Monday, June 11, 2012

How to Write with Voice and a Giveaway!

I'm super excited to have Maureen McQuerry as our guest today! She's the author of The Peculiars, a young adult steampunk novel.


Is that cover gorgeous or what?

Maureen has generously offered to giveaway a copy of The Peculiars to one lucky commenter. Details for getting entered are located below her wonderful insights on writing with voice, particularly in the YA genre:


Writing with Voice
by Maureen McQuerry

What makes YA fiction so compelling? In one word: voice.

In YA fiction voice trumps everything. It’s what keeps your readers turning the pages. It’s what makes an agent or editor ask for more.

But voice is one of the most difficult concepts to grasp. There are two types of voice that often get confused. First, there’s the writer’s voice. That’s you. It’s your distinctive way of writing about the world, your own style. And your voice is ghosted in everything you write, like a watermark on the page. It’s in the background, but always visible.

Character voice, especially the voice of the protagonist, is what compels readers to the end of the story. It’s the voice that you will follow anywhere into danger, heartbreaks, even into an alien invasion.

So what is voice?

Voice = a character’s unique take on the world +time +setting

Her tone, her secret opinions. Think of that voice in your head when you’re in the middle of a class and bored. You look around the room and make comments to yourself. That inner commentary is your voice. It’s the unique way you look at the world. A character’s voice is distinctive to a particular story. In my novel, The Peculiars, the time period is an alternate 1888, late Victorian. I needed to keep my character’s voice authentic to that time period. Even the slang was Victorian slang. The protagonist was naive, and self –conscious, but adventurous, her voice had to show those characteristics.

And here’s the tricky part. Different characters in the story must have unique voices. In my current project I have two protagonists, Andrew and Emmaline. Emmaline is poetic. Her voice is full of simile and metaphor. She’s been alone a lot and she spends a great deal of time in her own head. Andrew uses more slang. His sentences are shorter and choppier, filled with action verbs.

What’s unique about the YA voice? Angst. The Urban Dictionary defines angst this way: “…the unbearable anguish of life with the hopes of overcoming this seemingly impossible situation. Without the important element of hope, then the emotion is anxiety, not angst.” Think of your teen-age self. What do you struggle with? What keeps you up at night? What makes you sweat? And then let your protagonist struggle and sweat too.

Other characteristics of the YA voice:


  • Honest---pulls no punches
  • Vulnerable--even when cynical or challenging
  • Questioning—more questions than answers about life
  • Original/specific—like that voice in your head
  • Transitions from angst to hope—even the bleakest YA books offer hope at the end


Bonus: What is Steampunk? The Peculiars has elements of Steampunk, a genre on the rise. Steampunk is alternate history, fantasy and a little sci-fi combined. It’s usually set in late Victorian times, sometimes a dystopian future, but the ambience, clothing, architecture are frequently Victorian. The Industrial revolution led to steam being the new technology. Imagine that our society stayed with steam. All future inventions were steampowered: steam powered trains, typewriters, flying machines. Think brass, clockwork, goggles and lots of gears!

Want to try a Steampunk adventure with a touch of romance? Of course you do!  Maureen is giving away a signed copy of The Peculiars. (Due to the sad realities of pricey international shipping, this giveaway is open only to U.S. residents.)

a Rafflecopter giveaway

57 comments:

  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  2. Voice is something I struggle with a bit. My characters always end up sounding like me. Now that I have a better understanding of what voice is, I think I'll be able to do it better. Thanks Maureen and Stephanie!

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  3. I think that before this post I would have had a lot more author voice than character voice. I've pondered how to feel my character and how to bring her "to life". Finding her voice will definitely help me to do that! I've kinda heard about voice but it hasn't been explained like this. Thanks so much Ms.McQuerry! If you would believe it, I just finished her book a week or two ago. It was a great book and I enjoyed it. I'm really loving that there are more steampunk stories now :) I've fallen in love with them! Sierra
    Keep Growing Beautiful♥ (Because You Are!) Philippians 4:8

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  4. Haha . . . interesting that the character's voice is their inner thoughts, because in my WIP, Set Theory, my MC literally has conversations with himself. (By the way, it's in first person.)

    Also, thank you for clarifying "Steampunk" for me. I had no idea what it was. :D

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    1. To answer your questions, character voice comes most easily to me. I love putting myself in their place and figuring out what comes next. :) It's the most exhilarating part of writing.
      Thank you for coming, Ms. McQuerry. I love this post. :)

      beingbecki.blogspot.com

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  5. I think that the author voice comes more easily for me. The characters' voices are a bit more difficult to find and determine.

    Thank you so much for taking the time to post here! It is so helpful. Thank you for the giveaway, too! By the way, I love your outfit in the author picture. Super cute! I especially love you skirt.

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  6. Some examples of strong character voice you may want to check out are I Capture the Castle by Dodie Smith and anything by John Green.

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  7. Love this post. Voice is usually so mystical a concept, but this helps nail it down.

    Oh, that's a hard question. My author voice probably comes easier to me than differentiating between my different character voices (except maybe in the case of my villain's voices. If I'm including a villainous POV, it's usually wackily different from what I as a writer sound like...and fun to write). I'll never forget Stephanie saying something like "in your Rachelle way." :)

    Thanks for this giveaway, too!

    biblioprincess15 (at) yahoo (dot) com

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  8. It's such a coincidence that you were blogging about voice! Just yesterday I was trying to learn what my writing voice is. I'm plotting a book that I'm trying to give voice, hilarity, and fun to :) I've recently "lost my voice" in writing because I was writing the genre that just wasn't for me. But, I think I found the voice I want to use an I'm trying it out now - sort of a testing of the waters. I'm so excited to work on it!
    I need to try out the steampunk genre - I've never read or written it before!

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  9. Great post! And that cover is simply amazing! :-)

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  10. Seeing this post made me smile BIG TIME. I love all things Victorian, and I've also been dying to read The Peculiar's (which is on my must-read-soon list!)

    Thanks for sharing the characteristics of YA Voice with us Maureen! It all makes much more sense to me now...especially when writing for a YA setting.

    http://daughteroftheking89.blogspot.com - Oh, Restless Bird
    evenstarheart(at)gmail(dot)com
    @OhRestlessBird

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    1. "Does your author voice come more naturally to you or character voice?" // My character voices usually come more naturally to me. I'm a type-a perfectionist when it comes to many things in my life, writing included. That said, I anguish over word choice. I want my story to be perfect. So, whenever it's "me" who has to do the "talking" in my story I get nervous and struggle a bit more, but when it's my characters in the lime light I don't worry so much because they are bold, opinionated and speak to me plain as day.

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  11. Awesome post! :) My novel is a YA fiction, so I related to it really well. Made a lot of sense...very inspiring!

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  12. Coolness! The only thing I've seen that's Steampunk is "A Christmas Carol" - the Doctor Who Christmas episode I mean. I LOVE it! I might have to try more of the genre!

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  13. Movies with steampunk elements: The Golden Compass, the new Sherlock Holmes series, The League of Extraordinary Gentlemen, the Wild, Wild, West.

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  14. Oooh...Voice is so hard. My characters either end up sounding like me, or sounding alike. Some of my major characters have their own voice, like Rilla from Masqueraders. Her voice is selfish, bratty and smart mouth. Its such a stark difference from mine or any of the other characters, I dont have to worry about hers not being unique.

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  15. I've been wanting to try a Steampunk. I just finished writing a historical fiction set in the Victorian era; that's a really interesting time period!

    As for voice, my characters usually end up sounding the same, and way too modern!

    Thanks for sharing with us!

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  16. Thanks for the awesome post, Maureen! I loved you book. Can't wait for the next one.
    :-)
    Jill

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  17. Thanks for this post! This is really helpful; I'm struggling a lot with voice. I think character voice comes easier to me than author voice. How do you include a lot of author voice when you're writing in first person? I feel like it's a lot easier to include both in third person, but I'm starting a WIP in first person.

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  18. Thanks for the helpful post about voice. This is something I really need to know about. I really appreciate it! Your novel sounds so cool! :)

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    1. Right now I'm not certain who's voice comes out more. Often it's my character's questioning, so maybe it's my character voice.

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  19. Having a voice in your novel is extremely important. Though I struggle with it a little bit still... I love seeing voices in my favorite books. It really helps me distinct one author from another.

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  20. I've really wanted to read steampunk, but most of the books in that genre I've found have too much sexual content or some sort of vampire/zombie focus. Your book is one I've been wanting ever since I heard of it, to get a taste of this genre without any of those things. :)

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  21. P.S. I think voice would be much easier to develop if it had an official definition, like what you've given here. A lot of agents/editors/authors talk about voice but have difficulty defining it.

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  22. I dont know how well I am with my own personal voice, though the few people who have read my stuff think I'm pretty good. I think my characters voices are awesome though. My current MC is a very sarcastic, dry humor kind of guy, and it's really fun to write him.

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  23. Lydia Grace HartJune 11, 2012 at 2:56 PM

    Hmmm... I have a very distinct author voice, but it kinda gets mish-mashed into the character voice, esp. with first-person. I'm good at inserting appropriate slang, and I LOVE that (anyone else about die when watching Night at the Museum 2, when Amelia Earheart talks? I've challenged myself to use 'moxie' whenever possible). I guess you could say I'm good at not being myself (in voice), but I know that the more my voice displays my personality, the better I'll feel about it. Writing never works when you're trying to be something you're not. So I tend to just insert a tid-bit of me (like an addiction to Oreos w/ pb, or an excessive use of the word 'darlin''), and just have fun making the rest of the character unique. Oops, confuddling again.... :)

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    1. First person is a great showcase for character voice. And it's pretty trendy right now. The author voice is there even in the exposition. Think of the difference between Hemingway and Faulkner. You can tell by the way they write.

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  24. For me, I can weasel my way into my characters head. So most of the time the character is more present.

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    1. I love the way you say "weasel your way" in! That's a great example of voice.

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  25. Thanks for the post! I'm working on my rough draft now (almost done!!) and I know that my main character, Milo's, voice has changed a lot. This draft has been really experimental for me, and that includes the voice of the MC...I've struggled with it a lot. But hopefully after I set this manuscript aside for a while, I'll be able to see what his voice really should be. As for *my* voice...every now and then, I recognize something that I "tend to do." Like, I tend to list descriptions, if that makes sense. Instead of saying, "I finally got a good look at the guy. His body was stocky, clothed in worn out formal attire, and topped off with short brown hair. His eyes were too close together," I say things like, "Then I finally got a good look at the guy. Stocky body, worn out dress clothes. Short brown hair. And eyes that were too close together." Not sure which one sounds better, but the second one feels more natural for me. So I figure, that's one part of my voice as a writer...

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  26. I realized when I started writing for my creative writing class that my voice is really odd... i use a lot of short random sentences. I also have a really hard time showing things from certain characters' POV.

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  27. That was a really interesting blog. I haven't had much trouble with character voices, as most of the time my characters end up becoming so real to me that in real-life situations I end up thinking "Oh, that would be something that (...) would say"! Tehe, it can end up becoming quite funny when I spot lookalikes of characters and begin gaping at them like a goldfish. Thanks for the blog! It was a really good read!

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  28. My voice comes easier through the character's...But I have a better insight on voice thanks to your post :D.

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  29. I've been told my own personal voice comes out in my writing by the people who have read my short stories. I tend to struggle with characters, but it's something I'm working on

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  30. Great article! I'm not sure if I struggle with voice or not. Sometimes I feel like I have it and other days I feel like I'm-the-worst-writer-in-the-world. It all depends so I honestly have no clue at all.

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  31. I have a feeling that all my characters have the same voice....So I guess that would be mine. They all think the same too. :(

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  32. I'm never certain how strong my voice is, but I when I switch POV's, I'm sure my characters have different ways of speaking and looking at the world. I try to contrast them as much as possible.

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  33. Voice is something that I'm always striving to obtain originality with. It's not really something that can be taught, in my opinion, but instead must be discovered. Even though the author's own voice predominates the writing, I think that it's important for each character to have his/her own voice as well.

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  34. Interesting post. I like that Voice is defined so clearly which makes it so much easier to understand.
    Character voice is always so difficult because I think too much of my voice bleeds into the characters. It's something that I must work on.

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  35. great explanation...can't wait to get working on that

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  36. I am really interested in steampunk, since I'm a historical fiction junkie. Can't wait to check.this book out!

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  37. Wow, I really think I understand what Voice is better now! Thanks!
    As far as my voice, it depends on my story. When I write in 3rd person, my author voice comes easily, and the character's is hard. However, if I write in first person, it's the other way around, the character's voice just comes right off my fingers on the keyboard into the story and its almost like I don't have an author's voice.

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  38. Nice Title (the Peculiars . . . really catches your eye!)
    Sounds cool, though I'm not going to enter.
    One of my favorite voices is Rick Riordans'. I never got over how well I related to that voice . . .
    --Giana

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  39. Just the advice I needed! I'm fairly new to writing and am still struggling to find my voice as a writer. I think the best way to find your writing voice is to practice writing scenes in 1st/2nd/3rd person views, just to see which one comes naturally. Right now, my story is told in first person, but sometimes I like to switch off into 2nd or 3rd, just to get a new perspective.
    I've put your book on my summer list! Would love to own it!

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  40. Some of my characters' voices come easily, some don't. I've actually been having a lot of problems with my current manuscript... there are sections within my third person, past tense novel that randomly switch to first person present! Of course, I'll edit that all out later, but it seems to help here and there when something just isn't coming together the way it needs to. Anyone else do things like that?

    As for my own voice, as the author... I think I'm still trying to find my sweet spot. I have had some people compliment my style/voice though, so at least I'm on my way!

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  41. Awesome! I've always wanted to try steampunk. I've thought that it would be an interesting style to read. ^_^

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  42. It's kind of hard for me to say offhand how I am with voice in my work. I sometimes worry that my main character's voice is my voice, thinly disguised, but I think I'm starting to get the hang of making sure she sounds like her.

    Also, I think steampunk and alternate history are such interesting genres - thanks for guest posting and sponsoring a giveaway, Maureen! :D

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  43. I think voice is more natural for me than other areas in writing. Whenever my mom reads my papers for school or even my rough drafts for some of my WIP's, she always says my voice is really strong. I don't know so much about my character's voice though...

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  44. Voice is a hard thing to figure out... Thanks so much for this post! :)

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  45. I like playing with voice. It's interesting to see how writers keep their writing voice/style the same while still having distinct characters with their own separate voices.

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  46. I notice that I have a problem with voice, especially making my charecters sound as if they have different voices because I feel like my own shows through so much.

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  47. I notice that I have a problem with voice, especially making my charecters sound as if they have different voices because I feel like my own shows through so much.

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  48. Thanks for posting here! That book is definately going on my "Read or Buy List!" (That's getting a little long and overwhelming! Oops!) I've noticed that my problem with voice, is that if I'm writing a 1st person story, I tend to switch to 3rd person, let's say, omniscent. Then I switch back to 1st again, and the I switch back to the other 3rd person that I can never remember what it's called. Lol. But I keep switching that way until it gets so confusing that you don't know anymore if it's the author's voice, or the character's voice, or whoever's voice it is! I hope this post works on fixing it though! Thank you!

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  49. btw, when did you change your background for the blog? I like it! :D

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