Lesson Six from the Gold Mine Manuscript Red Line: Watch that Voice! #MondayBlogs

For an intro into where these tips are coming from, please see my post: A Full Manuscript Rejection, or a Gold Mine?

When you are writing, especially if you are writing YA or middle grade, watch the voice. In the Gold Mine Manuscript, I know I mentioned the voice when I was beta reading, but my BP said her teenager read it and said it was okay, so I figured maybe I was just behind the times.

In this novel, the Main Character is supposed to be 15, but my brain just made him 17 (no matter what the novel was telling me).  Do you know why?  I believe it was the voice.  I mentioned it, but my BP seemed comfortable with it, so we moved on.

I was also having the same struggle in my own novel, and was on an up and down roller coaster with my own young character’s voice, so I know how hard a young boy’s voice can be, so I knew I was no expert.

You know what the publisher marked up over and over again in the gold mine manuscript?  THE VOICE.

2014 Edit:  I had a wonderful opportunity to have my manuscript read by Harper Collins. They loved my story, but guess what they said I needed to work on?  VOICE. I knew voice was key to FIRE IN THE WOODS. As soon as I nailed the voice, I got an editor to pay attention.

[continued] They mentioned that teenagers answer in quips and half-completed sentences.  I have to admit, my middle graders do the same thing. No perfect grammar for them.  Simplicity is the key.  “Yeah” instead of “yes” is more realistic than a full sentence.

I’m wondering about my own novel on this one.  My kid is from another planet, and grows up under the tutelage of a King.  I don’t want him saying “yeah”, but I don’t want a publisher calling me on it, either.  Maybe a few of the other characters can slip on their grammar a little.  Hmmmm…

My suggestion:  If you are writing for teens, get several teens to read it and ask them to be honest.  Same goes for Middle Grade.  This publisher actually had a teenager read the manuscript to make sure of the voice, and the teen said it didn’t sound real and they didn’t get the words she was using.  Yikes.

Moral of the blog:

If anyone reads your manuscript and tells you that there are possible problems with the voice, I’d take them seriously… ask a few more people to read it.  Drop it on a web site (I like Nathan Bransford’s site).  Get as many opinions as you can.
In the end, you still might not end up okay.  (To be honest, my five-year old drops bonus S.A.T. words all the time, so if I wrote his voice for-real, this publisher would red-line it—so who knows?)

There are a lot of things I’ve not changed about my manuscript that people have mentioned, but voice is one that I have always paid attention to.  If one person mentions something, I may tweak just a little, but if a few people mention it, I tweak a lot.  There is still a possibility that my MC may age a few years in the opening scene, just because of voice issues.

Don’t fall in love with your characters so much that you cannot recognize that their voice is all-wrong.



11 responses to “Lesson Six from the Gold Mine Manuscript Red Line: Watch that Voice! #MondayBlogs

  1. Voice is difficult to maintain consistently, but I believe it is essential for YA and MG. And you nailed it is FITW. My final read-through will be just for voice.
    Also, reading dialogue aloud is KEY to getting it right, no matter what age you’re writing. Do any of us talk with complete sentences and perfect grammar all the time?

  2. I agree — always listen when more than one person flags an issue.

  3. I had been taught to put myself in the character’s “shoes”, asking myself what would I say and how would I say it. But I don’t really do that per se. I put myself in the story (mentally) and ask myself if it feels like it’s really that character. Is this a fallacy on my part. Maybe. I’ll have to wait and see.

  4. Thank you for the trackback. This is a great blog post, and I think you have a lot of valuable information here to people struggling with character voice and what it means to adjust it.

    Generally speaking, publishers should be taking into account your characters when discussing whether or not their voice is correct. For example, medieval teens wouldn’t be using “yeah” since it wasn’t proper slang for that time. Most of us will evaluate your setting and see if it fits in there, though if there are concerns about a character’s dialog choices then it is definitely something to take seriously.