Wednesday, July 14, 2010

Writers' Wednesday: A Word About Voice

You hear it a lot in the writing world: authors should develop a strong voice. A distinct voice. Their own voice, above all. For some, that's easy. For others, it's a struggle. What is voice, exactly? Simply put, it's a writer's individual style. It how an author uses language to bring to life his/her characters and storyline. While voice can be learned and developed, I also think it's one of those things that is naturally inherent to really brilliant writers.

The voice I'm loving right now is that of YA author John Green. Looking for Alaska is wonderful - if you haven't read it, you should. Paper Towns is also good, though I didn't think the story was as strong. And I'm only partway into Will Grayson, Will Grayson (cowritten with David Levithan). In all 3 books, though, Green's voice is distinct and brilliant enough to make me green with envy. His male first-person protagonists come to life in the very first pages, and he develops all his characters, really, in just a few brush strokes.

A couple of examples:

On the second page of the Prologue of Paper Towns, Quentin describes Margo, his next-door neighbor and earliest crush. Look how at once, we get a sense of who 10-year old Quentin is AND the kind of girl Margo is, as well:

I always got very nervous whenever I heard that Margo was about to show up, on account of how she was the most fantastically gorgeous creature that God had ever created. On the morning in question, she wore white shorts and a pink T-shirt that featured a green dragon breathing a fire of orange glitter. It is difficult to explain how awesome I found this T-shirt at this time.

And from Will Grayson, Will Grayson, on the first page, we get a terrific account of Tiny Cooper, one of the protagonist's closest friends. Again, it takes Green just a paragraph or two to establish who these guys are:

Tiny Cooper is not the world's gayest person, and he is not the world's largest person, but I believe he may be the world's largest person who is really, really gay, and also the world's gayest person who is really, really large. Tiny has been my best friend since fifth grade, except for all last semester, when he was busy discovering the sheer scope of his own gayness, and I was busy having an actual honest-to-God Group of Friends for the first time in my life, who ended up Never Talking to Me Again due to two slight transgressions:

1. After some school-board member got all upset about gays in the locker room, I defended Tiny Cooper's right to be both gigantic (and, therefore, the best member of our shitty football team's offensive line) and gay in a letter to the school newspaper that I, stupidly, signed...

Honestly, any writer, experienced/published or not, would be smart to read and study John Green's style. Great voice. Just great.


Charity Tahmaseb said...

Oh, I <3 John Green. If you ever get the chance to attend a reading/signing, do it!

My son and I went to one for his Paper Towns release. I wanted to get a pic of John signing my son's copy of the book, but had to be two places at once (I heard the talk, but then had to leave).

I got back after the signing portion, when it was just him and the librarian cleaning up. I asked if we could take a photo and he was so nice and said, yes, of course.

So, now I have an awesome photo of John Green and my son.

Allie Boniface said...

Oh, that is so cool! I would love to see him in person. One of my students from this past year fell in love with his books and emailed him. He got a great response back, saying that he really considered writing just half the journey - the other half was the reader experiencing it. Sigh...