Wednesday, April 5, 2023

My writing tip for the day: on voice ...

I had a bit of an interesting thought while giving my Writing Children's Picture Books workshop recently.

When I talk about language techniques that can be used in picture books I always include a discussion on voice. Voice is the quality that can make a story stand out from its peers, that can grab the attention of publishers and readers alike. It's something I think every writer should be cultivating. When I think of my favourite picture book writers, their voice is distinctive and is a big part of why their stories appeal to me. Oliver Jeffers, Lauren Child, Ian Falconer, Mo Willems, Margaret Mahy. And yet voice can be hard to explain and teach. What IS voice and how do you achieve it?

For me the simplest explanation is that voice is the personality of the story. It can be chatty or crisp, jaunty, winsome, funny and cheeky, wry, dry or serious. It is achieved through sentence length and punctuation, phrasing and word choice. It is the way the narrative 'speaks.'

In my workshop we do an exercise where I provide two different images/scenes for a familiar fairytale - I use Little Red Riding Hood. I then get students to write a paragraph telling the story in each image. The images each drive a very different voice: one a classic, young, old-fashioned depiction, the other a modern, provocative, young adult visualisation. 

After the exercise last weekend I realised that if you are struggling with the voice of whatever you are writing then making a mood board with images/illustrations/scenes that fit with how you imagine the story can flip the switch. Use the images to inspire and influence your writing, working your way through the different scenes till you find what feels right. Describing the scenes might just be the way in to discovering/developing the voice for your story. And they might also help clarify your thinking on what your story is or should be.

You may already be doing this. Someone else may have already suggested this to you or you might have already read it somewhere. But just in case you haven't, this is my writing tip for the day :-)

I also stumbled across this interesting old post on twitter about whether you should quit if you are an unhappy writer. It's kinda philosophical and big picture thinking and I liked what it had to say. I thought you might like it too.

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