30 July 2010

Hearing Voices

From Lee Wind’s interview with M. T. Anderson:

In writing middle grade, I imagine the voice going TOWARDS the reader. In YA and adult, I imagine the voice coming FROM the narrator. I guess it’s because, naturally, I think of writing middle grade fiction as akin to story-telling or reading aloud.
Of course, for his young adult novels Anderson has (so far) chosen first-person narration, meaning that the voice is a major part of the characterization.

In his middle-grade “Pals in Peril” books and tween Game of Sunken Places and sequelae, Anderson’s narrative voices aren’t characters within the story. Rather, they’re filters between the action and the reader, and somewhat chatty about it, especially in the former series.

I see that reflecting the reëmergence of the intrusive third-person narrative voice in children’s literature after Lemony Snicket. In novels published during my childhood (and Anderson’s, and Handler’s), third-person narrators tried to be as unobtrusive as possible, murmuring flatly into readers’ ears and ducking away whenever one looked around to see where the story was coming from. It’s no surprise that Anderson’s opinionated narrators pop up in books that also involve knee socks—they reflect inspiration in storytelling about a century old.

Anderson’s observation makes an interesting pairing with this comment from Wind’s interview with Scholastic editor Nick Eliopulos:
In simplest terms, I think of voice as a bridge from the author to the reader. It’s about your style, how you express yourself and your characters, how you choose to communicate.

I wonder if those involved in kids’ books fret over voice more than those in adult publishing? Because, allowing for some noteworthy exceptions, a children’s book involves an adult writer communicating with a child or teen reader. So the author has a lot to keep in mind when it comes to the voice.
This is one of the better explanations of “voice” that I’ve heard. Usually editors and agents seem to use the word to mean, “I know what I like.”

1 comment:

Monica Edinger said...

Adam Gidwitz is doing something really interesting voice/narrator-wise in his forthcoming A TALE DARK AND GRIMM. He isn't exactly "intrusive", but is very much there as if indeed telling a series of Grimm fairy tales. Check out Roxanne's (fairrosa) and Betsy's reviews for more. I'm still contemplating what I want to say about it beyond --- it is very good.