Tuesday, April 27, 2010

Jennifer Rees, editor at Scholastic, talks about "Voice"

SCBWI Chapel Hill Writing Retrea

Numero uno: Jennifer Rees is an top-notch, classy editor.

Numero two-ish: Jennifer Rees is cute as a button . . . isn't she?

Numero Three-o: She also has an AWESOME pair of boots! The girl has it ALL! Brains. Style. Cutie-pie-ness . . . is there anything more?

Editors and agents stress the importance of "voice" in a manuscript. Writers strive to find their "voice" and yet there are no easy definitions for this monster they call VOICE. I love listening to different professionals in the industry share their thoughts on what "Voice" is. After years of listening and digesting this info, I think I'm finally starting to catch on. No. I don't have a clear and easy definition. However, I will share the basic 10 points that Ms. Rees mentioned as being the elements that influence your voice.

1) Character
2) Manner of Expression
3) Narrator
4) Dialogue
5) Setting
6) Perspective
7) Tone
8) Genre
9) You
10) Story

In attempt to digest the things Ms. Rees said about each of the 10 elements, I came home and tried to find a small section of a book that I thought embodied all 10 elements. It's not that easy to do. There are some books that are easy to hear voice. Books like Savvy and Dovey Coe. I wanted to find a section that wasn't quite as colloquial. One where the voice doesn't come from accent or regional flare. Finally, I settled on The Hunger Games. I thought it fitting since Ms. Rees was the editor for this book. Here's a short scene that I love and see as including all of the above influences.

This is a scene from Chapter 5 when Katnis first meets with her prep team for her makeover.

Venia and Octavia, a plump woman whose entire body has been dyed a pale shade of pea green, rub me down with a lotion that stings but then soothes my raw skin. Then they pull me from the table, removing the thin robe I've been allowed to wear off and on. I stand there, completely naked, as the three circle me, wielding tweezers to remove any last bits of hair. I know I should be embarrassed, but they're so unlike people that I'm no more self-conscious than if a trio of oddly colored birds were pecking around my feet.

The three step back and admire their work. "Excellent! You almost look like a human being now!" Says
Flavius and they all laugh.

I force my lips up into a smile to show how grateful I am. "Thank you," I say sweetly. "We don't have much cause to look nice in District Twelve."

This wins them over completely. "Of course, you don't you poor darling!" Says Octavia clasping her hands together in distress for me.

"But don't worry," says Venia. "By the time Cinna is through with you, you're going to be absolutely gorgeous!"

"We promise! You know, now that we've gotten ride of all the hair and filthy, you're not horrible at all!" Says Flavius encouragingly. "Let's call Cinna!"

They dart out of the room. It's hard to hate my prep team. They're such total idiots, Ad yet, in an odd way I know that they're sincerely trying to help me.

So, How does this one section envelope all 10 elements?

First I see how the Characters, their perspectives of each other, the manner in which they speak, their actions, the setting the tone they use w/ one another . . . it all blends together making this scene vivid in my minds eye. The tension. The contrast of how each side sees the other as barely being human at all. We are in the narrators head, so we know what she is thinking, however, we don't have to be in the Prep teams thoughts to get an idea of how they think and feel. Their actions and dialogue are clear. Though we see human flaws in each of the characters we also see glimpses of good intentions.

Second, the genre and Suzanne Collins unique story line and her story telling skills all add to the flavor of the voice.

So, make a mental note: editors don't see voice as simply being an accent. That may be only one part of your voice, if it fits the story.

INSIDER INFO ALERT!!!!: Ms. Rees shared a little info about the earlier MS of The Hunger Games. She said that at first the story was written in past tense. However, that didn't seem to work. It tended to cut down on the tension which is so crucial to the story line. So, Ms. Collins rewrote the story in present tense and Voila! That goes to show . . . don't be afraid to rewrite in a different tense. You never know what will work best until you try.

If you have anything to add to share how you view the "voice" in this section, I'd love to hear it. I'd also love to hear any insights on what you think about "voice" outside of this section as well. It's a wild beast to master!


TinaFerraro said...

Hey, Christy! Great blog, great topic!

I tend to think of voice as undefinable--something you can feel or recognize rather than truly explain. And I wanted to add another example that's really working for me.

I'm about 100 pages into a debut YA novel by Swati Avasthi called SPLIT. (To be clear, I don't know this author, and choose to read the book because of a review.) When I have to put this book down, some of the things I ponder are the risks this author takes in assuming we--the reader--is intelligent and can make leaps (and how well that works) and how her voice word and scene choices give this story life.

So, anyone interested in exploring those issues should pick up that book. (And I promise, no royalties will fall my way. LOL.)


Tina Ferraro
The ABC's of Kissing Boys
How to Hook a Hottie
Top Ten Uses for an Unworn Prom Dress

C.R. Evers said...

Thnx for coming by my blog, tina! :0) It's always great to see you here. Thnx for the book rec. I'll be sure to get that one!

Bish Denham said...

Wow, great post Christy! You took some time and thought on this one. A while back I wrote this about voice:
Voice is how we choose to string words together.It is an invisible glue, it is the space between words, it is what is not there and yet permeates the page. Like gravity, it is the weakest force, yet it binds a story-universe together and keeps it from flying off into chaos.

C.R. Evers said...

Thnx Bish!

And very well put. I love it!

Angela said...

I'm a big fan of the HG books (can't wait for HG3) I agree that present tense adds tension!

beth said...

GREAT post!!! Thanks sharing.

C.R. Evers said...

Hi Angela! Yep, I'm waiting for #3 also!

Thnx Beth! :0)

Christina Farley said...

What a great post. I just love the Hunger Games series. Sigh.

It's interesting about the present tense because I noticed that right away and how strong it made the tension. But if you notice, there are long streams of flashbacks so the present tense doesn't wear on the reader. She's done a great job writing it!

CL said...

I heard Jennifer Rees at the SCBWI NY conference last year, and she was awesome. Thanks for sharing her take on and your interpretation of Voice!

WordWrangler said...

I have not yet read The Hunger Games, but you've made me want to! :)

Great post. Voice is def one of those things that can't be forced. If it is, the story is dead.

Kit said...

Wow, great post,
Kit Grady

C.R. Evers said...

I love Hunger Games too. The tension is flawless! I found it interesting about the tense as well. Glad I'm not the only one. :0)

Hi CL! thnx for stopping by. I hear that Jennifer will be at the LA conference this year too. She really is awesome!

Hi Donna! yes, you have to read the Hunger Games. It's brilliant. I gave it to my hubby to read and he loved it too. That's saying a lot because YA lit isn't his genre.

Thnx Kit! So glad you stopped by. We miss you at Critique group!

Karin said...

I have received several personal rejection letters saying that they loved the story, but didn't relate to the "voice." I even spoke with the head of the SCBWI here in AZ at a meeting and she made a face when I told her. I don't think anyone really knows what "voice" can mean...well until you shared it with us! Thanks!!!!

PJ Hoover said...

What a great analysis, Christy! I'm so glad you got so much out of it!

Kelly H-Y said...

Wow ... what great information, Christy! And, agreed ... she is adorable ... before I even started reading, I'd noticed her clothing and those awesome boots! :-)

Angela Ackerman said...

Great info thanks for sharing. And I had no idea HG was written in past tense first! She does present tense so well and naturally! Neat tidbit to know!

Hope your ankle is doing better!

Angela @ The Bookshelf Muse