Category Archives: voice

QueryDice #53: The Bio Paragraph

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours.

Dear Ms. Ruth,

     With an eternally seventeen-year old body and supernatural powers to defend an ancient covenant that keeps hitting the snooze button on the world’s Armageddon alarm clock, Jayke Wolff has a big responsibility on his shoulders.  <– what? This seems like too much. I had to read the sentence twice to get a firmer handle on it.

Because he doesn’t remember anything about his life before coming out of a coma seven years ago, he’s not too stressed about it.  Unfortunately for him, the world-conquering cult, the Aduro, has a longer memory.  They’ve dispatched their most seductive and dangerous emissaries to either move Jayke to their side of the game board or knock him off it completely.
     With the fall dance, geometry class, and the girl in his business class with the devastatingly long legs competing for his attention, Jayke isn’t getting any closer to learning about his past with so much looming in his future.  Jayke has to either take control of his own life, give himself over to a secret society vying for world domination, or just let an ancient prophesy decide his fate for him.  Where does a guy find the time to save the world?  You are only young once, even if it is forever.
     Thank you for considering my 98,000 word YA, fantasy manuscript [redacted].  TeensReadToo.com said Jayke’s “humor and insight made me laugh.  It’s been awhile since I’ve read a story with such life-like characters that I actually cared about”.  Flamingnet Young Adult’s reviewer said she “could not put it down until (she) discovered how Jayke’s story turned out” and awarded the book a Top Choice Award from the site.  This manuscript is currently being considered at Curtis Brown and Nancy Coffey.

This query is not perfect. I would like to see a more vivid character, maybe a friend or two, and some personal ambition. But I would have requested it anyway, because it was pretty good, and more importantly, it has been read and lauded before and two other agents–respected agents at that–have seen a glimmer of hope. Also the quote from teensreadtoo.com addresses the issue I had: characterization. Maybe this author has great characters in the manuscript, but a flat character in the query…which wouldn’t be a first. The take-away: the bio paragraph of your query letter is extremely important. Many authors tack it on the end without much thought, but it could be key!

LR

Sincerely,

[redacted]

 

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QueryDice #52: Attack of the Cliche

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours.

Dear Ms. Ruth,

For sixteen-year-old Brynn Hartwel prophetic dreams are like living in Cloverdale, painful, annoying and there is no way to get around it. <– This is a personal preference, but this first sentence is a huge turn-off for me. It’s not that the content of the sentence is problematic–because it’s actually interesting–but rather the technical errors tell me this manuscript must be a complete mess if even 250 of this author’s words can’t step in line.

They started when she was six, got worse after her father’s death and became a secret when her mother forced a psychiatrist on her. Now with Junior year on the horizon Brynn knows she is two years closer to escaping Cloverdale and hopefully leaving all traces of her dreams behind. <–why would leaving Cloverdale put an end to the dreams? Leaving out important bits of information like this just make me think the manuscript has plot holes.

Then all hell breaks loose. <–this is a cliche. For the record, I would stop reading right around here. I was already on the fence with the missing commas, but this pushed me over. 

Her ex-best friend is found murdered and due to another one of her prophetic dreams, Brynn knows she’s next. At this point, I’m wondering what is special about this story. We’ve all heard the story of the teenager with paranormal abilities whose friend got murdered and now she’s next…what makes your story better than all the other stories just like it? But the killer isn’t your average, small town sociopath. He’s part of an ancient society of demigods, has gone rogue and is wickedly determined on seeing Brynn dead. Okay. As if on cue, you answer my question: a wicked demigod. That’s kind of cool, except you left out some really important bits of information: why would he want Brynn dead, and why has he waited so long?

But he isn’t her biggest problem. Griffin is. With his pouty lips and devilish charm, Brynn is suddenly fates fiercest opponent and will do anything to stay alive. Wait, wait. Are you telling me a love interest is more problematic for Brynn than a sociopathic demigod whose only goal (that we know of) is to kill her? I don’t buy it, and now I don’t like your main character because she seems to have her priorities in a woeful mess. Lucky for her Griffin has a secret of his own and everything from Brynn’s dreams to her father’s death is connected to Griffin and The Society of The Devine. A society created of demigods, a society created to rule man in secrecy and a society in which Brynn had been purposely hidden from till now. The staccato-style of these sentences is dramatic, but what they contain is anticlimactic for me. Since I don’t know anything about Brynn that is very specific to her and is rooted in my own world, and because of the aforementioned priority crisis, I don’t like her one bit. The world in this query is not unique enough to make me sit up straighter. This needs some salt.

Brynn was born a Devine oracle just like her father. But he refused to have her torn from her family to live a life dedicated to The Society so he made a deal with The Devine to hide her true identity.

All of the information in the last two paragraphs except for Griffin’s name, his status as a love interest and his pouty lips and devilish charm is unnecessary and confuses the plot. 

But nothing stays hidden forever. A rival group of demigods is after her and she must put her faith in three young Devine warriors sent to protect her.

As the secrets, lies and betrayals pile up no one is safe and not even a Devine oracle could predict that the true threat to The Society is the one person they are trying to protect, Brynn.

The last few sentences here are very confusing. I would reject this query letter on that alone. Author, the best thing you can do for this query letter is to start over: tell us the following things:

1. Who is your character? What makes her different from everybody else in the world, aside from her paranormal ability.

2. What does she want? If she wants nothing and life is grand for her, what throws a wrench in that?

3. What is in her way?

4. How does she set about circumventing that?

5. What is the single element of your book’s world that makes it different from Earth?

And tell it to us in fewer than 250 words. 

[redacted] is a young adult, paranormal romance novel complete at 100,000 words.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

While this query letter needs some serious work, don’t get discouraged. We all have to start somewhere, and this is yours. Save it. Because when you write something better, the improvement you see will be your reward for your hard work. Best of luck, author, and if you re-write, let us see! 

 LR

QueryDice #51: Awesome YA Query

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours.

Dear Ms. Ruth,

When sixteen-year-old (If this is YA, then I’m pleased you’ve told me that up-front. If it’s not I’m pissed off that you’ve tricked me into thinking it was.) Emma Hawthorne finds the body of her best friend, Lily, floating in the river, (you have my attention. Let’s see if you hang on to it) her hard-fought control of her empathic ability crumbles. Capable of picking up emotions from other people like a radio signal, she is too damaged to tune out the constant static. Emma wants to move beyond her grief and be free from what everyone else is feeling.

Then an encounter with a stranger’s violent emotions triggers a vision of Lily’s tortured soul and Emma is faced with a terrifying sense that the drowning wasn’t an accident – and that Lily isn’t resting in peace. Her search for answers attracts unwanted attention from Patrick, a man without emotions. Simultaneously repulsed and intrigued, she allows him into her life. And when he offers to take away her ability, along with the pain it causes, she is ready to accept.

But Lily is trying to warn Emma from beyond the grave. Patrick’s offer isn’t without a price – a price that cost Lily more than her life. As Emma unravels the twisted threads connecting Patrick to Lily, she discovers he’s more dangerous than she ever thought possible. Emma must find the strength to fight the growing supernatural hold Patrick has on her – not only to give Lily the peace she deserves, but to save her sanity and possibly her soul as well.

[redacted] is a 64,000 word YA urban fantasy with romantic elements.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

There is nothing wrong with this query. It was stellar! I know what the conflict is, that conflict has intrigued me and it has enough punch for YA. The way you divulged your book’s particulars flowed nicely and I wasn’t left needing information. I would even like to read this! My only criticisms are that I didn’t feel enough of Emma’s personality–what makes her unique–and also the only thing that made this YA was the character’s age. There is no mention of school, or typical internal conflict teenagers face.

Author, we’d love to hear the story of your query…was it rejected? How many requests did you receive? Most of all: did you get an agent?!

LR

 

QueryDice #50: Middle-Grade and Conflict

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours.

Dear Ms. Ruth,

1952 San Angelo is a boy’s paradise providing ten-year-old Allan with endless adventure. But when his mother becomes ill, Allan discovers it’s not excitement he longs for, but the comfort of family and the gift of friendship. <—Nice. Great beginning. One of the most important elements in a middle-grade story is internal conflict. Kids in this age-group relate more strongly to internal conflict. Even if they see an external conflict (like war, for example, or the illness of a parent) they are not completely feeling the external conflict–they are feeling what effect that has on them. Additionally, the setting is a strong point for this query, because librarians, parents and teachers will be attracted to a historical setting (kids can learn history through reading.) Now, what I’m looking for is a strong external conflict that has big stakes for more people than just Allan and his mom…that would get a yes from me. Let’s read on…

Allan spends most of his days riding on his best friend’s handlebars while looking for escapades like hunting blood-spitting horny toads, riding a bucking bronco, and winning the best Concho River storytelling contest. <–cute. I can see the book’s personality, which makes me think the author might have a great voice.

For three years, Allan watches the construction of the town’s 128 foot dam and all he can think about is riding down its long slope. Nitpick: you should change this sentence to, “For the past three years, Allan has been watching…” because otherwise it sounds just a tiny bit like we experience these three years in your book!

He just has to convince Raymond (is Raymond the best friend?) to take the ride with him. When Raymond finally agrees, Allan hesitates. His mother’s illness—knots in her lady parts is how the doctor puts it—causes Allan to feel something he’s never felt before—fear.

He remembers his mother’s words and discovers the courage he needs to conquer the adventure of a lifetime. He begins to understand what his mother has tried to teach him about the give and take of life and the importance of family, friends, and a special little town. <–hmm. I think there is more to this story that you’re not telling us…

[redacted] is a humorous, yet tender, coming-of-age MG novel complete at 40,000 words. I have extensive experience with middle grade readers and their triumphs and challenges.  I have been an elementary school counselor for nine years and a university school counselor educator for thirteen years. Currently, I am a school counselor in a 6th-12th grade school in the largest school system in the Southeast.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Sincerely,
[redacted]

Technically, this query is fine. I know what the conflict is, I can see at least a little of the main character’s personality. I even like the premise. But I would reject it, and here’s why: remember at the beginning of this Dice, when I said I was looking for a big external conflict? I don’t see one here. That doesn’t mean there isn’t one, of course. Maybe there is. But a kid worrying about his mother’s illness and endeavoring to ride down the slope of a 128-foot dam just doesn’t have the zing I was hoping for. Something in this story needs to involve the entire town while also being an internal conflict for Allan. For example, if he instead endeavored to save the town from something and his mother’s illness tied into that, and his riding down the dam was somehow part of everything, I’d bite.

Best of luck, author!

LR

**Success story: The author of this query now has an agent! The author hopes her query will encourage writers. Of her success, she says, “Even if the query letter isn’t perfect, your manuscript can still find its way to the perfect (for you) agent! Congratulations, author!

QueryDice #49: World-Building in a Query Letter

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours.

Dear Ms. Ruth,

The only thing worse than finding out you’re part of a secret magic species is finding out you’re a necromancer, and not a very good one. Aisling gets waves of nausea and cold chills around the dead, and can’t even stomach the reanimation of corpses. In what world would she need to be able to stomach this? Your use of the word “even” leads me to believe that this is something that is expected of her, but it’s a detail that comes too early and without satisfactory explanation. This query letter is a bit short (at 188 words), so I would suggest using this first paragraph to introduce us to both Aisling and her world. 

Then she meets a haunted young man named Kenneth. Death has touched him, and together they can help each other deal with this world. What world? I do not have a firm grasp of this world. Which creatures live in it? What is the one thing about this world that sets it apart most from the world we know? Additionally, what do you mean by “deal”? What’s so bad about the world? And how can they help each other? What I’m getting at with these questions is this: I don’t know enough.

When Aisling feels like she may just fit in with the others a female student turns up dead. <— What does the first part of this sentence have to do with the end of it? Suspecting eyes fall upon Aisling and soon the female body count increases. She must learn to master her abilities to uncover the truth to find the killer, before her she or her friends are next. Aisling wants to point the finger at her friend’s new boyfriend, but the clues point in one path while her heart points in another. Her heart? Like, love? Or did you mean she has a hunch that is unsupported by evidence? Being the only one equipped with the magic for the task, Aisling knows failure is no option, even at the risk of her personal safety, and against her parent’s wishes. <–Do her parents know that she is a necromancer? Do they know her world exists?

With academy halls filled with teenagers learning dangerous new powers, everyone’s a suspect. Oh, so she goes to a school for the magically gifted? Setting is important in YA, and we should know this early on because otherwise this reads like a query for fantasy with a YA-aged protagonist, which is not the same thing as YA.

[redacted] is a young adult fantasy with mystery elements completed at 72,00 words; a stand-alone with sequel potential.

Thank you for your time and consideration.

Kind Regards,

[redacted]

Look, I get it. It is SO tough to try to boil down a never-before-seen world into a query letter while still boiling down plot structure. Fantasy is the toughest genre for which to write query letters. That is exactly why this query has failed. There are too few details where we need them, and too many details in the wrong places at the wrong times. I think you’ve got an interesting and cute story here, but it just needs to be presented in the right way. I would suggest making a list of the elements of your world that your readers MUST know about in order to appreciate your story. Limit yourself to fewer than six. Then cut out anything outside of those and re-write your query letter accordingly. 

Lastly, the main character seems to have no personality. I’d like to see some of her quirks, and if you can, a piece of her voice here in the query letter. That will be the difference between a ho-hum query, and one that gets attention. 

Good luck! 

LR

QueryDice #48: Voice in YA

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours.

To Lauren Ruth,

Hope Murdoch was born dead.

Great first line. I’m hooked.

She took breath a minute later and despite her that quick trip through the veil sixteen years ago, she’s an almost-normal teen. She has an impossible crush on the boy next door, she struggles to pay attention in class, and she’s adopted. All of this–even the adopted part–makes the normal list. The not-so-normal list is short. In fact, there’s only one thing on it. Hope can read minds.

I made the word change in the first sentence to affirm to the reader that “the veil” refers to her being dead and then alive when she was born. Also, if this is something unique to this story, I’d recommend capitalizing The Veil.

I don’t think being adopted is something I would put on a list of normal things. It does not belong in the most-normal category of high-school crushes and waning attention in class. I wonder if you might consider rewording this paragraph. Something to the effect of, “…thought being adopted was the most abnormal thing about her, until…”

Lance Hampton used to be normal until a car accident killed his parents and, temporarily, him. How about adding, “On that night” here —> Paramedics brought him back to a life he doesn’t want: orphaned, uprooted and living with his uncle, and cursed with the ability to see how people die. At his new school, he hides behind his attitude (what kind of attitude?) and overgrown, unkempt hair. He knows it’s better if he doesn’t make any attachments. Seeing how complete strangers die is hard enough, let alone friends. Wow. Yeah, that would be problematic. This has my interest.

Hope and Lance are barely aware of one another until she accidentally slips inside his mind and witnesses a vision of murder . . . her own. She can’t see it clearly and only knows it happens in the dark. She needs Lance’s help, but he won’t face death again (what do you mean by “face death again”?) for just anyone. Hope will have to become more than a stranger, even more than a friend. After that, it’s simply a matter of tracking down a murderer before he kills. A murderer who could be anywhere. Anyone.

Even psychics have trouble seeing in the dark. <—well, why wouldn’t they have trouble seeing in the dark? Night-vision isn’t their power. I see that you were trying to be witty here, but it falls flat for me.

[redacted] is an 85,000-word young adult novel, the first of a trilogy. <–you do not add what genre your book is.

There was no salutation to this query. A simple “Sincerely, soandsso” can’t fail. Regardless of that and the other kinks in this query I think need to be ironed out, I’m sure this author has received requests for more material. The conflict is clearly outlined, as are the stakes, and the paranormal elements are clear. Most importantly, the author appears to have done a great job of leaving out what is extraneous information, and what we need to know. The only thing I think could make this query better in a major way is characterization. I have no idea what Hope’s personality is like…is she clumsy? Sophisticated? Introverted? Who knows? The same goes for Lance, to a slightly lesser degree. The voice in the paragraph about Lance should change to reflect his personality. If you’ve like to know more about voice in your writing, please see my earlier post, If You Build it, They Will Come…

Best of luck to you, author!

LR

QueryDice #9.1: Take Two!

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours!

Dear Lauren Ruth:

When Prudence O’Brian uncovers a human skeleton in her landlady’s backyard, she doesn’t expect the police or the press to be too concerned. Her mother was brutally murdered and the newspapers didn’t print a blurb. The police were too busy hunting down bootleggers and raiding speakeasies to apprehend her mother’s killer. Pru doesn’t want justice to slip through the cracks again. She decides to uncover the identity of the skeleton herself, but she’s uncertain on how to begin.

I’m already seeing a potential problem. In a mystery, the amateur sleuth needs to have a very solid reason for taking the investigation into her own hands. It is hard to like a person who is a busybody or who is meddlesome. I don’t think Pru’s motivation to get involved in the case of this skeleton is strong enough. She needs a solid connection to this crime…like being forced to investigate it because she or someone close is blamed for it. Now, that’s not to say that you haven’t fleshed this out more in the book, making it believable and acceptable that Pru would investigate this on her own, just that it’s not solid enough here in this query.

That being said, this opening is a huge improvement over the last draft. You’d opened with a question, which is a huge pet-peeve of mine, and you’d provided us with a bunch of information we really don’t need.

Gus Ashton is intrigued by Pru’s quest. He offers her his knowledge as a trial attorney to go places and interview people she wouldn’t dare do alone.

Why? Who is he and why would he offer his assistance to Pru when he could be billing hours? Also, as a side note, this sentence is poorly written. 

Gus is old enough to be her father, but he’s the first man she’s encountered who isn’t intimidated by her intelligence or her dangerous right hook. The farther (further is correct. Farther refers to spatial distance) they delve into their investigation, Pru realizes she and Gus have different definitions of justice, and his is silencing anyone who knows the truth.

This is very vague, which irks me. The difference between a back-of-the-book blurb and a query is that a cliffhanger is ineffective in a query, but intriguing on the back of a book. When I see a cliffhanger like this, it doesn’t make me request just to see what happens, it makes me want to move on to a query that’s made itself clear.

I’m not so sure we need to know anything about Gus. It takes you two paragraphs to get to the most compelling part about him: that his idea of justice is silencing anyone who knows the truth. I would cut the two paragraphs and just keep that one compelling sentence from your first draft: “But discovering the skeleton’s identity also means unmasking a killer whose own idea of justice is silencing anyone who knows the truth.”

I received a Bachelor of Arts in history from Drake University. After graduating from college, I worked as a tour guide at a living history museum. Most of the information we conveyed to the public had to be learned by research. I applied these skills to my novel to accurately portray life during The Great Depression.

This is an excellent improvement to your bio.

Another issue: this is the first we hear that this is a historical novel. Since you unfolded your query and it was unnecessary to mention that this was historical, I worry that you just set the story in the past without weaving that into the story.

My 100,000 word historical mystery, [redacted], is complete and available for review.

Thank you for your time.

Sincerely,

[redacted]

LR

QueryDice #9

The following is a query critique. Comments, suggestions and discussion are welcome and we hope you join in. I can only offer one opinion. The author of the query and I would love to hear yours!

Sociopaths are people without consciences. If you have a conscience, how do you spot someone who has none?

I’m not crazy about this opening. First, I don’t think having a conscience would inhibit your ability to spot someone who doesn’t. In fact, I think the opposite would be more likely. A question as the first line of a query is also a big pet-peeve for me and many other agents. The reason: my immediate reaction, most of the time, is, “I don’t know. You tell me. You’re the one who wrote the book.” The only glimmer of hope in this sentence is the word “sociopath” which immediately grabs my attention. Crazy people are entertaining–at least from afar.

In 1932 the use of forensic evidence is in infancy and the mere thought of DNA is a dream. If a skeleton pops up in someone’s backyard there’s little hope of finding out who they were–unless you’re Prudence O’Brian.

This paragraph is very disjointed from the one above it. You’re half-way through your query, and I still don’t know exactly what your book is about. Also, a nitpicker at heart, I have to point out that DNA was first isolated in 1869 and was understood to contain genetic material in 1927. I can assume you meant to convey that DNA was not used in forensics at this time due to a lack of knowledge and technology, but that’s not what you’ve said. When I read this, I questioned your fact-checking, even though I’m actually quite certain you didn’t mean to write anything incorrect. Clarity is very important in such short-form writing.

Pru isn’t a coroner or a detective. She’s a twenty-four year old woman with a penchant for justice and a dangerous right hook.

How can a woman who has no credentials other than being female, tough and into justice, trump the knowledge and experience of the police force or those in the medical fields when identifying a skeleton? This seems far-fetched and overdone.

To find the skeleton’s identity, she’ll brave grimy gin mills, locked office doors, and three story mansions on Grand Avenue.

Without the use of DNA, in a time when there was little hope–even for the police or medical practitioners–of discovering the identity of a skeleton, how could Pru possibly identify the skeleton by braving gin mills, locked office doors and mansions?

But discovering the skeleton’s identity also means unmasking a killer whose own idea of justice is silencing anyone who knows the truth.

I like this sentence. It’s well written, engaging and draws my attention. Whatever you do, keep this sentence.

I received a Bachelor of Arts in history from Drake University. After graduating from college, I worked as a tour guide at a living history museum. Most of the information we conveyed to the public had to be learned by research or by personal experience. I can milk a cow, cook over an open hearth or on a wood burning stove, and lead oxen. I believe the small details of a character’s everyday life are what draw people into a story.

The strongest point in your bio is your B.A. in history. You’ve drawn from this by pointing out that most of the information conveyed during your tour-guide days was learned informally by personal experience. Can you personally experience history? I would consider omitting the latter.

My 100,000 word historical mystery, [redacted], is complete and available for review.

Thank you for your time.

[redacted]

I would like to get to know Pru (by the way, I love her name) better. I like that she has a killer right hook, but what is her personality like? Why should I care about her? And why is involved in the justice system? Is she just a meddler? A P.I.? This is unclear, which brings me to another point: clarity is something you’re lacking here, and I think the query would improve with more fleshing out of characters, plot, and logistics. Lastly, where’s the sociopath? That’s the most interesting part!

I wish you the best of luck. I believe there’s a story in there.

LR

“If You Build It, They Will Come…”

“Find your voice and you’ll find success…”

This is what an old creative writing professor told me years ago. And even though I did have some vague understanding of what “voice” was, she was so mystical and secretive about it, she might as well have been telling me, “If you build it, they will come,” while staring blankly off into space from her ivory tower.

Creative writing and old, pigeon-holed professors behind me, I think she was actually on to something. Because the best way to keep your readers coming back for more, or to snag them to begin with, is to make them fall in love with your voice.

But what the hell is “voice”? This sounds like the pompous, hoity-toity “theory-speak” only encountered in stuffy colleges. There are many definitions for voice. Every agent, author and editor has a different way of explaining what it is, exactly. I think we all mean the same thing and we’re using different words to define it. Here’s my explanation:

It’s the feel, the sound, the atmosphere that surrounds you when you’re reading that author’s work. Maybe it’s a distinctly English voice—very prim, and proper and as comforting as hot tea and crumpets, maybe it’s a very bachelor-esque, casually and drily funny voice like Jonathon Tropper’s.

Stephen King has an extremely casual voice. I always feel like I’m sitting in a crappy diner listening to Mr. King when I’m reading his novels. If he started using prim-and-proper speech like, “Dag-nabbit! You’ve made me cross!” we’d wonder if he was joking, and then when he discovered he wasn’t, we’d feel very disconnected. That would not be Stephen King’s voice and then whose is it? If these swings happen too often, it is hard to feel comfortable within an author’s voice and we start to dislike reading that book. Personally, I think this is because we don’t feel secure, we don’t feel like we’re heading in a defined direction. Who are we getting the story from?

Another example: Lauren Weisberger, who wrote The Devil Wears Prada, has an extremely youthful, fast-paced and hilariously funny voice. She can write this:

Attempting to drive this $84,000 stick-shift convertible through the obstacle-fraught streets of midtown at lunchtime pretty much demanded that I smoke a cigarette.

“Fuckin’ move, lady!” hollered a swarthy driver who chest hair threatened to overtake the wife-beater he wore.” I raised a shaking hand to give him the finger and then turned my attention to the business at hand: getting nicotine coursing through my veins as quickly as possible.”

But even though her skill-level might allow it, she cannot then also write something like this, from Stephen King’s Just After Sunset.

“Night came on and the stars unrolled across the sky from east to west like a rug with spangles in it. A half-moon rose between two peaks and sat there, casting a sickroom glow over this stretch of the highway and the open land on both sides of it. The wind whistled beneath the eaves of the station, but out here it made a strange open humming that was not quite a vibration. It made him think of Pammy Andreeson’s hopscotch chant.”

The difference in voice is so obvious its almost palpable. Both are excellent, I loved both books—differently. When somebody says you must find your voice, they mean you can’t write parts of your book in King’s more literary, more meandering and casual voice and then other parts in Weisberger’s laugh-every-other-line, fast-paced jaunty voice. When you mush different voices together—because you don’t yet know yourself as a writer—the result is always just as yucky as when you mush foods together.

However.

Some authors have or use more than one voice. Jodi Picoult is a great example. All of her books are told from the points-of-view of several very different characters. She happens to have great skill in pulling this off. She can allow us to inhabit the mind of a child just as comfortably as that of a cynical grown man going through a tough divorce—and the voice in each section is different, necessarily.  But there is still, even though the voices in the sections differ, an overarching Picoultian voice. It’s very calm, and very poignant, no matter who is telling the story for the moment. And that, I believe, is Picoult’s true voice—the calm, poignant, slightly literary sound that overarchs all of her books.

Some authors use different voices for different books. Jennifer Weiner is one of these. Good in Bed, which was chick-lit that I absolutely loved, had a voice similar to Lauren Weisberger’s in The Devil Wears Prada, above. Funny, down-to-earth, fast-paced, etc. But when chick-lit supposedly died, Weiner switched over to a more women’s fiction-y voice. I won’t speculate on her reasons for making the switch, but sadly, I haven’t bought a single book of hers since. Her voice just went away and that was what had kept me reading.

In sum, and perhaps what I should have said to begin with: the voice is what you hear in your head, the feel you get when you’re reading a particular book. You can’t see, hear or feel a story, so the author’s voice in a book becomes as meaningful and critical as aesthetics in a movie.

 

LR

 

 

>The Flash Moment

>To my great delight, I’ve been completely inundated with queries and proposals since I officially opened to submissions on Monday. Occasionally, I look away from my computer screen and I’m reminded that there’s a world happening beyond it–one that isn’t composed of letters in a row.

There are queries I know I’ll reject after the first sentence. But I read them through anyway–just in case. There are queries that have nothing technically wrong with them that I reject anyway because I can’t get excited about them. I’ve heard from writers all over the globe with stories spanning age groups and genres and oceans. I’ve been entertained, annoyed, excited, abused, uplifted and bored. I’ve requested tons of proposals. I’ve rejected more.

But just now, a proposal stopped me in my tracks. This author was so talented that I heard her voice in the very first short sentence. How inspiring. In everything I read, there is a specific moment when I get a flash of certainty that I’m in good hands, that I’ll come away from this just the tiniest bit different–or not. In this proposal, that moment happened in the first sentence. And I just had to smile.

What about you? Have you ever had The Flash Moment?

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