very into YA fiction say I have too much; those accustomed to YA fiction don’t comment on the internal thoughts OR say I need more! Is it a genre thing?

Sincerely,
Beth

Dear Beth…

More intriguing to me than the category split is the fact that all your critiquers commented on the internal dialogue. Something’s off. I.D. is essentially dialogue that reaches the tip of a character’s tongue but gets bitten back (Not in this lifetime, loser); it should spill out as naturally as a verbal comment. Natural and judicious use of I.D. is not so conspicuous. I suspect your characters’ talking voices have more personality than their narrative voices and that’s why you’re writing lots of it—distracting some readers with its overuse while wowing others with its zing. Put that zing in the narrative voice! Try it. Rewrite a scene as if the character is next to you, talking about that day. Not describing it, but talking about it the way he’d talk to himself. Different? I bet.

Happy writing!
The Editor

re: Bildungsroman v. Coming-of-Age Novels

in Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

It seems that a number of fairytales and fantasy stories are bildungsroman—the protagonist either grows to adulthood, or is an older teenager (Harry Potter, Lord of the Rings, the Princess Bride, etc.). Would these stories be considered for adults or children?

Sincerely,

Lucy

Dear Lucy…

Young people certainly have their coming-of-age novels, but the narrators of those books don’t present the stories as if they’re investigating why and how the heroes became the adults they are, which is a quality of bildungsroman novels (think David Copperfield). Young adult novels have a more in-the-now feel, with the main characters’ maturation usually taking place within a short time frame, such as a single year of school. Rarely do they cover a full childhood or young adulthood as Dickens does in his classic. Novels featuring longer maturation windows can still be for kids if their narratives have a youthful sensibility. That sensibility is arguably the biggest marker of a young adult book. Adults are already self-aware and consider why they and others behave as they do (even if they don’t always exercise that mature perspective!); adult novels with this mature sensibility are not “young adult books” even when they feature young heroes. In contrast, young people are just starting to shed their self-centric perspectives and tend to judge and act without first considering how their actions will affect others. The heroes of their novels may reach a higher level of self-awareness by the end of their novels, but they don’t start out that way and their narratives reflect that. So, when you’re considering whether a story is “for” adults or children, weigh its narrative sensibility.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Trash It or Tweak It?

in Narrative Voice/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have been sending out my middle grade fantasy. I was writing to my 8-year-old but the 2 rejections I received speak about voice. I myself am moved by the voice in children’s books and can certainly attain A GOOD voice in a new book, but should I throw this one away? Believe the two rejections?

Sincerely,

Gemini

Dear Gemini…

Two is too few, too soon for the circular file. Use the feedback about voice to re-examine your ms instead. Young fantasies often have a more formal narrative style and can feel stilted. Make sure you’ve chosen dynamic, evocative words and phrases even if you’re stringing them together in a more proper style. Does your character “close the door” when he could “use his hand to smother the click of latch against plate” instead? Is he “easily frightened” or does he “fear the worst because small children easily assume the boogie man or fanged creatures”? Enrich a formal fantasy voice by going one step beyond the first phrase that pops into your head.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Youth Is in the Details

in Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’ve received some rejections for my middle grade manuscript. One agent said my voice is not “as kid-friendly as it could be.” Do you have ideas for addressing that?

Sincerely,

R.

Dear R….

Indeed I do: Try wallowing in the details. Adults like to sum up issues and situations while kids focus on the details of those issues and situations. Here, consider this: “Toby detested school and thought it useless. In his experience, going to school was about writing essays and memorizing speeches about foreign cultures. That wasn’t what his life was about. Toby’s life was about working at home on the farm with Uncle Paul and Rudy.” This kid-friendlier version dwells on the specific stuff that bugs and excites him, making his emotional gripes very tangible for young readers: “No way, no how was Toby going to school. School was all letters and sums and pointing pointers at a big old map on the wall that no one could even read because the names were all in French or Pig Latin or somesuch. That wasn’t real life. Real life was here, on the farm, swinging axes into rails like Uncle Paul and Rudy and cussing at the cows. That was real life. That’s what Toby wanted.”

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Integrating the POV and Narrative

in Narrative Voice/Point of View/Submissions/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

Please explain this comment from an agent on my midgrade historical fiction ms told in first person: “your POV and narrative are not integrated enough.”

Thank you,

Carrie

Dear Carrie…

Sure, I’ll take a stab at translating. Two guesses, which aren’t mutually exclusive:  1) The agent thinks the narrative voice sounds too old for a story told by a tween. Perhaps the words are too fancy for a kid, or the sentence structure too complex, or the insights too sophisticated. Give each of those a look. 2) The agent thinks some of the things mentioned in the narrative were things that your POV character could not know. Make sure your first person narrator only mentions things she can know first-hand.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Time to Trash My Manuscript?

in Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I have been sending out my middle grade fantasy. I was writing to my 8 year old but the 2 rejections I received speak about voice. I myself am moved by the voice in children’s books and can certainly attain A GOOD voice in a new book, but should I throw this one away? Believe the two rejections?

Sincerely,

Gemini

Dear Gemini…

Two thumbs down don’t warrant the round file. But since those thumbs take issue with the same thing—voice—let’s take that up. One way to make a “good” narrative voice “great” is to spiffy up your word and phrase choices. Don’t use bland go-to words. Characters don’t sit, they kick back or slump. They don’t get mad, they freak out or huff about. They’re not small, they’re scrawny. But even more than replacing bland verbs with active ones, or innocuous adjectives with spunky ones, look for phrases that force you to re-examine and recast the entire sentence, then the paragraph, then the scene, etc. For example, changing “He was so dumb” to “He was a congenital idiot” opens up a whole new personality for the narrative voice. Look to the last entries in your bound thesaurus (not those free on-line jobbies that are so heinously sparse), at the nonformal usage (“nf”) listings and let them inspire you. Start with a single scene, experimenting with phrases you wouldn’t have considered in the past. A new voice should emerge and take over the scene, and then the next scene, and then the next…. Give that a try and see how it flies.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Can She Think in 3rd Person?

in Narrative Voice/Point of View by

Dear Editor… I recently read in a self-editing book (fiction for adults) that when writing in 3rd person, the main character’s thoughts can also be written in 3rd person. Is this true for mg/ya or does it depend on the story? Sincerely, Sue

Dear Sue…

Sure, you can write thoughts in third person for a third person teen/tween narrative. It would look like this: “He leaned in but she turned away. No way would she kiss him. She’d rather eat a worm.” But you can also pop out of third person to first, if you’re so inclined, using italics to signal the shift to kids: “He leaned in but she turned away. In your dreams. I’d rather eat a worm than kiss that snout.” Some find that a more dynamic mix. It depends on you and on your story. Gotta love choice.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: When the Limits of 1st Person POV Are TOO Limiting

in Narrative Voice/Point of View by

Dear Editor…

I’m working on the second book in a series of three. The first book naturally flowed in first person and so I went with it, but the second is more challenging as the plot calls for scenes that take place away from the protagonist.  I tried using a narrative voice, but that just feels wrong.  Any suggestions?

Sincerely,

Elizabeth

Dear Elizabeth…

You just spent an entire novel—maybe years in the making—inside a character’s head, channeling her voice. It’s no surprise that trying out an alternate POV was jolting. Thing is, it’d be just as jolting to your readers. It’s for their sake that I recommend against a mid-series shift from first person to the all-knowing omniscient. (That’s what I’m guessing you meant by “a narrative voice.”)

Handling off-stage action is the biggest limitation of first person POV, and you don’t sound particularly wedded to that POV in Book 1, anyway. Try recasting Book 1 in omniscient for series consistency, or in a mix of third person and omniscient (third person being more amenable to such blending than first), as in the vivid and complicated His Dark Materials trilogy. Just do so with this in mind: Giving up the first person POV doesn’t mean giving up immediacy or emotion. Perhaps your discontent with the alternate POV stems not from the shift but rather from your rustiness with techniques like ‘Show, Don’t Tell,’ and using setting/props to influence/reflect characters’ feelings, and choosing dynamic words and sentence structure. While you’d no longer have direct access to a character’s thoughts and feelings, mining those techniques to their fullest would make your non-first person narrative just as immediate and emotional.

If first person still seems a must for your series, then tricks for Book 2 would be to bring in ancillary characters that can update your protagonist on outside events, or to have interlude chapters or scenes that use omniscient narrative. Both are common in thrillers, mysteries, and fantasy. In the end, you may need to accept that there are things you can’t tell your readers. They’ll be in the dark with your protagonist, reacting and piecing things together with her. But who says that’s bad? Stumbling through the literary darkness with a hero-in-the-making sounds pretty fun to me.

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Should She Leave the “g” in Regional Dialect?

in Dialogue/Narrative Voice by

Dear Editor…

What is your opinion on the use of dialect? In my MG novel, I rely on it a lot. The dropping of the “g” in knowing, for instance. I need to show how these two girls talk.
Right?

Sincerely,

Robyn

Dear Robyn…

Dialect is ‘bout more’n playin’ with your spellin’. ‘sides, droppin’ the “g” is really jes writin’ an accent, and most o’ the time, writin’ accents is plain distractin’.

Okay, I gotta stop that, it hurts. But by exaggerating I hope to demonstrate how distracting spelling manipulation can be. And really, a dropped “g” isn’t distinctive. People all over America drop their g’s in casual conversation. It’s more important that you capture the unique turns of phrase and rhythms of the region. For example, “Go on, now” and “do tell” and “I lit out after her” send you to the South. Combine such distinct phrases with narrative clues like crab apple trees in the yard and nearby bayous and the like, and you’ll create a world—and that’s what storytelling is about. Consider this: “It’s all about Mama and her being a teacher and all.” You could write that as, “It’s all ‘bout Mama and her bein’ a teacher and all,” but why? Page after page of apostrophes can be as obnoxious as my opening lines above. Version 1 of the Mama line suggests a folksy region, and surrounding it with similarly styled dialogue and narrative details that suggest a specific place yields one smooth flavor that’s far more satisfying than tweaking the spelling in dialogue.

For an example of dialect that mines grammar and vocabulary rather than accent, read the middle grade novel Love, Ruby Lavender by National Book Award Finalist Deborah Wiles. That book oozes Mississippi without a single altered spelling. And good garden of peas, it’s just a good’un!

Happy writing!

The Editor

re: Forty-Six-Year-Old Wants to Sound Sixteen

in Narrative Voice/Teen/Middle Grade Fiction by

Dear Editor…

I’ve been told that the main character in my teen novel sounds too sophisticated. I’m forty-six years old! How can I sound like a teen?

Sincerely,
Too Old in Idaho

Dear Too Old in Idaho…

I have a hunch your writing is missing a key element of the teen persona: melodrama. Think about it—with a teen, things aren’t bad, they “suck, big time.” And moms don’t get mad, they “freak out” or their “heads explode” or there’s the classic, “she’s gonna kill me!” They don’t self-analyze, they just react—and that reaction is usually overboard. They certainly don’t say, “I was curt, even to Pam.” Instead they say, “I even ripped into Pam for no good reason. Some friend I am. Here, Pam, let me shove you off a cliff while I’m at it. God, I can be such a jerk.” The things that happen to your teen protagonist should rattle her cage, big time. Let her be melodramatic about it, let her judge herself and others harshly, erroneously, and/or quickly. Inject a little melodrama into your character’s personality . . . you’ll sound thirty years younger in no time.

Happy writing!
The Editor

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