I’ve written about the mysterious, all-consuming, just-plain-intimidating concept of character voice before here on Carpe Keyboard. But it is a topic worth revisiting. Often. At least if you are me – and want to write believable teen characters who talk and think and act like real people.
It is important to realize that character voice doesn’t just come to life in the characters’ dialog. It also plays a huge role in how she thinks and how she acts. Her voice encompass all the ways she communicate to others in the story, not to mention how her voice comes through if she is the first-person narrator of her own story.
For example, you can’t have a character use vocabulary in her first-person narration that she wouldn’t use when she speaks. After all, does your voice sound different in your own head than it does when you talk to a friend? Don’t have your MC speak like Elizabeth Bennet, but have her narration include Lady Gaga lyrics. Get it? Does. Not. Work. You’ll lose your reader. Keep your MC’s voice consistent with their personality, situations, growth and the events of the story.
Melissa Jensen’s new book, Falling in Love with English Boys has been reviewed or mentioned on lots of YA blogs in the last few weeks, so I sought out a copy this weekend. It was my Sunday Afternoon Read, accompanied by lots of iced tea, a big blanket and a fuzzy white cat. Her story is told by two young women – one a regency lady “coming out” to society and telling her story in her diary. The other – a contemporary young woman living for a summer in London (and unhappy about it!?! What?!?) and telling her story through her summer blog.
I loved that – the parallel of a hand-written diary and a blog. Nice. In a lot of ways. Ms. Jensen shows us the differences between not only writing styles (or..ahem…voices!) from these different generations, but she also shows us differences between the culture and society of these different times. It is a bit like reading your funny BFF’s blog interspersed with the lost papers of Jane Austen.
Ms. Jensen splits her story between the two K/Catherines by alternating chapters. One told via Cat’s blog, the next via Katherine’s diary, and so on. I’ve read quite a few YA novels recently that are structured this way, and none have drawn such distinct voices as this one. Never once did I have to pause to figure out which character was narrating; their styles are so beautifully distinct.
Cat’s voice: quirky, quick, snarky, and self-deprecating. She is sort of obsessed with style, clothes, and fashion. She is almost annoyingly sorry for herself, separated from her friends back home. And I snorted iced tea out of my nose more than once at her descriptions of new, posh London friends. Cat’s voice is full of short, fragmented sentences – In other words, she writes/narrates like people today would write in a personal blog. Tons of information in little space, lots of self-interest (for the Facebook generation, this rings so true) and loads of pop culture references.
Katherine’s voice: Careful, a bit rebellious, wanting to follow the rules. Her diary is full of stories about style, clothes, parties and men. She is uncensored about her own mistakes, as a girl would be in her private diary. She is steeped in her own current events, which include the escape of Napoleon from Elba and her brother’s role in the war. And she is clueless – in the way only a regency young lady can be – about men and love.
Both women: Want to fall in love. With English boys.
To win a (slightly used) copy of Falling in Love with English Boys, leave me a comment telling me about your favorite book that shows great examples of voice. You’ll get extra entries in the drawing for adding me to YOUR blogroll or choosing to “follow” Carpe Keyboard via Google or Networked Blogs on Facebook.
Fine Print: I will draw the winner on Monday, January 21, 2011. I will announce the winner here, on Carpe Keyboard. If the winner does not respond within one week, I will put the book up for another drawing at a later time.